In this inaugural episode, Lemuel and Amity discuss the who, what and why of this new podcast endeavor.
Theme:"Flash Light" by Parliament
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Lemuel: Hello, I’m Lemuel Gonzalez, repentant sinner, and this is Amity Armstrong, your heavenly host.
Lemuel: And welcome to the inaugural episode of Without Works, the podcast that explores through modern politics and culture, how the current climate of fundamentalism has distorted Christianity.
Amity: So thank you so much for listening. This is our as Lemuel said, inaugural podcast. We're going to do a little bit of the who, what, when, where and why of this new show we're embarking on we'll start with the what. Lemuel, what are we doing here?
Lemuel: So the purpose of what we're doing is we're looking at Christianity and how it's been distorted through modern culture, which is what we said in the intro.
Lemuel: And it's going to give us a chance to re-contextualize what this faith means to a modern audience. I think there are a lot of people who are unchurched who haven't been raised in the church
Amity: Let’s define that term. *harp sound effect* “Unchurched” sounds like an insult.
Lemuel: Oh, it's not
Amity: But it isn't. It's what I am. I've been to church. You know, once it was in Spanish, I am not a native Spanish speaker. So I was not raised within a church that is all unchurched means, right?
Lemuel: Yes. There’s no sort of, it's not a pejorative term.
Lemuel: As a matter of fact, in evangelical circles, they talked about the people that, you know, reaching out to as the unchurched. It's not like saying the unwashed, which is, it sounds the same.
Amity: I think that's right. So we're aiming this at people who don't have a context for Christianity other than what they see, right in the news in the news.
Lemuel: Right. And what that doesn't give you is exactly how progressive and modern some of the church is. The loudest voices tend to be the voices of very conservative forces in the church, evangelical forces in the church that are not moving forward and progressing with people's individual rights. And everything for their Christianity get stuck on arguments about abortion, or homosexuality or for the validity of people
Amity: Live life outside of what they consider is “correct.”
Lemuel: Right. And so what I want to do based on my personal experience in life is to remove the sort of exclusivity of Christianity that's happened now, where it's in the hands of people of a very conservative or evangelical bent, and it's like you want to take it back, not take it back. That sounds silly, because that's like a term now.
Amity: They didn't take it away from you, but you'd like to open it up to
Lemuel: other voices because there are a lot of them and there's a lot of people who have a Different version of the same faith. And unfortunately to people who aren't familiar with it, it all sounds the same.
Lemuel: So William Barber, and some very progressive ministers don't sound when they touch the ideology of what they believe much different from someone like Jimmy Swaggart, they're using the same kinds of words, but they're saying something completely different. So that's what I kind of want to do. It's, it's almost become as if Christianity is the sole ownership of a group of people who are bending it a certain way. And what we want to do is see the different ways that can be taken, and also where fundamentalism is really taken it become its own kind of religion outside of Christianity.
Amity: Okay. And this might seem a silly question in light of the way you responded to the previous question, but why do you think now is the time to start something?
Lemuel: I'll tell you where the idea for this first entered my head, and I was watching the presidential debates with Romney and Obama, and there was a lot of discussion of Romney's faith came into it. And also these weird accusations that Obama somehow was Muslim and not Christian,
Lemuel: During this time, my son who was much younger,
Amity: Right, this was this was the 2012 election. So we're looking at six to seven years ago.
Lemuel: Yes. So he was very young at the time, but old enough to understand things for himself. And he was very puzzled and confused by some of the things that conservative religious figures were saying, and it's like, this is our religion. Do we believe that? Do we believe what he's saying? And so I said, Well, why don't you do this? I'm going to have you read the Gospel of Luke, right, which is a big historical gospel
Amity: from the New Testament
Lemuel: from the New Testament. And so the Gospel of Luke is a good one, because it starts before Jesus was born, it ends after the resurrection. And so everything that you need to know is included that gospels very comprehensive,
Amity: well, the Jesus part
Lemuel: in terms of the gospel, because all the Gospels refer to Jesus's life, but Luke has a big comprehensive one that was written for Gentiles rather than for Jews specifically, so
I gave it to him to read. And he read it. And at one point I was asking how he was doing. He looked at me and he said, Jesus sure doesn't know much about Christianity. And I started laughing, of course, because that's funny. And I'm like, Well, what leads you to say that and he said, He's constantly talking about taking care of the poor, and ministering to people in prison, and he's taking care of the sick and he's basically spending his time with prostitutes and with tax collectors and people who are on the skids of society. So this Jesus doesn't understand Christianity because that's not what Christianity is about.
Amity: So did he follow that up with telling you what Christianity was or what he thought Christianity was?
Lemuel: It was very much like he said, it's that Christianity seems to be about excluding people or you know, it's a very law and order Christianity people who did bad things are locked in jail, that were doing wrong to help people with social programs that they actually have to do for themselves and all the kind of thing
Amity: I don’t think Jesus ever said the phrase “bootstraps.”
Lemuel: No, no, sandals straps, maybe but the different context. But the thing was he was getting a completely distorted version from what he was hearing from these figures and what he was actually reading. And so it was puzzling to him because he thought, Well, you know, this is the same Jesus is this the same person. What I want to do is, I realized that I had a lot of friends who were unchurched. People who didn't have the same experience that I did. And so I was worried they're going to be kind of like my son, they're going to see Christianity only through the lens. It's presented to them through the media and through conservatism. And that kind of Christian.. that kind of version of the faith. It's taken over when recently there was the issue with separating kids from their parents at the border and putting them essentially in what amounts to a prison camp for children. Mitch McConnell, I think it was had the nerve to use scripture to justify what he was doing.
Amity: I think that is the day that we decided this was going to be a thing.
Lemuel: It had to be done because it's no this is not and what's very strange is that the scriptures here, he was using a really selectively cut about law and order because one of the great virtues of both the Old and New Testament is their stories about respect for strangers and taking care of people who are foreigners living in your country and you don't oppress them. You don't impress widows, you don't impress children. Jesus Himself, rarely mentioned hell. He mentions hell really inside of two contexts. One of them is religious hypocrisy, and the other one is people who hurt children. And so the idea that Jesus in any way could be used to justify separating children from their parents and locking them up in a camp internment camps. It's ridiculous.
Amity: Let's move on to the who. Who are you? It sounds like you might have maybe a Christian background of some sort. What is your background? Why do you get to school us on these things?
Lemuel: Because that's what I'm most worried about that I'll be seen as schooling people, which I don't I was a Sunday school teacher. I am a practicing Christian. I am a practicing Christian who hasn't been to church in a long time. This is not because I lack faith. It is because other Christians make me very nervous. You never know exactly what kind of Christianity you're going to confront in a church, if they're going to be the kind who are going to be very conservative. And there's that kind of tension. Sometimes, I believe in the apostles creed. My faith hasn't changed in what I believe but the way I apply it has changed a great deal. My mother was a minister in the Assemblies of God church, and for those of you who aren't familiar with the Assemblies of God church was or is an Evangelical Church has 62 million members. It’s enormous. And they believed in the virtues of speaking in tongues. That was a big one for them.
Amity: Okay, so this is a speaking in tongues…
Lemuel: Pentecostal church.
Amity: I thought that was only in the south for some reason, but I am wrong
Lemuel: No, it’s, that movement started here in California, and it's spread everywhere.
Amity: Maybe I’m thinking of snake handling.
Lemuel: Yeah. And that's that's kind of the issue, people really believe that the two are, you know, interconnected, they're not.
Amity: They are because in media, they are connected to one another
Lemuel: That’s kind of the reason why we're having this podcast.
Lemuel: People see it, you know as
Amity: We'll have a whole episode on Pentecostal, what is it? So you were raised inside the Assemblies of God church with a minister mother.
Lemuel: Right. All of my family members were in the church at some point or another some got to be missionaries. Some got to be one is an active minister right now. And so I was surrounded by them and we were inside the church and really adhering to a very strict version of Christianity.
Amity: Now this includes tee-totality – no
Lemuel: We didn't drink. There was no alcohol in the house.
Amity: Y’all’s be teetotalers
Lemuel: There was
Amity: There's no drinking
Lemuel: No drinking, no dancing. I'll give you an example of this because the Evangelical Church is a sort of a big umbrella and I went to a school that wasn’t with the Assemblies of God, it was also a juggle school. And when we went in, we had to sign an ethics code that include not watching R rated movies and not using profanity on our own time outside of school.
Amity: Did you have the purity oaths?
Lemuel: No, no, we don't have that. But we did have this sort of agreement that, you know, we wouldn't watch this. And there was no, of course, absolutely no sexual contact or contact with the opposite sex. There was a very strange idea that somehow I'm supposed to the marriages are pre arranged or something. And it's like…
Amity: Well, there are denominations and so everything gets mushed together. So we're just clarifying what your structure was.
Lemuel: Our thing was, we went to church four times a week.
Amity: What days was that?
Lemuel: Oh, we did it. There was two services on Sunday. There was one on Tuesday and one on Thursday. And sometimes you would have prayer vigils on Friday nights that would last until two or three in the morning, and having a mother who was a minister, six o'clock in the morning, we'd be woken up out of bed. We'd all sit there and read the Scripture and pray for half an hour, 15 minutes, depending on the day,
Amity: Every day?
Lemuel: every day, except for the weekends. And if you missed a day, you'd actually do it on the weekend. And so that that was just my family. That was what we did. We woke up every every morning, you know, weekday morning, and we did this before we got breakfast before we went to school,
Amity: I would like to point out that you are saying that you would in fact, open the Bible and read from it.
Lemuel: Yes, that's your clock in the morning when you're half asleep and
Amity: Right, but I feel like I've had conversations with proclaimed Christians who did not actually read the book. You have read the book.
Lemuel: When I was a kid. I didn't. I wasn't athletic. I was smart, but that didn't get me anywhere. So what I did is that I was going to be the most devout child ever. And so I read the entire Bible through six or seven times by the time I was 12. During these prayer meetings, I'd be there at the altar praying for the longest I was like out praying the adults. I was like an athletic event for me. So it got to be pretty terrible. I must have been a really awful Bible student because I would sit there and, and not argue with my teachers, but I'd read it enough to actually correct some of the things that they were saying, doesn't it say here and you know, that was kind of a pest. But I really thought that was the way that I was somehow gaining an edge or winning by doing these things. Coming from this very strange, devout background. I'm curious about you and how it all seemed to us tell us about you.
Amity: What it all seems like to me is that there are a lot of people who are hypocrites in the world spouting that the Bible says things that the Bible does not say,
Amity: I will go ahead and use the phrase unchurched. I'll get comfortable with it. I am unchurched. I was raised by a mother who was raised Catholic but by the time she had me, was no longer practicing or believing. She, I think in the one conversation about religion that we ever had. She thought God was a idea. She'd had a pretty hard life at that point. My father believed in nothing, except that the world owed him for what it is unclear. I am intrigued in my current life by people who go to a space for companionship and camaraderie and to share beliefs, I think that that's cool. I’d probably go to a Unitarian service and not feel too like if doubt about it. I personally ascribe to a belief that Jesus was a real person. Historically, this is pretty much been proven. So that's where I'm at. I personally, my specific belief about Jesus is that he was I believe in reincarnation to a point or becoming more enlightened. I believe that he was a very enlightened soul who came into Bethlehem when he came into Bethlehem and used the beliefs of the people he was born to, to get them to the next level, looking at him like a Buddha figure, something like that. Where he was a real cool guy that was not born to a virgin, not the Son of God, did not raise from the dead. These are my beliefs, I’m going to reiterate, I but I do think that he was a teacher who tried to elevate his people using the faith of the people he was around. So that's my take on Christianity. In my life I abhor two things the most: entitlement and hypocrisy. And evangelicals who get on TV say the things that they tend to say, generally tick both of those boxes. So I have a fundamental issue with them, but not with the faith. Because I, I have read all of the Bible, not in a long time. I studied it in college as literature, classes on the Bible as literature. And I also believe the Bible is written by men, edited by men, to make other men happy. See King James. So it's not the Divine Word of God, it didn't get zapped into existence. So of course, there are conflicting things in there. That's what happens when men do a thing. That's where I stand. I am an agnostic. I;d love to believe in a thing. I'm not where I can believe in a thing. But I do believe that we're all here on this earth and it's probably best not to be a dick. So that's how I try to live my life.
Lemuel: I find it interesting, your interpretation that you expressed right now of Christianity is very much the way that it's seen by Buddhists and by Hindus. In that Jesus is viewed as a Buddhist, or light of compassion or Buddhist, or in Hinduism, I believe he's viewed as incarnation of Vishnu.
Amity: Mm Hmm
Lemuel: And again, it's like, I'm not offended by the fact that you believe differently than I do. Like To give you an example of how it works in the Evangelical Church. When I was a kid, they talked to us about things like swearing or promiscuity, and this is where I really began to have a problem with it is even as a kid is that we had a Sunday school teacher who showed up with a plank, and a hammer and nails. And his position was when you ask for forgiveness from God for through Jesus Christ, because everything, God is unattainable, we're asking through Jesus Christ.
Amity: Mm Hmm
Lemuel: At least that was the way he was putting it, even though this is not quite what Jesus was teaching. But God is unattainable. You reach him through Jesus Christ. And so when you ask for God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ, Your sins are forgiven. That's the way that Christianity works. But this is what he did to demonstrate to us, you hammer the nail into the board, you hammered several of them, and then he pulls them out and he says, “Yes, God can forgive you, but this is what your life looks like afterwards.” All right,
Amity: That does not seem like what the teachings say
Lemuel: the board is split, there's holes in it, it says and this was the impression he was trying to give on young people. And so one of the issues with evangelicalism is it is very emotional. You know when you see an evangelical preacher
Amity: Also super judgey.
Lemuel: Right. Well, when you see the evangelical preacher and I remember when I was a kid, Jimmy Swaggart came to town. This was at the height of his powers.
Amity: Oooh, did you go to the cow palace to see him?
Lemuel: No, we didn't grow the cow palace went to the Oakland Coliseum,
Amity: Okay, close
Lemuel: And it was packed a standing room only he was there in a revival meeting. And he was a very compelling speaker because he was just defending the faith against outside forces and there was this kind of notion that it was us against them. And then he's like talking about the insidious effect of secular culture in, in our society, right. So there's a lot of that. We went to this meeting for three nights, it was packed standing room only, there was lots of, you know, talking to the Holy Ghost and everything. His thing was just to appeal to the sort of emotions you make them feel like despite the fact that they pack the Coliseum, despite that, you make them feel like they're a minority, you know,
Lemuel: You're fighting against those forces out there. You appeal to their emotions, you told them it was the world against them. He appealed to the scriptures that said that we had to be separate from the world. Now, of course, that was completely out of a completely different context. They pulled from the scriptures that come from when Christianity was being persecuted by the Romans, and they were hiding the catacombs.
Amity: That was a long time ago
Lemuel: It’s no longer the situation, but that was the kind of letters that were written down.
Amity: Like millennia ago
Lemuel: But it was still that attitude that we can't be a part of the world and look at the secular values are pushing on kids, and that's the reason why we can't watch that TV show or we can't do this or we can't do that. So yeah, that was that kind of world. And so looking at it now it's become so isolated. I think those people have become so isolated. I remember seeing the letters that were written to JK Rowling, who was a practicing Christian, about how evil the Harry Potter books were. Because I didn't sort of understand that this entire set of books is a metaphor for the life of Christ.
Amity: Yes. A lot of times they are picketing or boycotting things that they have literally never experienced
Lemuel: Or have no understanding of because it's very limited.
Amity: We may have tilted our hand on this one already. What is the viewpoint of this podcast?
Lemuel: And I feel the viewpoint is to sort of liberate Christianity from the hands of people who are using it to political ends. And I think that's a really important distinction. Jesus himself was completely apolitical to the point where he was scornful of people's politics.
And never took place ever in a political discussion ever.
Amity: So are we not political, then?
Lemuel: No, we're saying is that it should when you start including Jesus as a political figure and using the scripture to justify your principles, you're acting outside of Christianity. There's a conflict that happened at the beginning of the last century where a gentleman published a book called The Fundamentals, and it was a number of points that he made about what you have to believe to be Christian. And so fundamentalism, as we understand it here in America is barely over 100 years old, and it began to absorb politics into this sort of weird ethics. What we're doing is separating it from that because the faith is not a part of this strict culture of belief.
Amity: Okay, so evangelical and fundamentalism, they're not the same.
Lemuel: They're not the same but they often go together. The point of view that you’ll hear from me is not the point of view of every Christian right? There's some have different varying kind of beliefs, but I believe that the faith should not be interpreted through the lens of fundamentalism or evangelicalism. I am myself politically left because I believe that the kind of faith that is represented by Jesus in the gospels, leans left. It leans towards helping the poor it leans towards helping the sick. It leans towards helping widows. There's an early letter from Paul to one of the early churches saying you can't neglect helping widows and your daily ministries, you have to assign people to help them. You have to assign people to work together to help the poor ones in your community. This is the reason this is how you get the Romans to start picking on this is one way of putting it
Amity: It's also, in America, how you reach nonprofit status.
Lemuel: Right. The message of Christianity is that God is broken hearted over the way that we treat each other and things that we do to each other the way that we harm each other the way that we take it out on each other, our own miseries and so it becomes one of us to pull us to the side. It becomes a part of this kind of system of decay and death and everything.
Amity: Yeah, but also to kind of get a maybe a little bit of understanding of why we are terrible to each other. It fucking sucks down here Everything hurts
Lemuel: Everything. Yes. And that's one of the interesting points about it. This is a man who was born into poverty. He's had to work his entire life up until the point where he begins this ministry, and then he's homeless for three years, between one and three years. As far as we understand it, he's living on charity. Here's a person who doesn't turn down going to a place to eat, who loves to socialize with other people. This is not the Jesus I grew up with this is the Jesus that was represented to me was very austere and judgmental. And so the Jesus that I get from the Gospels is a completely different person. And that's why I do have that left leaning because I do see how that's more in tune with that teaching than making walls to separate people.
Amity: One of the things that we're going to do on this podcast is talk about current events, news events. I just want to be clear, we are progressive
Amity: Californians one of us happens to be a Christian. And he's taking Christianity back. So are we trying to convert people?
Lemuel: But no, we're not trying to convert people. I don't
Amity: I mean I'm definitely that I have nothing to sell.
Lemuel: That’s such a way to put it. But I'm not trying to convert people. This is the subject that touches me more than anything else. It is the only thing that's more important to me than Godzilla, I think, which is saying a great deal. This is not an evangelical tool. If you hear me being in passionate about it, it's because it's the subject that makes me passionate,
Lemuel: And also the fact that it's very deeply in my nature, and that's at home in spite of what was done to me as a kid. It's like I found a different way to believe it. I at the right age, began reading CS Lewis, a Christian intellectual and so I left part of what was that thing behind and started going, there's a different way to take this.
Amity: And I'm going to say it's not going to be an evangelical tool because I'm not gonna let it be an evangelical tool
Lemuel: It should never be
Amity: I am gonna try and do my best to host
Lemuel: Uh huh.
Amity: But I am going to be constantly asking questions and slapping stuff down. Also, guess who's the editor? It's me. So we're not proselytizing.
Lemuel: No, not at all.
Amity: We are clarifying. We're also, you know, frustrated at political events. We're current events. We're frustrated, so many situations at the same time. And that's why I wanted to do this show.
Amity: Because hypocrisy doesn't sit well with me
Lemuel: That and the fact that you're being lied to.
Amity: Oh, yeah.
Lemuel: I really shudder to think in some ways, what would happen if I wasn't a part of your life? And you were hearing this what opinion uniform of these people?
Amity: Oh, it's the same opinion. I’d still have the same opinion of those people.
Lemuel: But I mean, there's some people who don't understand it, and they'll go, yes. The what Mitch McConnell says, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders says in defense of locking up children, has the same moral gravity as a minister from the Episcopal Church whose you know they rejected all heterocentricity to their scriptures. They've actively taken the steps to include lesbian, gay, transgender binders in the church. So yes, it's like there are people fighting the good fight. So what Dr. King's teaching was, and what other people who've really represented the faith going forward. And the teaching of someone who is, you know, an evangelical who wants to hang wants abbreviation I guess is what I read today in the rules about lynching too, so that homosexuals are
Amity: Excluded, yeah, from Yeah, I saw that…
Lemuel: From that protection. It's like, yeah, that person is not representing this faith. Franklin Graham is not representing this faith.
Amity: So we're, we're calling people out.
Lemuel: We're calling people out.
Amity: That's our point of view. And that's what we're going to do.
Lemuel: This is not, I'm not trying to convert you. If you get converted along the way by accident that's on you.
Amity: We're going to have different segments. Some of the things that we're going to be doing on will be answering questions, hopefully from listeners. So if you guys have questions about Christianity, about Christians about any thing that you hear that Christian evangelicals or Christians of any stripe.. we’ll talk about the Catholic Church… are doing in the world, if you have any questions about how they're in appropriately, responding to things or appropriately responding to things, if you have any questions generally about what the Bible says about anything. Any questions will take and consider,
Lemuel: Right, and it's a big subject. Remember, there's 2000 years of history.
Lemuel: So there's a lot to deal with.
Amity: The other things that we're looking at doing are maybe what would Jesus do? Advice through a Christian lens
Lemuel: Through Jesus lens, let's put it that way.
Amity: I wanted to do an advice show forever. So…
Lemuel: But I want to again to make it clear and maybe to say concisely, if you are very kind of fundamentalist minded, this might be offensive to you. Okay, I'm not out there to offend you. I'm just giving you that heads up going into it. If you have a very kind of right wing interpretation of Christianity that is politically excluding people, this might not be for you.
Amity: I'm gonna counter that.
Lemuel: Uh huh.
Amity: This might exactly be for you, we are not speaking out of turn.
Lemuel: No, no.
Amity: We're doing research, you have a deep knowledge of the book. You have a deep history of analysis of Scripture. It's we're not, we're not putting eyes on it for the first time. I have a degree in literature. I have a deep understanding of analysis of writing. I also have pretty strong historical background or background in history, and also research background. So we'll be researching our stories.
Amity: We are going to be I mean, we're pundits, right? Like, we're coming at this with an angle. Please listen, if you think you disagree.
Lemuel: And again, this is also not an evangelical outreach for the Democratic Party either. No, it's like, I want to make that clear. And what I also want to put out is if people are easily offended, because there's going to be things that will be said that might be flipping even by me.
Amity: Yes, we're going to try and have fun. We're not we're not… We don't want you to feel like this is going to church.
Amity: Or going to school.
Lemuel: And that's part of the issue that I had with church is that it was so mortally serious at times that I think that if you're easily offended, this also might be an issue for you, but at the same time, it's going to hue in it’s own direction, and we're not going to Jesus as far as his teachings, and the part that probably can be accepted even by secular people, was never a part of the establishment. He was constantly at war with political figures
Lemuel: at war with religious figures. He did not ever do things, the easy way, frankly. So the to me the idea that he becomes an establishment figure is completely the opposite of what he was doing. He's here to open things up. He's here to put room for everyone at the table. It's not excluding people. It's not locking people in cells. It's not keep building walls. That's not what he does.
Amity: Right. So so that we're looking at a doing cannon fodder: That's people that we think we're nominating for sainthood, you know, pending, everything. We're going to talk about, oh, we're going to maybe do a worst person in the world type section. What have you called it? Get thee behind me, Felicia.
Lemuel: Get the behind me, Felicia.
Amity: Which I believe is a Friday reference. We're going to talk about things that we are grateful for where we're not trying not to just be angry and
Lemuel: No. Christianity was also supposed to be about joy. Be happy. Everyone has a little light to share with the world. Everyone does. There's something that you bring to it, that that can contribute to the greater good. And that's really what this is about, is about my specific lens, and that has across it and your specific lens that doesn't. But at the same time, there's hope for everybody. Everyone has a role to play, everyone can contribute.
Amity: Let's talk about the title. So the title of the podcast is Without Works. Where does that come from?
Lemuel: It comes from James 2:15. But we're going to start with 14. This is one of the rare occasions outside of like, sort of a textual analysis that you'll hear be, quote scriptures. Don't worry, you know.
Amity: Yeah, we're not going to open up a prayer or a scripture reading.
Lemuel: (choral music bed) What does it profit, my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food and one of you says to him, depart in peace be warmed and filled, but not given the things which are needed for the body? What does it profit? Thus faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead. That's the thrust of this program. If you can't say to somebody, you have faith, you're okay. Just pray, everything will be better
Amity: Or even worse, really can't say I have faith,
Amity: So everything's going to be fine
Lemuel: Exactly so the whole point of this and what we've tried to do you have to do something because if you don't, your faith is meaningless.
Amity: Gotcha. Get out there and do something.
Lemuel: Get out there and do something.