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Jeff Carr: How Do You Know Someone Until You Talk?

posted by gp_intern

We have been keeping quite a schedule here in Iran, meeting with various religious leaders, government officials, and visiting historic and cultural sites. We have had two dialogue sessions with Muslim clerics in the last two days, both of which were very interesting. The first dialogue was at the Center for Islamic Culture and Information headquarters, in Tehran, and a significant number of media outlets were in attendance. It operated more like a theological conference, with three presentations made by each side. It was quite formal, but I was particularly fascinated by how well Muslim religious leaders understood Christianity. They quoted liberally from the Bible and made many links to corresponding verses from the Quran.

One of the leaders said that he had read the Bible from cover to cover 10-20 times in the course of his study, but he wondered if any of us had ever read the entire Quran. It was a fair question, and one that actually made me feel somewhat guilty. As I began to think about the primacy of the role of religion in Iran, and how much of their nation’s value system comes out of the Quran, I began to think about whether or not you can truly understand a people if you have not read their holy book. Could people truly know me as a person, and understand me, if they had no real knowledge of the Bible?

These conversations, as well as many others, have also made it clear that the Iranians are very interested in being respected, but feel like they have not received much respect from the West. Everyone we have talked to has expressed this pain and frustration, and yet they have been so gracious, and continue to want to reach out and build bridges with us, in spite of feeling disrespected. It’s a value I think we as Christians in America could learn from our Islamic brothers and sisters in Iran, and it’s a value that would go a long way in helping us solve some of the differences between our nations.

Jeff Carr is the Chief Operations Officer for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. Learn more about this delegation at www.irandelegation.org.



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Don

posted February 22, 2007 at 10:27 pm


Jeff: Thanks for your thoughts, and tell your Iranian acquaintances that their comments are valid. I’m with you and them–American Christians need to learn more about Islam and about the Qur’an, and that includes reading it for ourselves. So much literature about Islam that is available in American bookstores and libraries only gives a limited, and sometimes distorted, picture. Better to go to the sources themselves. By the way, I recommend Michael Sells’ book, “Approaching the Qur’an” as a good place to start for anyone interested in reading the Qur’an. It includes translations of the shorter suras (chapters). Their imagery is powerful and compelling. Well, it appears that your trip is going well, Jeff, with God’s blessings!



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neuro_nurse

posted February 22, 2007 at 10:41 pm


I know of atheists who can cite Biblical verses to illustrate their point that Christianity and/or Judaism are bigoted, violent, sexist, and just plain foolish. I ve read the Koran, and I m sure that there are Christians who would go through that book with a fine-tooth comb to make a similar case about Islam. Understanding other people requires an open-minded approach. Given some of the comments I ve read posted in response to this series, there are a lot of people out there who aren t ready to (or don t want to) understand Iranian or Muslims. They ve made up their minds on the subject and aren t likely to change. Our neighborhood in Tehran had a barbari bakery down the street. My folks would send one of my siblings or me down to buy a couple of loafs, knowing that one of them would be gone by the time we got home (the barbari, not my siblings!).



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Mike Hayes

posted February 22, 2007 at 10:42 pm


Jeff, or Don, I wonder if the clerics have suggestions for some English version of an abbreviated version of the book, itself… something that would describe the “themes of the Qur’an” or that would compare the key teachings of the Qur’an with the key teachings of the new testament or old testament, for example. I ask because I suspect many persons in the US would be willing to read some abbreviated version of the book. I also think reading the old testament or the new testament would not be as informative for ordinary Muslims as would be reading a brief discussion of the key concepts of the bible. For ordinary persons in each culture, it also might be that we each would actually read something less lengthy… I would… Thanks again for finding the time to write to us…



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Don

posted February 23, 2007 at 12:02 am


Mike: Excellent idea and excellent question. I don’t have an answer, though. Jeff? I would say, however, that the Sells book I mentioned earlier might come fairly close to a “themes of the Qur’an.” It takes the reader through those sections of the Qur’an that Muslim children learn first, and most of the major Qur’anic themes are included in these verses. And it has an excellent introduction that explains a lot of things. Plus, as a bonus, the book comes with an audio CD containing recordings of authentic Qur’an recitations from Islamic countries. neuro_nurse: Sadly, I’m afraid you are right. Some American Christians would be glad to read the Qur’an in order to find what’s “wrong” with it. And othes probably wouldn’t bother. The religion editor of our newspaper recently talked about letters and e-mails he has received about subjects carried in the peper. He talked about one person who complained about an article on Islam, teling him he shouldn’t waste his or readers’ time on it. The editor in turn recommended a book about Islam for her to read. She said she had no interest in reading about a “fake religion.” Peace,



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Hal

posted February 23, 2007 at 12:04 am


“One of the leaders said that he had read the Bible from cover to cover 10-20 times in the course of his study…” I wonder how many professing Christians have read the Bible from cover to cover 10-20 times, not to mention having read anything from the sacred text of another religion. It probably time I dust off one of the old Bibles on my shelf and make a trip to the bookstore and buy a new Quran.



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Kris Weinschenker

posted February 23, 2007 at 1:36 am


So, Mr. Carr, did you talk about Iran’s refusal to stop producing enriched uranium? Or about Ahmadinejad’s vow to “wipe Israel off the map”????



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 2:17 am


I think I have it, mass a huge army on Iran’s borders. Give them 48 hours to get out then bomb the b-jesus out of them. Then send about 150,000 troops to occupy the country. If you can bring them under control in less than 5 years it will be a record.



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 2:30 am


I would recommend Kris Weinschenker for team but he’s busy right now straightening out the US judicial system.



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Don

posted February 23, 2007 at 2:39 am


Kris: Respectfully, that isn’t Jeff Carr’s job. I think you know why he’s there. Further, I think you know whose job serious diplomacy with Iran is; it’s the President’s. But he’s refusing as a matter of “principle” even to talk to the Iranians. At least Jeff Carr is talking to them. And I have wondered more than once if Mr. Ahmnadindjad would even be in the position he’s in if our government had begun some serious dialogue with the Iranians back when they offered to help us root out the Taliban from Afghanistan. Instead, we got the “axis of evil” speech and Iran circled the wagons. Real smart series of moves on the part of our President and his administration.



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 2:44 am


I’m bidding on the contract for finger ink for the new elections. I’ve invested in the largest Bible publisher; some of us are going to make big money furnishing bibles for all the motel rooms. I m filled with the Holy Spirit knowing we are about to convert Iran. Btw, I also recommend stock in private security firms.



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 3:04 am


“Real smart series of moves on the part of our President and his administration.” Here is a rule; when something doesn’t make sense then you don’t have enough information. Maybe if you understood Our President s purpose then it might make sense? I confess it doesn’t make sense to me. Btw, who’s going to house all the dead enders? Will we subcontract that to Egypt? This is all so confusing!



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kevin s.

posted February 23, 2007 at 5:50 am


“And I have wondered more than once if Mr. Ahmnadindjad would even be in the position he’s in if our government had begun some serious dialogue with the Iranians back when they offered to help us root out the Taliban from Afghanistan.” Who would be in his position otherwise? You don’t believe in Iran’s “democracy” canard, do you? If keeping Iran from wiping Israel off the map, or contributing to preventing that outcome, isn’t Carr’s purpose, than what is he doing there?



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 6:29 am


Kevin, beat the drums of war, just what we need right now. You don’t believe in Iraq’s “democracy” canard, do you?



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 6:38 am


That’s the ticket, Iran invades Israel like we did Iraq then they can be there 6-8 maybe 10 years and go broke. Russia goes broke forcing Communism around the world, the US goes broke forcing democracy around the world, Iran goes broke forcing Islam around the world.



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 6:50 am


I know Israel doesn’t look that big on a globe, remember Iraq didn’t look that big either.Poetic, history repeating itself, nothing knew under the sun. Tell Ahmnadindjad that the Israel has WMD’s, wait they do have WMD’s.



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Janet Pierce

posted February 23, 2007 at 6:59 am


Hi Jeff, I have been quite pleased to hear of your trip and your impressions. I quite agree that much mistrust comes from not knowing and understanding the cultures of others and the Iranian culture is very intertwined with their religion. The headscarves and chadors adorning women there and mandated by law (head covering anyway)were outlawed by the previous administation. They were annoying to us westerners but a large percentage of women there would choose to continue wearing them if it was left to their choice…which I wish they had. I’m sorry my daughter in law, Laurie, was not able to travel with you. She and my son were the previous MCC exchange students in Qom from ’03 until June ’06 and she was considered as a cultural translator but she was not able to come on the dates the trip plans were finalized on. Along the lines of learning more about the Islamic religion, in order to come to more understanding, you, or others might enjoy reading the blog Laurie kept while they lived in Iran. Although she changed the title to ‘A Different Kind of Normal’ I am only able to bring it up under it’s original title: a30dayexperiment.blogspot.com There is a bit of family news and posts regarding Laurie’s studies of Persian lit. but if you go to the archives of October ’05 you can find a post written by her husband (my son) titled ‘The Night Of Power” on Oct. 26. I found it to be a revealing description of the religious fervor of the people there. I first read this post the weekend after Thanksgiving when the news here was of how many thousands of shoppers in this country, who were out late to get a good deal, which seemed quite a contrast to people who keep such late hours to pray and worship. My son and his wife studied the Islamic religion while they were there. My son made friends with another student and they would meet weekly to study and compare the Bible and Quoran. They seemed to find a very common thread although neither of them were inclined toward leaving their religion for the other.I have an English translation of the Quoran and find many thoughtful and beautiful writings in it as well as a few that alarm me. I am Christian and love reading my Bible but I find many passages in it (especially the Old Testament) that I find a bit alarming and confusing. I try to follow the teachings of my leader, Jesus Christ. In those passages I find a direction that clearly leads me to love my neighbor, even (and especially),if he’s my ‘enemy’ and to follow a path of peace and understanding and that passing judgment is not mine, but my God’s place in this life. I am so very pleased to know there are those, like your group who are making such efforts to meet and understand these gracious people who have been so demonized by the present administration and much of the media. My son’s friend, who I spoke of, is presently here in the states doing grad studies and I wish I could say that he and his wife had been treated as kindly as my family was treated in Iran. I am sad to say that he and his wife and small daughter have been treated quite rudely by many (but not all) here after suffering many hours of intense interogation despite having all their papers in order. Please excuse how long this is. I am so very excited to hear of your impressions and to know you are there making a difference. I can hardly wait to hear more. janet



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Mike Hayes

posted February 23, 2007 at 7:39 am


Janet, and Jeff, So far, though the formatting isn’t consistent and changes of topic are not clearly identified in some parts, a brief explanation that I found to be helpful is at http://www.islamfortoday.com/exploring_islam.htm A better source that would cover the Qur’an and distinguish it from the various practices that vary from country to country (such as Sharia being the law of the land and mandatory coverings for women, for example) would be helpful, to me.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 23, 2007 at 7:58 am


Distinguishing the book (Qur’an) and the tradition “hadith”, based on sayings and practices of Muhammad might also be helpful. I vaguely recall several years ago reading about a female who was reported to be saying that the original teachings of Islam (perhaps that referred to the Qur’an?) had been twisted by interpretations by males (perhaps that referred to the “hadith”?). This person seemed to be saying that the original intent of Islam could and should be restored. Perhaps that was referring to the distinction between countries in which sharia is the law of the land and other countries in which that is not the case? Perhaps it was referring to the distinction between Qur’an and Hadith? Thank you for sharing your thoughts.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 23, 2007 at 8:10 am


Janet, You mention that some parts of the two holy books concern you. The thought that God would take sides in a battle between people from two separate cultures troubles me.I can’t accept that as accurate.That is particularly clear to me in the story about one of the early leaders (Abraham?) of the Jewish people being assisted by his companions to hold his hands extended while a battle was taking place. As long as his hands were supported, the Jewish people were successful in battle. I just can’t imagine that. And the references to thousands of opponents of the Jewish people being slain, with the support of God. Those are less clear in my memory, but the concept is very similar… God taking sides while one tribe slays another… Nope… I just can’t accept it…



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Don

posted February 23, 2007 at 12:56 pm


Kevin: “Who would be in [Ahmadinijad's] position otherwise? You don’t believe in Iran’s ‘democracy’ canard, do you?” Sorry for not making myself clear. I think I said something about the Iranians “circling the wagons” after Bush’s “axis of evil” speech (and he was beating the war drums aginst Iraq at the same time). Ahmadinijad came to power in part because the hardliners who pull the strings in Iran prevented moderates, who had done well in previous elections, from even appearing on the ballots for the next election. To what extent this hardening of their position was influenced by harsh words coming from Washington is impossible to tell, of course (and there may be no connection whatever), but the result was Ahmadinijad’s rise to power. Logically, there’s no demonstrative connection to this post hoc thinking of course; nevertheless, emotionally, I can’t help wondering if there wasn’t some kind of cause and effect here. Further, if the Bush administration had begun serious diplomacy in 2001-02, when the Iranians were quite willing to lend a hand to us, I wonder if domestic politics there might have taken a different turn. That’s what I was thinking when I wrote those words. Sure, it’s speculative–I fully admit that. Peace,



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butch

posted February 23, 2007 at 3:10 pm


I see a parallel between our ignoring Afghanistan after the Russians left Afghanistan. We ignore Iran after they give us aid and comfort with the Taliban then all of a sudden they are part of the “Axis of Evil”. We forgot the Kurds after the 1st Gulf War. If you were any state in the Middle East would you trust the US? This group is not the State Department but building bridges that last longer than the short-term foreign policy thinking seems to me might be more valuable than anything anyone is doing.



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Paul

posted February 23, 2007 at 4:46 pm


Regarding translations of the Qur’an. Many Muslims have believed that the Qur’an can only be properly understood in Arabic. For a good discussion of some of the issues, and commentary on various translations see: http://www.meforum.org/article/717 cheers, Paul



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Don

posted February 23, 2007 at 5:27 pm


Thanks Paul! Wow, what an excellent discussion of the Qur’anic references to passages in the Jewish and Christian scriptures and the reasons why contemporary Muslim scholars tend to ignore these connections. Again, thanks!



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Ngchen

posted February 23, 2007 at 7:41 pm


I know hardly anything about the “violent” Quranic verses, but I know that a common approach toward understanding the violent biblical verses would be to keep the following in mind (1) they were specific cases mandated by God through direct revelation, (2) they were directed toward the destruction of some very, very evil people; IOW, God’s judgement has fallen upon them via a conquering army, (3) “purging the evil from among you” was a command directed toward the Israelites. As God’s chosen people to bring forth salvation to ALL nations, they had a special duty toward purity, hence their theocracy back then was OK, and finally (4) unless someone can honestly claim a direct line to God’s perfect will for new revelation, a similar slaughter should not be permitted. Let’s not forget what is supposed to happen to false prophets. So what do Muslims say about the violent Quranic verses?



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Hali

posted February 23, 2007 at 7:50 pm


Butch wrote, “Tell Ahmnadindjad that the Israel has WMD’s, wait they do have WMD’s.” Yes. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/16/AR2006021601897.html or Google “Vannunu” or “Samson option” :(



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Bill Samuel

posted February 23, 2007 at 11:36 pm


I just want to thank you for your reports, and wish you and the delegation the best for the remainder of your visit. Our government is a terror to the world. It is good that Americans go and visit and talk with people in countries which the American government is threatening.



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jerry

posted February 24, 2007 at 1:10 am


kidding right? your little cruise around iran with a few clerics who would do anything to please you and your troup is not really as good a view as diane sawyer’s recent trip and views. how can you ignore the political reality of factional hatreds (shiite vs. sunni vs kurd) and the killings carried on against each other? all controlled and sanctioned by the clerics. you can keep believing that the u s is the bad guy but the suicide bombings and international killings by muslims will not stop until the muslim clerics denounce terrorism and stop the killings. pios, religious scholars agreeing with one another and wanting people to “just get along” means nothing. think of the u s government as a pit bull trained to protect it’s house. throw rocks at the dog, and you may get bitten. iran condones terrorism, is trying to build big bombs for domination, defying the u n, wanting to kill jews and on and on. reading bibles and korans is not the answer folks. from what i have read, this world has been molded by wars, ice ages and droughts. this is satan’s world. you can fight him or you can join him.by the way i love jim wallis’ term -“prophetic vocation”. and hey bill samuel “our government is a terror to the world”. what do you base that statement on? this country is blessed by God because we are helping the jews just as the bible has instructed us to do. when we give up isreal it’s over.



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butch

posted February 24, 2007 at 5:36 am


Jerry, I m there for you, get out your armor and mount the horses the crusades are on. We have been ordained by God to kill somebody, let’s go we’ll figure out who when we get there.



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jerry

posted February 24, 2007 at 4:52 pm


butch. wrong again. but…..i will ride with you anyway. and when the muslims cut off your head and show the film on t v i will get even madder at them. do you honestly think that muslim clerics will try to stop the terrorists? they kill because their religious leaders tell them it is the right thing to do. do you honestly think muslims will reconcile with non muslims? read their book.



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Butch

posted February 24, 2007 at 5:23 pm


Jerry, I understand kill them all! A massive worldwide strike.



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jerry

posted February 24, 2007 at 6:48 pm


wrong again. you seem to have an all or nothing attitude. like the muslims. how bout thinking survival, fair play, live and let live? if you can’t talk about the muslim’s attacking each other and non muslims then you don’t understand. what part of the international terrorists bombings don’t you understand? what part of the televised beheadings don’t you understand? what does the 9/11 attack, the beheadings, the bombing of innocents in iraq and the international bombings mean to you?



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Butch

posted February 24, 2007 at 8:10 pm


Jerry, what do you want to do? Define you goals?



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Joseph T

posted February 24, 2007 at 11:37 pm


Jerry wrote”What part of the international terrorists bombings don’t you understand? what part of the televised beheadings don’t you understand? what does the 9/11 attack, the beheadings, the bombing of innocents in iraq and the international bombings mean to you?” I don’t think anyone would dispute that these things are crimes, or that they were done by “Islamist” criminals. One could talk about the slaughter of native North Americans, One could talk about the car bombing in Tulsa, the racial lynchings in the US. I could come up with a long list of crimes against humanity comitted by Capitalists, Catholics, Protestants, white people , black people in the past and in the present.These crimes to not characterize entire religions or nations or ethnic groups. Most of the historic persecution of Jews came from Europe. The “meaning” of the crimes you mention is no more widely applicable to a religion or ethnic group than the others I mentioned . Zenophobia is the first resort of those who seek to enlist people in unjust aggression. Many Islamic countries have been very tolerant of Non Muslims through many centuries. The mistrust and warfare between Shia and Sunni are not that different than the historical warfare between Catholics and Protestants. Not admirable, but not unique to Islam either.Wars of bombardment are not the proper response to criminal behaviors.



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jerry

posted February 25, 2007 at 2:59 am


thank you joseph. well stated. wars of bombardment often stop invaders and usually resolve conflict. i am not aware of any international conflict ever that was resolved with religious professionals talking to each other. religious leaders have power through spiritual intimidation and fear. which is why our founding fathers wanted this country to not be a theocracy. no state sponsored church. governments respond to criminal behavior in the manner that they deem necessary. the u s response to terrorist criminal activity has been to attack terrorists. which bush and the congress did. if wallis and jeff want to talk to islamists to find out more about them that is okay with me and i hope that they can convince the islamic fundamentalists clerics to denounce terrorism. in the meantime butch and i will sharpen our swords and ride on into the endless carnage of war trying to stop the killing. my goal would is to not have to read about a suicide bombing anywhere anytime. and an end to the muslim genocide of innocents.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 25, 2007 at 5:24 am


jerry, Are you placing all Muslims in to the category more appropriately characterized as extremist Muslims? Your last sentence appears to do that.



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Paul

posted February 25, 2007 at 5:52 pm


Some might find this discussion of some of the issues helpful. http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Criticism_of_Islam cheers, Paul



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neuro_nurse

posted February 25, 2007 at 11:50 pm


Paul, Very interesting. Did you happen to notice that at the bottom of that page there is a link to “Criticism of Christianity”? http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Criticism_of_Christianity Peace!



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Paul

posted February 26, 2007 at 4:05 am


neuro_nurse Yes, I did notice, that is one of the reasons I included it. cheers, Paul



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neuro_nurse

posted February 26, 2007 at 5:05 pm


Paul, My last post was poorly worded. Your posts are always insightful and open-minded. The Criticism of Christianity article includes some of the issues to which I made an oblique reference in my post from 02.22.07 – 5:46 pm. Thanks for presenting us with an opportunity to examine both sides of the issues. Peace!



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Paul

posted February 26, 2007 at 7:41 pm


neuro_nurse, No worries, I took no offense. Thanks for the kind, and gracious interaction. cheers, Paul



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