If I Were In Charge: Overview & Topical Guide

By: Mike S
July 6, 2011

I know it seems a bit odd to explain the purpose of a series after the series has already started, but there has been some confusion and I think I perhaps haven’t explained my goal with enough detail.  I’ve described various bits and pieces in the different posts, but here it is all together.  At the bottom is also a “Topical Guide” with a list of the posts in the series.

The title of the series is “If I Were In Charge:”.   I did debate between “If I WAS In Charge” vs “If I WERE In Charge”, which are both grammatically correct.  The word ‘WAS’ implies an indicative mood, which is used to make a statement.  The word ‘WERE’ implies a subjunctive mood, which is used to deal with hypothetical situations or ideas contrary to fact.  Since there’s not any chance that I will actually be in charge, I used ‘WERE’.

I realize that we each have our own ideas about how we would run things.  We each come from unique backgrounds and have had unique religious experiences.  Some people are 6th generation pioneer stock, while others may be new converts or even investigators.  Some people are “both-feet-in”, while others may feel more of a cultural attachment.  So, there are nearly an infinite number of potential topics for the series – so how do I pick them?  And why even talk about these things?

First, the what.  What topics are or are NOT included in the series?

Doctrinal / Foundational: There are some things that are doctrinal and these are NOT topics I plan to discuss as they are far above my pay grade.  Some doctrinal things make no logical sense to change.  For example, could the Church teach that Joseph Smith was a fraud yet still claim to be valid?  Probably not.  Doctrinal things also take a canonized level of revelation to modify – like changing polygamy from an eternal and essential doctrinal principle to something that will get you excommunicated, or blacks and the priesthood.  I also think women and the priesthood may fall in this category (?).  Since doctrinal aspects of the LDS Church can only be changed by revelation through the Prophet, they don’t really fall in the goals of this series.

Group Characteristics: There is another category of things that exist in the Church that are NOT doctrinal or even taught as policy, but are a natural function of any organization.   These characteristics can be found in many groups.  For example, in college I was a member of a fraternity.  Although we all had a wide variety of friends and contacts, because we spent so much time together, we tended to hang out because of familiarity.  I’m sure this appeared cliquish to many people around us.  I see the same thing in the LDS Church, but also other churches, the Rotary Club, or any group of people.

There are also bad apples in any group.  In the LDS Church, there are leaders who abuse their authority, there are people who perpetuate or are victims of sexual or physical abuse, there are members who value the organization above people, there are “fakers” who act one way around members of the group but a different way otherwise, etc.  But these characteristics are found in just about any group – not just the LDS Church.  There’s not much I can propose to change here, other than to just try to stamp it out when we see it.

Purpose of Series

So, what ARE the posts about?  To answer this, I first want to answer WHY do this series at all.  I first started really thinking about this when I looked at Church membership statistics back in a post entitled Good vs Great: Iomega and General Conference Statistics.  According to trends given in more detail there, the overall growth rate is half of what it was a few decades ago, convert rates are down, and the number of people whose names are no longer on the rolls is increasing.  While we can discuss the reasons why, the numbers are what they are.  Predicting the future is problematic, but if current trends hold, in the next 20 years, there will be as many people leaving the church as there are converts.  At that point, growth will only occur through children born to members.

And this leads to the purpose of this series.  There are external factors largely beyond our control leading to this.  There are also doctrinal and historical aspects of the Church which some people just can’t accept.  But, there are also unnecessary molehills that we SHOULD change.

Smashing Molehills: I was considering using this as the title of the series, so what does this mean?  We’ve all heard the phrase “Making a mountain out of a molehill”.  In the context of the Church, there are things that seem fairly trivial to many members (molehills) but which are very big turn-offs to other people (mountains).  Examples might be a white shirt or having a beard.  The common response from many members is that it is just a little thing and to “just get over it”.  But if it is non-doctrinal, non-essential, and can potentially serve as a stumbling block to just a handful of people, why not get rid of it?  Why do we cling to non-important things?

As I mentioned in the post on earrings in this series:

The number of earrings may seem meaningless to you, but to someone else is it NOT meaningless.  To someone else, our focus on the superficial is enough that they have no interest in hearing our message on eternity.  And for someone else it may be that glass of wine with dinner.  They may be so confused by our focus on something that even Christ Himself drank that they have no interest in hearing that He actually appeared to Joseph Smith.

I’m NOT clamoring for a “lowering of standards” as some people have suggested. Instead, I suggest that perhaps we see if we can get rid of all the stumbling blocks.  Instead of “Mormonism” encompassing a list of hundreds of features, ranging from the truly amazing and sublime to the absolutely trivial, why not jettison the things that might be a stumbling block so we can truly focus on the few amazing things.

If something as trivial and non-eternal as the number of earrings someone has causes even a single person to stumble or perhaps not even investigate the Church, what purpose has that really served?

Sacred molehills

Discussing sacred molehills is the purpose of this series – to discuss non-doctrinal and non-essential things that potentially serve as stumbling blocks.  What we are doing isn’t working.  All trends: convert rates, members leaving, YSA activity rates, etc. are going in the wrong direction.  We can try to readjust the chairs on the Titanic by coming up with yet another program.  We can bemoan the external factors and hope for change there.  Or we can be a bit more proactive and talk about changing non-essential things so we can focus on the beautiful and life-changing truths that can be found here.

So, these are things I would change “If I Were In Charge”:

Topical Guide

If I Were In Charge: Change Women’s Garments (And Men’s) – While garments have an important symbolic role and remind us of covenants, their current form is a struggle for many people (this post has the most views and comments to date).  They have changed significantly over the years from one-piece garments going to ankles and wrists.  A few much less substantial changes could make a big difference.  There are great comments and suggestions from many people in this post.

If I Were In Charge: Expand The Meaning of “I’m A Mormon” – While we have ads showing diversity, the perception of Mormonism to many people is of a monolithic block of people who all think alike.  Some suggest narrowing the definition of what being a “Mormon” entails.  I think we should expand it.

If I Were In Charge: Ignore Tattoos – Tattoos are a generational and cultural thing.  They have been made into a de facto doctrinal thing.  This post also includes some haiku if you want to try your hand at writing some.

If I Were In Charge: Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know” In Testimonies – Using the phrase “I Know” is uncomfortable for many people when it regards concepts based on faith.  But saying “I Believe” has evolved to imply “less” of a testimony.  This can make many people feel inferior and should be changed.

If I Were In Charge: Reopen the LDS Canon – Defining LDS doctrine is difficult.  We have situations where we say that prior things made by prophets and apostles were merely opinion and speculation.  Having a mechanism where we once again add official “doctrine” to the official canon by inclusion in the D&C would help distinguish between “doctrinal” statements of our leaders and “opinion” statements.

If I Were In Charge: Revisit the Word of Wisdom (Including Obedience and Obesity) – The Word of Wisdom as currently interpreted is quite different from how it was revealed to and lived by Joseph Smith.  As opposed to a “health law”, it seems to be more of a test of obedience, only marginally related to actual health.  And we completely ignore the parts that have to do with the alarming trend of obesity in the United States.

If I Were In Charge: Separate Marriage From Sealing – Mixed families have become the rule rather than the exception.  This is where some of the family are active, temple-recommend holding members, while others are less-active or even non-members.  The current marriage policy can be very divisive where family members are excluded from what should be an inclusive and uniting event.  And, ironically, changing the policy is easy, as it is already the practice of the Church in many countries of the world.

If I Were In Charge: Stop Counting Earrings – The number of earrings that someone has evolved from an opinion to pseudo-doctrinal status.  This post discusses why this is an unnecessary stumbling block.

If I Were In Charge: Stop Requiring Specific Donations For Spiritual Participation – Charity is essential for helping the poor, to support religious organizations, and for our own personal development.  But limiting someone’s participation in things of eternal significance unless they give a specific amount of money seems to miss the mark.

If I Were In Charge: Tithe the Church’s For-Profit Businesses – People want their church to act more like a charitable organization and less like a corporation.  When the impression is the opposite, many people get a bad taste in their mouth.  We can talk about how much we are doing, but do we “put our money where our mouth is”?  This post suggests we could perhaps do better.

And more posts to come…

Questions:

  • Do you think the decline in statistics are real trends or just bad interpretation?  And if they are NOT real trends, do you have some numbers to support your point?
  • Do you think that there are non-essential things that we can change about the Church that could have an impact on these trends?
  • Do you think that feelings of the “masses” in the Church have any influence on the leadership?
  • Are there any other topics that you would like to see discussed in future posts?  If so, list them below and I’ll add them to my queue.

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23 Responses to If I Were In Charge: Overview & Topical Guide

  1. Howard on July 6, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    Mike S.this is a great series thank you so much for putting it together.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on July 6, 2011 at 11:20 PM

    I have really enjoyed this series, Mike. Very well written and thought out. Topics I would consider for future installments:
    - Reduce the 3 hour block
    - Allow more freedom in tithing allocation
    - Change the focus of the TR interviews
    - Make the temple ceremony shorter
    - Open up correlation; publish what they are working on and their objectives; add transparency
    - Make lesson manuals less Ameri-centric; cut the extraneous lesson materials on lives of the prophets that don’t translate to other cultures or aren’t gospel-relevant

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  3. Kendrick K on July 7, 2011 at 1:00 AM

    I really like the posts and keep any eye out for any new items,

    If you included less-actives, I think church growth stagnated a long time ago, one suggestion I have:

    Adopt other translations of the bible such as the NIV 1984, allow for other interpretations than the KJV, the BOM could do with an update too.

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  4. Aaron R. on July 7, 2011 at 6:19 AM

    Kendrick, what version of the Bible are you currently using?

    Mike S, thank you for the work you have put into the series.

    On Hawk’s lesson manual suggestion, I would make the manuals centred on raising questions rather than didatic pedagogy currently prevalent, like Jim F.’s post on the GD lessons.

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  5. Sharon LDS in TN on July 7, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    Mike S….Thank you for the many thoughts
    to stir us and contemplate..I appreciate your intent and goal. My haiku about tattoos:
    Deep inside my heart
    MY message to God alone;
    Rather than inkstains.

    Love to all out there!

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  6. Kendrick K on July 7, 2011 at 7:29 AM

    Aaron R.

    I recently found an app that has access to 24 differing English versions of the Bible.

    After reviewing a number of them I found the New International Version 1984 (NIV84) suits my needs best, the translation seem clear and easy to understand.

    Whilst I’m not an advocate of dumbing down scripture, and there are time when I enjoy the complexity of the KJV, there is something to be said for using a more contemporary language.

    I don’t really think this will do much to stem the flow of those leaving the church, however I think there are many within the wards & branches that simply don’t understand the often complex reverse wording of the KJV, as well as they could if the stumbling blocks of a 200 year old vocabulary was softened

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  7. homeboy33 on July 7, 2011 at 7:33 AM

    Topics I’m interested in:

    Facial hair

    Sexual activities within marriage (Oral sex used to be prohibited to get a temple rec)

    Bishops asking young children behind closed doors about their sexual feelings

    3 hour block (there are already in talks to
    change this)

    basketball being the preferred social medium

    home teaching being about a lesson, a prayer, and asking if we can help

    clarification of masturbation policy (so many peoples self esteem is ruined over an unclear policy)

    Pants for women

    Wearing of Crosses being prohibited unecessarily

    All Conference talks being in english

    All hymns being slow & boring

    No fun musical numbers in sac meeting

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  8. Jeff Spector on July 7, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    I love the series even if I don’t quite agree with everything written. It is important for us to discuss these things and understand and relate to other POVs and why some folks think and act the way we they do. We should seek to understand those POVs and it helps us to be better friends, Church members and Disciples as a result. No one else knows what our own personally POV might be.

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  9. Mike S on July 7, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Thank you for the comments. We’ll keep the series going. I’ll be adding these topics to my list to go through, so I appreciate that.

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  10. Mike S on July 7, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    #8 Jeff

    We have obviously disagreed about some things in the past (although I suspect we agree about the 99% and discuss the 1%). But that is the exact purpose of the posts. If we all agreed, it would be terribly boring with a bunch of “Amen, Brother Mike” comments :-)

    I do appreciate respectful discussions with varying viewpoints. So thank you.

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  11. Mike S on July 7, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    Regarding Bible versions, I’ll get into it more later, but the most accurate and most enjoyable one I read is the NRSV. It’s actually the one I use to teach on Sunday as well.

    For studying, I like this one:

    The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, College Edition, New Revised Standard Version by Michael D. Coogan ISBN-10: 9780195288827
    ISBN-13: 978-0195288827

    For carrying to Church (because it’s much smaller), I use this one:

    NRSV Go-Anywhere Compact Thinline Bible with the Apocrypha (Bonded Leather, Navy [Bonded Leather] Harper Bibles ISBN-10: 0061827215 ISBN-13: 978–061827211

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  12. Jeff Spector on July 7, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    MIke S,

    “If we all agreed, it would be terribly boring with a bunch of “Amen, Brother Mike” comments :-)’

    Uh oh, Now you’re talking about Church…. :)

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  13. topher on July 7, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Having taught Gospel Doctrine off and on for about five years now I would love updated Sunday school manuals. Actually, I would love if there were a variety of manuals made on a variety of different topics. Then let the Sunday school pres. or bishop decide what classes will be taught in the ward for that year.

    Or make the classes cover six months instead of a year. I would love to teach a six month class on the four gospels for example.

    Also, add more historical and cultural detail to the manuals. I could go on but I will leave it at that. Just a bit of a pet peeve…

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  14. Badger on July 7, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    Whilst…I enjoy the complexity of the KJV, there is something to be said for using a more contemporary language.

    I also appreciate the literary merit of the KJV in English. However its archaic solemnity is the product of a few centuries of English-language tradition and linguistic development, not a reflection of how the Bible sounded in its original languages.

    I once taught an EQ lesson in which one of the elders had difficulty with an unfamiliar word while reading aloud: [Jesus], [w]hom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood… (KJV). He sounded out the word and struggled through to the end of the passage. Honor was satisfied, but it was obvious that just getting the reading done had exhausted his available resources, and he hadn’t had an opportunity to grasp the meaning of what he had read. It was an awkward moment.

    Paul didn’t really write the epistle to the Romans as a test of ability to read at the 25th-grade level. Here’s the same passage in the NIV: God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

    I think the moral here is clear. Teachers should never ask anyone to read a verse that isn’t assigned in the lesson manual. Correlation FTW!

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  15. Rich on July 7, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    I suspect the mountains and molehills you mention are a product of culture of the specific area rather then church wide. I havn’t heard a comment about facial hair in our stake for 20 years. When I was Bishop the sacrament was passed weekly by elders in colored shirts and my counselor had a tattoo. Though we receive counsel concerning a number of these items, it still appears to me that on non doctrinal issues, we still make our own decisions. in addition, mountains work both ways. If somebody can’t sacrifice a glass of wine for eternal salvation what are they willing to sacrifice. there will always be another self made mountain around the next curve. Tithing, church attendence, and doctrinal questions are the big baptism blockers and those aren’t going away anytime soon.

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  16. Mike S on July 8, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    Rich:

    Perhaps they are specific to an area, but they are real. We have talks in general conference about tattoos. My high school daughter can’t go to EFY at BYU if she has two earrings per ear. My son has to wear knee-length shorts to lacrosse camp at BYU next week.

    And regarding mountains “working both ways”, due to the asymmetric nature of the relationship of the Church and a member, this isn’t really logical. The Church dictates to the individual, NOT the other way around. And the typical “Church answer” is exactly what you gave: If someone can’t sacrifice “x” for eternal salvation, what are they willing to sacrifice? This can be said about EVERYTHING in this entire series. This is the attitude people have had. And it isn’t working.

    Why not get rid of everything non-essential and non-doctrinal and trust people to make those decisions for themselves?

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  17. Irony on July 8, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    Rich:

    Allow me to chime in, if you will:

    I havn’t heard a comment about facial hair in our stake for 20 years.

    The no-beard/mustache policy is actually a requirement for temple workers. While local application (i.e. callings) is governed by the local leaders, there is an implied no-beard policy thanks to what is practiced in the temple. Case in point, I knew a man who served as a bishop (2x) while having a benign mustache. He was called to be a veil worker about 2 years ago and had to shave the mustache he sported for 20+ years in order to accept the calling.

    If somebody can’t sacrifice a glass of wine for eternal salvation what are they willing to sacrifice.

    So, when Christ comes back and asks me to drink some wine with him (should I be around for it), I’m to tell him “No, my eternal salvation rests on not drinking wine…” As if wine is even verboten in the scriptures or D&C 89 for that matter. [Funnily enough, its actually prescribed in D&C 89... and, funnily enough, there is still the vestiges of the old Wine Mission in Toquerville, Utah.]

    I’ve always like this thought on wine:

    “And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his Disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him. And while they were gone for bread and wine, he commanded the multitude that they should sit themselves down upon the earth.” 3 Nephi 18:1-2

    Why did the Lord ask for “wine?” What is there in the symbol of “wine” that testifies of Him? We know that in exigencies we can substitute water for wine. (D&C 27: 2.) But the Lord requested “wine” to be brought for the ordinance He was about to introduce.

    Section 27:2 was given because the Prophet Joseph was on his way to procure wine from an enemy who wished him harm. The possibility of the wine being adulterated was significant. Since an angel met Joseph on his way and revealed that a substitute could be used, it is likely if wine had been procured it would have been poisoned. The revelation gives precautions to be taken in preparing wine for the sacrament. (D&C 27: 3-4.) The Saints were to prepare their own wine, and know it is safe for use in the sacrament.

    To conform to this revelation, when the Saints moved west there was a “Wine Mission” established in Southern Utah. The Mormon Wine Mission did not have a formal separate existence, but was within the boundaries of the Cotton Mission of 1861.The Saints made their own wine because of D&C 27: 3-4. If the Saints did not make the wine themselves, they were to use water. Therefore, to conform to the pattern of the Lord, and the revelation to guard against the mischief of enemies, the wine mission was established to produce wine for the sacrament.

    Master vintner John C. Naegle was called by Brigham Young to establish and operate a winery in Toquerville and to instruct people in the wine making process. The operation that Naegle presided over built a rock house for production which included a wine cellar underneath large enough to accommodate a wagon and a team of horses and allow them to turn around. In the production house were located the vats, presses, and other production equipment to produce and ferment the wine. They produced 500-gallon casks. The wine was shipped in smaller 40-gallon casks. It was distributed through ZCMI. Wine making became an important Southern Utah industry.

    As President Grant elevated the Word of Wisdom from wise advice to a strict commandment, the practice of using wine in the sacrament came to an end. Since that time Latter-day Saints have taken a dim view of using wine in the sacrament.

    Ask yourself, however, which is a more appropriate symbol of the Lord’s supper: water or wine? If water were more so, then why did the Lord not institute use of water among the Nephites in the ceremony He is about to introduce in the verses which follow? Why is the sacrament prayer in both Moroni 5 and D&C 20: 78-79 spoken for “wine” rather than water?

    Are we morally superior because we use water instead of wine? Have we replaced a powerful symbol with a fanatical rule? Is there such a risk of adulterated or poisoned wine by anti-Mormon suppliers that we are justified in not using wine in the sacrament?

    But then, I guess my eternal salvation rests on not drinking something the scriptures suggest we drink. That might qualify as bizarre.

    Lastly:

    Tithing, church attendence, and doctrinal questions are the big baptism blockers and those aren’t going away anytime soon.

    Can you point out where in Scripture it lays out that the things you listed are required for anyone wanting to become baptized? Missionaries preach quite a lengthy list of what is required these days (regular attendance ahead of the baptism, all the lessons, members present for at least a couple of the lessons, tithing, fast offerings, interviews with the missionaries and local leadership and on and on), but just what do the scriptures state are the requirements for entering the waters of baptism?

    Mike, I think these are all a couple of additional things you could write about in your series…

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  18. Geoff - A on July 11, 2011 at 4:55 AM

    Mike, I too have enjoyed this series. I would like to see all the accumulated culture both Utah/conservative and Church removed and the Church return to core values.

    It seems to me the culture of the leaders in an area greatly determine how the church is run. I lived in a liberal area with a liberal bishop and it was a wonderful ward. Area Presidencies were introduced and within 12 months we had a series of more conservative bishops called who were degrees of disaster. In fact I have not had as good a bishop or good a spirit in the ward since then.(30 years)
    Looking at the leadership of the church-it appears, from where I am, that the Prophet has gone very quiet since Pop 8, his councilors both seem to be moving the church to a Christ centered outfit, while some others are still on the total obedience plan.

    I would like to see discussion of changing the succession to Prophet, so we could have someone like Uchtdorf as Prophet before he is 75. So that we can have leaders who are even younger.

    I believe it is only a question of time before the p’hood is for all worthy members. The best potential bishop in our ward is a woman.

    I also believe there needs to be a method for members to send feedback to the leadership of the church with some expectation that it will be seen as constructive. As there don’t seem to have been many revelations recently perhaps all wisdom does not reside with some old men mostly from ultra conservative backgrounds, which does not sound like a recipe for progress.

    I believe in the basic doctrines of the Gospel, and particularly the teachings of Christ, and believe they have to be separated from the culture that comes with the church, and resurected as the centre of the church teachings. Elder Uchtdorf appears to be moving us in that direction but as he is not in charge — we’ll see.

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  19. Mike S on July 21, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    Geoff: I would like to see discussion of changing the succession to Prophet, so we could have someone like Uchtdorf as Prophet before he is 75. So that we can have leaders who are even younger.

    I like this idea (among the others in your post).

    All: Thank you for your other ideas.

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  20. [...] must not have made this clear enough, so I’ve gone back and retitled the whole series “Sacred Molehills“.  These are little things that are molehills to some people, but mountains to others.  And [...]

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  21. [...] This post is one in a whole series.  To see other similar posts, here is an “Overview & Topical Guide” to the other [...]

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  22. [...] NOTE:  This is one post in a series of non-doctrinal things I would change if I were in charge.  If you are interested in seeing some of the others, please see If I Were In Charge: Overview & Topical Guide. [...]

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  23. [...] changing anything doctrinal.  If you are interested in seeing any of the other ideas, here is an Overview and Topical Guide of things I would do if I were in charge.) [...]

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