Just Listen

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’ve been thinking for the past week.  In truth, longer than that.  I explained in my last post why I am in favor of civil gay marriage in American society.  Two of my atheist friends called me to the carpet on the relevance of my support.  Why did my opinion matter?  I would refer them to today’s New York Times opinion page.  In civil society, we argue in public, support each other in public, for the public good.  But then my friends made it personal.  Or at least that is the way it seemed to me.

Thank you.

I needed this to be personal.  I needed to consider my sons and then have the same view of other people’s sons and daughters.  Then I needed to watch this in its entirety.

And so today I did.  I didn’t cry through all of it like J did.  I ran for 10 miles and prayed.  Several things affected me deeply and personally.

  • Jake was articulate, intelligent, innocent and precious – – I will defend him like I would my sons
  • I’ve always grieved the southern church’s history of shame in the treatment of minorities – – is this such a time?  Are the white hooded cowards sitting on the pew next to me?
  • There are commenters on the youtube trailer that hate scripture and people of faith.  I get that.  Jake and his parents do not.  Bishop Gene Robinson does not.  They have studied like this man and have come to different interpretations.
  • Bishop Desmond Tutu moved me – – I have admired him and Nelson Mandela for many years.
  • To be honest, I did not know about these interpretations until one week ago.
  • To my shame, I said that I would not read a book to explain it.  Shame.  I read books on so many less important things.
  • To J’s college best friend – – I’m sorry and I’m willing to change.

Before I met Russell and his bride J I was praying for wisdom.  In reply I would often hear a quiet whisper in my mind, “just listen.”  I do love Jesus, love scripture, and love gay people.  I’m willing to seek the reconciliation of those things.  I will not tolerate bigotry and I will vote for equality before the law.  That likely means something worse than loving gay people in my circles – – it likely means voting for a Democrat.  Would I attend the wedding of a gay friend in a church that interpreted scripture to bless it?  I would.  I know that I’m going to be wrong on many things when all things become clear or nothing after my death (depending on your viewpoint).  If I am going to err here, then let it be on the side of mercy.

For my believing friends, the exegesis of Genesis and Leviticus made more sense to me than that of Romans 1.  But I’m willing to learn.  To be clear, whether you care about my opinion or not:  I do believe most gay people are born that way and are not mistakes.  I will never hate them.  I will defend these creations of a loving God with words, politics, and if necessary in cases of hateful violence – – my life.

For my atheist friends – – you can change a mind if one respects you and is willing to listen, but it is rarely in an instant.  Be patient.  That, after all, is my approach to you.

Pascal – – 1:16

19 comments

  1. Thank you so much for being willing to listen. Your last two bullet points and the fact that you watched the video I referenced in my post without me even asking you to means the world to me. I’ll be patient, and I’m sorry if I haven’t been. You have my respect and friendship even if you never change your mind. I still hope you do, and I’m so glad that you’re willing to listen and think.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello my friend,

    I wrote much of this last night in response to your previous post. I thought I’d put it here, though much of it is no longer relevant given what you’ve said in this post. I was so moved by your stance here (you’re willingness to read the ideas of those who accept homosexuality and Christianity, and your willingness to make this personal and err on the side of mercy) that I threw down my phone and hopped around the room. Don’t worry, I really just dropped it on a soft ottoman and hopped because I couldn’t contain my urge to hug you. 🙂 This is a real issue for me, and I hope you forgive my silence before. It was due to life, not apathy. I wish I’d added my voice sooner, but I’m fairly sure you know where I stand and I knew you had plenty of people to discuss this with on the last post. Here’s where I got last night…

    I used to believe as you do about homosexuality, so I empathize with where you’re at. I think few people want to oppose what they view as a psychologically beneficial and loving life commitment between two people, especially if they feel they have to do so for reasons they don’t agree with. It seems like you’re saying that you don’t know why God chose for homosexuality to be a sin, and you wish it weren’t so, but you can’t (or couldn’t) make yourself believe otherwise while maintaining your confidence in scripture. Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding your heart here. If that’s correct, it’s a very tough place to be in and I recognize that you’ve backed up as far as you feel that you can to preserve love while maintaining scripture’s authority (and, by extension, confidence in the faith that you love).

    I do have a few remaining questions about that and some further thoughts. I know I’m breaking the five sentence guidelines. In fact this may get long. I haven’t said much in a while about this important issue and I’m not going to watch the word count here. Everyone else has added much to the conversation and some of this will be repeat. My apologies.

    First, telling someone what essentially amounts to, “You’re acting immorally” when they choose a life partner of the same gender (assuming they are naturally inclined that way) is psychologically damaging. Science would seem to say that making a same-sex-attracted person feel bad or guilty for engaging in a sincere, committed, monogamous loving homosexual relationship is harmful to them (and lacking a substantive objective reason), and therefore it is actually immoral to say such a thing (to the extent science can talk about morality, which is pretty substantial in my view). The number of homosexual suicides and suicide attempts is much higher than the base rate (I’ve heard 20 attempts and one success every five hours in the U.S.), in large part due to the stigma, bias, and prejudice against them. Much of this prejudice seems to be fueled by religious interpretations. I think we agree here.

    Similarly, allowing groups of people to tell other groups of people which sets of consenting adults they can and can’t commit themselves to (in a healthy monogamous relationship) without dire eternal consequences is also harmful on many levels (polarizing society, leading to homophobia and violent or cruel outburst from multiple sides, oppressive behavior, inequality, etc.). If the relationships aren’t harmful to them or others in this one life that we know we have, they shouldn’t be forbidden by any group of people. I think we agree here as well.

    Third, the Bible seems to allow alternative interpretations for the verses that discuss homosexuality. For example, the OT laws that discuss it aren’t followed any more than other such laws, and we certainly can be committed Christians without feeling spiritually obligated to stone homosexuals to death. The discussion in Romans was a description of a past event about what God “did” to those people (giving them over to their desires as a result of not acknowledging Him, etc.). This doesn’t require belief that He does this for modern people any more than assuming all modern famines or earthquakes (or other natural disasters) are directly caused by Him just because some similar Biblical events were a punishment for sin. In addition, you and I are highly skeptical about the notion that all homosexual people are homosexual because they didn’t give thanks to God, etc. So this whole section of the Bible can’t be used as a broad brush of certainty painting God’s feelings about all forms of homosexuality for all time. Paul saw wickedness and that was his assessment about what led to such wickedness. He also didn’t permit women to speak in church (though that book may have been a forgery and not written by Paul – which doesn’t bode well for confidence in Biblical authority). The point is, Paul’s assessment may have been wrong or it may have been right, but he wasn’t necessarily making an assessment for today’s culture that understands, with more confidence and data to back it up, that some people are destined to have those desires.

    I know you’ve read Caesar and Christ, and it’s on my list. It seems that book has convinced you that Jesus was not a myth and that homosexuality in ancient Rome included life-long loving relationships. For the former, I want to learn more, and I’ll read Richard Carrier’s new book about it as well as Caesar and Christ and at least on other good anti-mythicist book before I commit to a position on that. Should I start with volume one of Durant’s works or jump in there at volume 3 with Caesar and Christ? I know they’re long, but I love Durant. For the latter (Durant’s view on homosexuality in Rome), I’ll just say that I have no doubt that such loving, committed relationships existed, but I’m not convinced that Paul was really focusing on those relationships in that context in Romans. If he was, I’m not convinced that he understood that for some people it wasn’t a chosen “desire” for God to give them over to, but an unchosen one that was natural for them. And if he did understand this, I’m not convinced he meant his words to apply in all situations at all times. And if he did intend that, I’m not convinced he was right.

    Sexual preference is one of those subjects for which I see a benefit to the self-correcting mechanism of secular morality. Biblical interpretations can be self-correcting, but that usually comes when they conflict with our own moral sense or when observations about reality (e.g. science) teach us some new insight that helps us understand and identify more with the working of nature and our place in it. If we were tasked with creating an ethic system from behind the veil of ignorance – we would not choose to persecute homosexuals. For that reason alone, it’s clear to me that we’re facing a conflict between our morals and what someone in ancient times claimed were God’s morals. When we obey the “might makes right “ morality of the Bible (yes, I know that’s usually attributed to non-theistic morality, but often incorrectly), we are forced to accept what we believe is God’s will, even when it conflicts with what our best selves would choose from behind the veil of ignorance.

    Ultimately, this all falls under the umbrella of the problem of evil again. If things are right because God says it, then it’s might makes right and we should have the option to object if that morality is unloving or unkind. If God says things because they are right, then right and wrong exist apart from God and we should consider following our sense of love. We can discuss the Euthyphro dilemma more later.

    Science and the common interpretation of the Bible are in conflict over the issue of homosexuality. As my doubts about the Bible escalated, I eventually felt the need to step back and try a hypothetical experiment of reinterpreting the Bible through the lens of what I understood about this reality, rather than reinterpreting this reality through the lens of what I was taught as a child and what I wished to be true. In my need to preserve infallibility, I struggled greatly to find that balance between which science to accept and which to reject because it might lead to a tipping point in the core of my faith. I think the vast majority of believers do this much of the time, and they find it easiest to just ignore the tough issues. It pains me greatly that there is a large segment of believers who so strongly distrust science for this reason. But nothing pains me substantially more than the issue of homosexuality. Hell may not exist. The torment that many millions of my brothers-and-sister-in-consciousness go through because of how they were born is very real. I honestly want to hug every homosexual I can find and support them in any way I can. I’ve reached the point where I can observe my feelings about homosexuals without first subjecting them to the filter of my faith, and I’m now repulsed about how callous I was to their struggle, and how hurtful and selfish I was for not helping them. Try listening to a Christian debate about homosexuality and placing “left-handed” in place of every instance of “homosexual”, “gay”, etc. That will give you a sense of how I approach this.

    Slavery is a little easier for us to recognize as wrong because we can easily imagine being a slave ourselves. That’s largely because slavery is a status/power/position issue and we’ve each been in different places in life. We can imagine being a salve and just know it’s wrong. Same-sex-attraction, however, is more subtle and difficult to adequately understand because it’s often hard to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes on that topic – it’s hard to make it personal. We can imagine being told we must love the sex were not attracted to, but most make it sexual in that hypothetical and miss the larger point. If we lack the imagination or desire to identify with those we’re judging, we can never truly understand or rightfully judge them (especially when our faith seems to be, at a surface reading, telling us they’re choosing this wicked “lifestyle” because they want to worship sex as an idol and put themselves above God). I distrust the Bible because of logical reasons, not because of how I feel about what it seems to say about what’s right an wrong. However, topics like this don’t help me return to faith. Honestly, I could make a platform out of homosexuality. It could be a not-insignificant part of my raison d’etre. I’m so very broken by the unnecessary suffering caused by the common interpretation of the unchanging Word.

    If I’m being honest, no matter how gently we say it from our position of religious interpretation that deems it a sin – it is technically still oppression and bigotry. I mean this sincerely and with love. When we tell people on the one hand that they must believe and follow God or they will go to Hell, and on the other hand that they cannot believe and follow God while living in continual, repeated sin such as a homosexual relationship (or loving a heterosexual person if they’re left-handed because God doesn’t like it), we are causing immense harm and preventing them from a life of love and connectedness with a fellow human. As much as that pains me, it seems to be a fact, even if we start by self-identifying as sinners with them. Our sin that hurts ourselves and others is not the same as their left-handedness (or sexual orientation). Our sin is objectively wrong.

    In Genesis the Bible records God saying that it is not good for man to be alone, and modern science agrees, especially for those who desire companionship. The point here, and you may disagree, is that no statement of belief about God’s will (including what is an is not a sin) can be made from a position of true and honest “fact.” Our claims may be true, but we can’t know them to be true. When we talk about sin, we’re talking about our beliefs about a God that exists and a will that the God has, not about epistemological facts we can truly know (at the highest reasonably attainable level for knowledge). It is technically an opinion based on interpretations of sacred texts (which is a recording of someone else’s experiences and opinions about events) and personal subjective experiences or revelations. In the end, though, it’s not a testable, repeatable fact of nature, and it is not and should not be held on the same level of certainty as a scientific fact. Faith is personal, yes, but we still believe based on that combination of evidence and desire. When we love our way into a belief and preserve it because of love, we need to acknowledge that a larger part of that equation came from the desire side than from the evidence side (which correlates positively with hope but negatively with truth). So when the two conflict we should try to choose evidence. We all fail at this, especially me. But we should try. And as you stated, whenever we can, we should also choose mercy. And if we err, let us err on the side of love.

    If we can see the Bible’s surface teachings on torture, slavery and genocide (Old Testament) and eternal torment (New Testament) as something that may be inaccurate (man’s interoperation of what they thought God was doing, desiring or saying), why can we not do the same for homosexuality? Can we reserve judgment there, too? I do understand the perceived danger and reticence to retreat on any life-long interpretation, but I implore anyone who can find themselves open to an alternative interpretation to try. Children are killing themselves. Others are crying in despair in lonely closets all across the world. This is one key reason that non-believers can’t leave most religions alone. They feel the need to defend the persecuted, and that often involves attacking the faith. If all scriptural assertions morally in line with what our best selves would choose for society from behind the veil of ignorance, few people would care to speak out against religion.

    As someone who doesn’t trust scripture, I obviously view this as a serious issue with faith. But I know of many who reconcile this issue by preserving their faith in Christ and their acceptance of homosexuality in the Christian faith. I hope more will find that path. I hope that in time, persecution for sexual orientation is as repulsive as persecution for race or left-handedness.

    We agree that science is telling us that homosexuality is natural and normal. The common interpretation of scripture is telling us they’re broken and finding love with another human may damn them for eternity. If we could identify with our homosexual friends, truly connect, make it personal, we may find a way to reinterpret scripture through the lens of the one it was meant to reveal. When I’m uncomfortable with my doubts about scripture I often ask myself what the goal is? Where is truth (spiritual or otherwise) ultimately found if there is a conflict? Is abiding in Jesus and love the goal? Is that the priority over scripture itself? Is the Word in pages or in a person? Might our childhood interpretations ever be an idol? I may distrust the Bible, but I do want to get as close to the ultimate Truth as possible in this life. And I don’t want to tare others down to do it.

    I’m not sure if you had a chance to see any of the five videos I emailed you before the Table last week. Here are two of them. The first one is three hours and is optional, but I think it’s relevant since you’re open to hearing the Christian point of view that accepts homosexuality. The second video is a must-see. Please watch it and let me know when you’ve seen it. Then I’ll post a much shorter follow-up video that will tie it all together.

    Debate: Is Homosexuality Compatible with Christianity? One believer says yes, the other says no.

    Why I Changed My Mind On Homosexuality – Danny Cortez, 16-year pastor of New Heart Community Church announces his changed theology and, in so doing, accepts his likely termination.

    See you next week! 🙂

    Gentleness and respect,
    –Russell

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Good morning, Pascal!

      You just texted me saying,

      I just finished the pastor’s video. I’m overwhelmed

      I responded with,

      I want you to know that where you land on this issue has no bearing on how much I respect you. I’m just glad there are believers like you who are genuinely internalizing the struggle.

      Here is the other, shorter video I promised. It’s the same as the last video in that email from the other day that you probably didn’t get a chance to investigate yet. I’ve watched many “coming out” videos lately and have been overwhelmed by they’re honesty and vulnerability. Many of them cried and I joined them. Hearing what they’ve kept bottled up have helped me identify with them and achieve the level of empathy I need to stand against their oppression (and that of those still in closets), even if it means asking those in the faith I respect to reconsider.

      This particular coming out video is relevant to our current discussion. It offers and alternative perspective to the video you just watched.

      Thank you for listening and choosing to extend compassion to our homosexual friends in whatever way your faith allows,
      —Russell

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Russell,

      Thanks so much for this. These comment really challenge me to think differently. I really appreciate your opinion and thoughts. I’m glad you don’t hold back. Please continue to be extensive and challenge my thoughts. I hope to be more like you, both in thoroughness of thought and in gentleness and respect. Thank you for being an important voice that challenges my beliefs and faith and makes them stronger for it. I miss you on the weeks when work and life overwhelms me and keeps me from being able to read and engage on your blog. Those weeks I can’t wait to get back. Thanks so much just for being you and being authentic.

      Seth

      Like

  3. You had me at “If I am going to err here, then let it be on the side of mercy.” :o)

    If I flew off the handle a bit before (and I probably did, a little), know that is was not because the views you expressed were alien to me. On the contrary. It was because they were so familiar. They used to be mine, you see, almost verbatim. I don’t know if you saw it or not, but I’ll refer you to a post of my own from just a short while ago: (https://anglophiletoad.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/cabbages-and-kings-and-stuff/). The reason this topic is so close to my heart is because I carry a deep and abiding shame of my own relating directly to it. And here is what remains…

    Given the perfect opportunity to speak out, I instead remained silent, and not only that, I played an active part in a blanket condemnation of people I didn’t even know, just so the people who paid me for my “ministry work” wouldn’t throw me out with the bathwater. This is MY shame, a shame that I can’t forget or quite leave behind. I hid from the truth, and so became part of the lie. I stifled mercy, and championed bigotry in the name of love. Why? At the end of the day, although I knew what was right, instinctively, I couldn’t come out from behind the “authority of Scripture” and face the onset of dissonance. That, my friend, is where my long and convoluted (and ongoing) journey began. I defend now because I did not defend then. I can’t keep quiet now because I stayed quiet then.

    You said in your last comment to me on the previous post that you had made the right decisions in circumstances like the ones I described above. Cheers to you; may it continue. By choice, I can only speak from outside the Christian community, but you still have the opportunity to alter a narrative from within, a narrative that I think desperately needs to be altered, re-imagined, refined, perhaps corrected. If more people used the Bible to orient their own lives, rather than as a blueprint for orienting the lives of others, then the mercy you mentioned might actually stand a fighting chance.

    Fingers crossed… :o)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Vance,

      I apologize for the delay in my response — with my thumbs, from an airport. Thank you for this. Thank you for flying off the handle with me. My attention needed getting. I hope that you come to the next Détente (yes, we’ll have one). You should invite Tammy — you seem to have much in common.

      Like

    2. Vance,

      Way off topic but I have to get this out. I’m very sad right now. I know I had 5 bowls of your chili last night so it’s really my own fault that what you sent home with me alone amounts to one more bowl. Still, I can’t believe it’s almost gone. I’m eating it very slowly right now – I must have more soon! 🙂

      You’re the best!
      –Russell

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  4. Dear Pascal,

    I have read your recent posts and the subsequent conversations about gay marriage with much interest since I have radically shifted my own thoughts on this subject throughout the last several years. I grew up attending a very conservative Southern Baptist church. I was taught that the Bible was the “inerrant Word of God” and that all scripture was to be interpreted literally. I was led to believe that a good Christian only voted Republican and that the two social issues that really mattered when considering how to cast a vote were ultimately the candidate’s stance on abortion and homosexuality. It wasn’t until I earned my graduate degree in social work from Baylor (yes, conservative Baylor!) that my Christian beliefs and values began to shift.

    One thing about Baylor’s program that was important to me was the emphasis on the ethical integration of religious faith and social work practice and professors who were willing to challenge our long-held faith beliefs. But then a very painful period of self reflection began. How could I continue to hold certain theological beliefs that only seemed to soften the impact of the oppression they perpetuated yet adhere to social work’s Code of Ethics that includes such ethical principles as respecting the inherent dignity and worth of a person and challenging social injustices? How could I be involved in a faith community that preached condemnation of rather than love for all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, nationality, immigration status, etc.? I simply could not and would not.

    It was during that process of needing to reconcile my Christian faith with my sense of calling to the social work profession that I strongly considered leaving the Christian faith altogether. After all, what options did I have in my religiously conservative community? Finally after much searching and by invitations of friends, I found a church. It’s Baptist, but it’s progressive. It’s also welcoming and affirming of people who identify as somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum. My hope in Christianity was renewed through my personal transformation, a “resurrection” from my old way of seeing and believing to a new one. It was refreshing to learn about an alternative interpretation of scripture that, for me, more fully reflected the love, compassion, and mercy Jesus demonstrated to all people. This interpretation also led me to be more civically engaged and advocate for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed and to speak out against individual and institutional/structural mechanisms of racism and discrimination. I’m still a work in process, but this journey has been highly rejuvenating and life giving to me.

    I commend you, Pascal, for approaching this topic with an open heart and mind. I encourage you to continue on this journey of personal discovery and reflection no matter how painful it may be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tammy,

      Thank you for this. My hard heart started to soften 10 years ago when I cared for my first gay couples in medicine. Your story about the call of social work and social justice really affects me. Please come to the next détente– I’m so grateful to have friends to work through this with.

      Like

  5. Just so you know, my college best friend was overjoyed at your willingness to consider these things from a new angle. He was so patient with me—after he came out it took me 3 years to weep for him and 3 more to advocate for him. He never judged me as unloving—he patiently understood that my perspective was rooted in something precious to me. He didn’t try to change me; he simply waited and hoped. I think the hardest part is being willing to listen, and you’ve done that—no more fingers in yours ears and loud humming to shut out other perspectives. From here, we just wait and hope—and I know that Russell and I accept you no matter what conclusion you ultimately come to. Also—“I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.

    I just wanted you to know that I shared these words with JS and they meant a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the post Pascal. I appreciate the conversation and believe that my heart and opinion is very similar to yours. I think that mainstream Christianity is not responding in a loving or merciful way to much of society and particularly the homosexual community. I am glad to learn from all the people here and have my own opinion and beliefs challenge, strengthened, and changed. It is sad that often Christianity forgets two things:

    1) our response to perceived sin (based upon our belief and interpretation) should be extremely different depending on whether the person is a professing Christian or not – a professing Christian has made a covenant to strive to live a certain way and in so doing has ask fellow Christians to help them live such a way thus inviting accountability – a non-Christian has not made such a commitment and thus has not invited accountability to a ‘biblical standard’ but instead my accountability to them is societal or humanistic.

    2) We, Christians, often fail to remember how Jesus responded to individuals where were living in sin (and I suppose in Jesus case it would not simply be perceived sin since he would not interpret). However, I believe it is important that even within the church where we long to hold one another accountable to biblical standards that we engage one another in a similar way as Jesus does, and I don’t think Jesus shames, belittles, manipulates, oppresses, ect. those in sin. Instead, Jesus may convey to the individual a failure of biblical standards (the law) but Jesus does not engage with them under the law but engages with them in Grace. 2 Cor. 12:9 Praise the Lord Jesus Christ, who despite all my flaws, sins (even perpetual lifestyle sins like slothfulness), and my broken fallen state Jesus Christ has made me perfect before the eyes of God covering all my brokenness with his perfection. My righteousness is no my own and I must remember my own sin and God’s overwhelming Grace towards me before looking to the perceived sins of others. Just look at his selection of disciples, Many of them individual that no respectable Jew of the time would want to be friends with. Look at who Jesus spends the most time with and the types of messages he conveys to them. Jesus is always the most harsh with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. And it seems to be more of in regards to their hardheartedness and lack of brokenness (or conversely their conceit).

    Just some of my thoughts. Longer than I intended it to be. Thanks again for the great posts and blogs. They mean a lot to me.

    Seth

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m wading back in.

    Pascal,
    I know that you are trying. Our relationship consists of an exchange of words on a screen. I can’t ask you to do more than try. But then, what more can anyone be asked to do? I shall try too. At times it is hard to imagine others complexly, but that is what I aim to do. These conversations are difficult to have for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons it is difficult for me is because I am pansexual. I’m married to a man so I fly under the gaydar. I’ve gotten used to my safe spaces on the internet. Though we disagree on a great many things, your blog felt like a safe space until that day. I don’t know if I’ll always be able to be a part of this experiment you and Russell have going. But I’m interested and invested. I’ll try to be gentle.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Madalyn,

    Thank you. I missed your presence and was saddened that I hurt you. I hope that my heart is eligible to change. I think it is. Welcome back. I can only go so far with assurances that this too is a safe place. The rest requires action.

    Pascal

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