Remember

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture on May 30, 2016 by jcwill5

downloadLife involves both remembering and forgetting.

Some things are best forgotten.  Some things ought never to be forgotten.

Memorial Day challenges us on both counts.

The Difficulties of Remembering

Forgetting is usually easy, remembering is usually hard work.

It can be hard because there are some things we’d rather forget but, instead, find ourselves haunted and scarred and tormented by these memories.

These nightmares remain with us despite all efforts to numb the pain.

It can be hard because, however precious, our good remembrances get buried under a constant stream of current memories until they lie many layers underneath.

So the challenge isn’t whether or not to remember, but which things are best forgotten and which things are best retained.

It’s why we all struggle with both the failure to forget, and the failure to remember.

Concerted Effort Needed

Forgetting just happens and gets worse and worse with time.

Remembering requires the cultivation of a habit, the purposeful keeping alive of associations and images in order to retain them.

It recognizes that, given enough time, even those most precious to us will be forgotten because we can never pass along all our memories to our children.

My parents are much more real to me than my grandparents, and, as a child born to parents in their mid-thirties, I have have little memory at all of my great-grandparents.

Remembering fights against the passage of time,  the passing of generations, and the erasure of memories.

It requires a daily choice to remember to the point of being unforgotten.

The Cost of Forgetting

Forgetting robs us of lessons learned, of faces treasured, of good events that mark us.

Forgetting also can be blessed amnesia for past horrors, a reducer of the intensity of the traumas of the past and painful incidents that also mark us.

Remembering, on the other hand, allows us to keep fresh the people that we ought never to lose sight of because we love them.

It allows us to cherish those who didn’t return from war, to recall past worthy causes and necessary conflicts for which they gave their lives.

It is why we have Memorial Day.

The Healing Power of Remembering

Two incidents come to mind.

The first happened at one of the last soldiers’ reunions at Gettysburg in the 1920’s.

The men in blue and the men in gray reenacted Pickett’s Charge one last time.

The old men from the South slowly made their way across the killing fields to the same stone fences where so many of them died, manned by their fellow elders from the North.

But when they got there after letting out a few Rebel yells, a strange thing happened.

The men in Blue jumped over the fence, ran to them, and embraced them.

There they wept on each other’s shoulders.

The fraternity of memory had erased all hostility and transformed these soldiers into brothers–leaving nothing but love for their fellow Americans and the shared memory of an event that shaped all their remaining lives.

The same thing happened in the 1980’s on a lonely Pacific Island between aged American and Japanese soldiers.

The lifelong emotional and physical battle scars of war united the former enemies, and  the power of shared memories proved greater in the end than the causes of their youth.

Permission to Remember

So go ahead and remember lost loved ones–both those lost to war and those taken by old age, disease, or accident.

Remember them.

Remember.

Let the tears come.

Let the ache arise and the space they left behind simply be there–acknowledged and grieved, but also treasured and enjoyed.

Remember that even Christ says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Don’t forget them.  Don’t forget Him.

Remember.

Truly Safe Spaces

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2016 by jcwill5

imageSometimes people say more than they realize, if we have ears to hear it.

I find it absolutely fascinating that the most technologically privileged and morally unfettered and under-parented generation in the most affluent society on earth is crying out for:  safe spaces.

And I find it fascinating that such spaces involve excluding certain kinds of people or categories of people–an eerie mimicry to the Old Testament holiness codes.

Our Need for Safe Spaces

The truth is we all need safe spaces that separate us from evils.

In fact, what we are searching for is the ultimate Safe Space–where we are fully known and fully loved despite ourselves by a Holy God whose self-sacrifice separated us from our sins.

And I say this because we, the church, have not only lost our grasp on our identity in Christ, but on the life-transforming, liberating compassion and grace of Christ.

We are no longer safe spaces for sinners, and haven’t been for a long, long time.

In other words, if we had a private issue of a moral nature, that last place we’d ever want it to “come out” is in…church!

And, ironically, the vehement, anti-religious, hyper-progressive and aggressive demand for safe spaces on college campuses is telling us where we’ve missed it.

The Missing Confession of Sin

For some strange reason, churches have ceased to be safe spaces for sinners to admit they are enslaved and afflicted with urges and desires and sins beyond their individual control.

Instead of being gatherings for sin-aholics, we have become showcases for pretending, image-conscious, judgmental people–who fool nobody.

We have become so consumed with being right that we have forgotten the absolute necessity of being honest–starting with what’s happening within our own sick and needy souls.

All people hear is our denunciations of sins, our vociferous defense of morality, and our determination to block their quest for a heaven on earth.

Which is terribly sad because….

Confession and the self-revealing of sin-struggles, and receiving grace and honesty in return, is the hallmark of New Testament Christianity and of the faith itself.

The Ultimate Safe Space

God is in the business of bringing all secrets to light–even the hidden sins that torment and bedevil us the most.

And His purpose isn’t to harshly punish us, but to apply the cleansing light of His redemptive love where it is most sorely needed and where we are most powerless.

Ironically, the ultimate and infinite Person who already knows everything about us–even our worst and most embarrassing issues, has told us in advance He loves us and welcomes us to come into the light.

He invites us to come to His very throne without fear or dread, and admit the obvious in His holy presence.

And He can do so without compromising or violating His holiness because of the cross of Christ.

True Community

The kind of community He creates (or desires to create on earth) is a community where sin is not a surprise or a shock, but an occasion where we bear the burdens of people who have issues bigger than they are.

All because Christ has decisively and perfectly resolved our sins in advance.

Like the four men who carried their paralyzed friend many miles to Christ, our job is not to ground peoples’ faces into their failures but to carry them to Jesus when they can’t get to Him on their own.

The big three areas–greed, sex, and pride–are always weak spots and always in need of fresh, non-enabling, grace-giving, truth-telling, redeeming love.

The Funny Prayer

I was in a prayer meeting with pastors where one of them suddenly prayed, “Lord, I want to look at beautiful women who aren’t my wife!”

We all chuckled at our friend’s audacity to admit the obvious, and each realized, “So do I, Lord!”

Then our friend prayed, “But, Lord, I don’t want to look at other women.  Please help me!”

I learned something that day, when we lead with our best foot forward and conceal sin, the second and final word will be the sin urge.

But if we lead with our sinful urge and openly and honestly admit it is there and bring it into the open, the second and final word is our new nature.

It is also to give up any vestiges of control–because all concealing is about us controlling us and controlling who knows and who doesn’t know.

The Paradox Challenge of Our Times

Paradoxically, by suppressing sin and pretending it isn’t there when it is, sin is empowered and these urges grow and grow and grow in an environment of constant concealment.

But, equally paradoxically, when we voluntarily out ourselves as sinners early on and voice the greed, the lust, and the proud urges lurking within, a backwash of love for God and eagerness to please Him rises up.

The truth is we all struggle privately with one or all of these three big issues at any given time.

The truth is we are each profoundly damaged and broken by sin–socially, spiritually, sexually, emotionally, physically.

The truth is we are all riddled with weakness and surrounded by desperate need–often disguised or buried under religion.

In addition to recovering and defending our super-identity in Christ against all other assertions of identity, it is imperative that the church re-become the safest place on earth for struggling, weakling sinners who cannot self-fix themselves or hide it forever.

To do anything less is to betray our mission and amplify the very evils we judge.

The Case of the Missing Identity

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2016 by jcwill5

Embracing-Your-New-Identity-in-ChristSometimes it’s what we’re not saying, not teaching, and not emphasizing that does the most damage.

I was part of a dynamic men’s discussion group last night.

We explored from the Bible issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, gender identity.

We wrestled with how the bible-believing church responds to folks who don’t know Christ with these issues.

We also wrestled with how we’d respond to people within the Church who “come out” and assert that their practice is compatible with following Christ.

It soon became clear that, in far too many churches, some crucial truths are not being taught, reinforced, or highlighted.

Our Truest, Deepest, All-Defining Identity

The first missing truth is our new identity in Christ.

The Bible clearly says believers are “new creatures in Christ” and speaks of a “new creation”.

The old person we used to be prior to our encounter with Christ has died, and a brand new person has been reborn and resurrected to replace him or her.

In the early church, converts often took on an entirely new name after they came to Christ to reinforce this truth.

This is our new identity:  saints, children of God, beloved of God, body of Christ, bride of Christ, etc.

We still have an old sin nature lurking within, but we are truly and really brand new people in Christ.

These teachings are found in Romans 6-7, and they are often called “baptismal theology”.

When Christ died, I was immersed into His death and the old me died with Him on the cross–my status under the Law is now that of a dead person.

When Christ was raised, a new me was raised up with Him and I now have a new nature that loves God and His holy ways and is growing more and more like Christ.

Christ Himself, and no sin or practice or bodily characteristic, defines us and is the final word on the matter.

A Denial of Identity

When someone claiming Christ assets an identity having to do with a philosophy, or political party, or social group, or racial characteristic, or sexual preference, they are completely out of line.

They are asserting an identity that cannot co-exist at the very same time as their new identity in Christ, based on something which is completely incompatible with the holiness of Christ.

We cannot have a core identity based on some immoral practice of the old person and nature, and a new identity in Christ based on our new, holy nature in Him.

And when those who “come out” begin to advocate a doctrine that says their sinful practice is somehow compatible with Christ and the new identity we have in Him, they are guilty of false teaching.

It is not enough to embrace it on their own, they are compelled to want the whole church to have this understanding, embrace this lifestyle, and find it compatible with the new creation in Christ.

Why We Dissent and Won’t Go Along

The central teaching of the supremacy of our new Christ-identity is why faithful, Christ-affirming churches cannot and must not accept a denial of the new creation.

It is why we cannot allow this “new teaching” or allow such outed individuals to continue to hold positions of influence, leadership, or teaching.

Our new identity in Christ trumps everyone and everything, and cannot therefore be surrendered or denied without completely gutting the central teaching about the transforming work of Christ.

Any identity based on a sinful practice is what the Bible calls an idolatry, and all idolatry is incompatible from the worship of and a relationship with the only real and living God.

It is the hill worth dying on and worth whatever price a disapproving, enraged pagan society might inflict on us–all for the sake of faithfulness to Christ Himself.

Some Tough Questions

My point is this:  how many bible-believing churches even teach about conversion, regeneration, and the new nature in Christ?

Instead of being reactive and tardy in the face of homosexual advocacy at the 11th hour, why not be proactive and systematic in teaching these truths at the earliest stages of faith?

Why not emphasize the truth of the new creation in our congregations and our meetings so much they literally are inescapable, central, and informing the choices of Christ-followers?

In the next entry, I want to talk about an equally important and lacking teaching for those who struggle and suffer in the area of broken sexuality–the mercy side of the equation.

We don’t want to merely draw boundaries against the defiant, but to embrace, walk with, and see healing in the lives of the sufferers.

More on that the next time!

The 100 Years Test

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2016 by jcwill5

UnknownTake a brief survey of all your fears–the people or situations that threaten you or potentials which cause you to worry.

Now examine your angers–all the things that upset and annoy you about your life, your society, and the times in which you live.

Now look over your collection of sorrows–the things that break your heart, the broken relationships and bad events, the deaths of those you love and the loss of what used to be true.

Now do one more thing:

Ask yourself, “How much of all this will even matter 100 years from now when I am dead?”

Who remembers the everyday people, the social causes, the political fights, and even the big-shots and great leaders of 100 years ago except a few historians?

The Thunderclap

The grave is like a thunderclap of reality.

It helps us see how fleeting, how terribly temporary so many things really are.

Who will care or even remember what positions we’ve held, what accomplishments we’ve done, what possessions we’ve owned, or what opinions we’ve argued?

Who will then care or even remember the causes we espouse, the arguments we make, or the social crises we attack?

Who then will even remember us?

Mortality is an excellent tonic for grandiosity and ego inflation.

It shrinks us down to size and confronts us with a stark and horrible reality we have absolutely no control over and cannot change.

It reminds us that we are terribly small, terribly vulnerable, and terribly insignificant.

Time has never waited for anyone, and it won’t wait for us either.

The Death of the Universe

From an atheistic, naturalistic perspective that asserts the universe is the product of time plus chance plus impersonal energy–there is no intrinsic meaning to anything.

The earth will perish when the sun becomes a red giant a few billion years from now, and the universe itself will suffer a “heat death” in eternal darkness trillions of years from now.

The existentialist philosophers for this reason spoke of the absurdity of life, and counseled suicide as the ultimate act of protest and personal freedom in the face of utter meaninglessness.

Bertrand Russell counseled an approach of “unyielding despair” in the face of a random universe.

The problem is we human beings cannot long live a meaningless, despairing life where nothing matters and everything and everyone is pure chance.

So we inconsistently espouse causes and pursue betterment and justice and love, etc.

The Troubling Why

The question in the face of personal and universe death is, “Why?”

Why not consume everything on earth now and destroy our planet sooner rather than later?

Why not tune out all injustices and live purely for personal pleasure from a position of complete disengagement in a personal bubble?

Why care about the poor if only the fittest survive anyway by random chance?

Why not life as affluent a life as possible and vote to keep as much of our money and stuff from taxation as possible?

Why vote and waste time on elections and politics and social causes?

Why indeed.

If death is the final word personally and universally, there really is no reason.

One choice is as “good” as another–it matters not in the end and changes nothing in the end.

Impossible to Accept

But we start to sputter–“no.  No!  NO! I can’t tell you why, but my life matters and there is a good to be conserved and protected and sought.”

And I agree with you.

Here’s where I land:

As a Christ-follower who believes in a God-created universe freighted with in-built morality and justice and righteousness that reflect the very character of God, I can answer these challenging questions satisfyingly and consistently.

My view posits an absolute, supreme authority who has the right as Artist to make His universe anyway He wants, who made human beings to fulfill His purposes and who will therefore hold them accountable and judge them righteously in the end by His standards.

And He put all that goodness and morality within us as people made in His image.

My universe is crammed full of meaning, and the universal human urge to live a meaningful life and fight evil and seek the better to the world makes perfect sense.

Not the End

The outside-of-all-time-and-space infinite God says death is not the end or the final world, either personally or universally.

He invites us to seek a new universe yet to come in which only good dwells, and where death and decay and evil will never be found or happen.

He tells us death is not the end but a gateway to reward and everlasting joy in His presence forever.

Everything I do in Him and for Him, especially in the lives of the people all around me He has made, will still matter 100 years from now and 1,000 years from now and 1 Trillion years from now.

He tells me even if I “lose” battles or suffer reverses and endure sorrows, even if all of society goes to seed and barbarians are at the gates and injustices multiply and tyranny reigns, these things are temporary and will pass.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

C.T. Studd echoes this thought, “Tis only one life, twill soon be passed. And only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Magical Dictats

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2016 by jcwill5

dictatorshipA dictat is a sheer assertion of the will to power.

It is an order given by one person or group to another without any consideration, and expected to be obeyed without question.

Examples include:

“We will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it!”

“We will have free college tuition and Wall Street will pay for it!”

“We will require all school districts to allow transgender individuals to use whatever bathroom they want–or we will take away your federal dollars!”

Their Unreality

The problem is Mexico won’t pay for it.

The problem is Wall Street won’t pay for it.

The problem is numerous people will object and tell the Feds to go you know where in response.

That’s reality.

It’s a reality that fiats and dictats ignore when they attempt to steamroll opponents and/or pander to their constituents by pronouncements from on high.

It’s therefore a kind of magical thinking.

Their Devaluing of Others

It says to the opposition being overridden and commanded:

I will just ignore you.

I will force you to comply.

I will go ahead anyway–try and stop me.

I will keep on doing it until someone makes me stop.

So we’ll make campaign promises, issue executive orders, and release policy directives predicated on cowing those in opposition and extracting everything from them while giving nothing to them.

Which means opponents have nothing to lose by resorting to extreme measures, and nothing to gain from coming to a peaceable agreement.

And we wonder why things are so terribly polarized.

We wonder why so much of the electorate views the other side as a mortal threat to their existence.

We wonder why every side gives themselves permission to say and do anything to stop the hellbent “other side”.

The New Normal

Notice we have three elements:  a willful kind of control, a magical approach to dealing with conflict, and a profound devaluing of opponents.

This, my friends, is our new normal.

It is found on the Right and the Left.

It is reflected in the elections and in the candidates.

It is highly popular with the electorate.

It is bound to fail, and will continue to amplify frustration and conflict in our society.

Political Religion

I recently had a conversation with someone who identified themselves as a Bernie Sanders supporter.

I asked, “Where are we going to get all the money to pay for everything that Bernie promises?”

I was told we’d simply abolish the military-industrial complex and use all that money.

At that point, I was thinking of the 1930’s and Hitler’s rise in the face of unilateral disarmament by the free democracies.

I was thinking of “Who will fill the vacuum we leave behind when we withdraw our military from the world–China, Russia, ISIS, Al Qaeda?”

I was also thinking of our 19 trillion dollar national debt, as well as our need to fund our underfunded Social Security and Medicare programs (i.e. – to pay for what we already have).

I realized that in that moment that my young friend’s answer reflected a magical approach, and that rationality would not help change it.

It was an article of cherished faith, and politics was his religion.

Where Will it End?

Of course such political religiosity is also true on the Right and Center, and not just the Left.

Each totalitarian (all encompassing, all-of-life explaining ideology) political religion has its political lawgiver, its binding moral mandate, its political plan of salvation, its political savior, and its view of who is to be politically saved and politically damned.

At the top of this political religion sits the all-defining and autonomous Self.

This yuuge Self is above it all, monitoring the world via cable TV and social media, brooking no opposition, and picking from among many options which political surrogate will carry out its absolute will.

Which means whoever can bribe and/or scare the most autonomous selfs into a majority will win.

Which sets up a society marked by absolute lawlessness and a reaction of unchecked authoritarianism.

Is this all there is?  Is this how we will end up?

Or is there a path back to sanity?

Bitter Nation

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by jcwill5

bitterness-can-destroyPeople don’t start out in life bitter.

Yet they often end up that way.

Descent Into Bitterness

The first step downwards happens when we are deeply hurt by someone or something.

This is the underlying root of our pain–a knife-to-the-soul kind of grief we cannot self-resolve.

Sooner or later life will hand us a wound greater than we are, bigger than our capacity to handle, heavier than our shoulders can bear.

The second step downwards happens quite naturally: we look around and ask, “Who did this to me?!  Whose fault is it?!”

We now blame the person or group we charge with hurting us and raise a complaint against them, or we blame ourselves for failing to see it in time and prevent it.

Around our pain we build a fortress of anger, and either turn the anger inward on our selves or attack others to eliminate the threat so it never happens again.

The problem is other people have a different point of view, a different set of values, and a different interpretation of what happened and who is at fault.

They cannot and will not embrace our point of view, will not accept our blame, and will not carry out our solution–leaving us at an impasse that we cannot self-resolve.

This is when bitterness takes hold.

Bitterness Reigning

Bitterness is about buried anger and even more deeply buried pain we cannot self-resolve, about a blaming that grows until it dominates our perspective.

We see God, all others, and all of life as being against us, as cheating us of the resolution we think we deserve.

We take on the identity of a victim–an embittered victim raising our fist in recrimination and loathing.

We start to take it out on everything and everyone, and punishing the smallest offenses becomes how we relate to others.

It takes less and less to enrage us, to trigger us to “act out” and “act up”.

Even when we prevail temporarily or obtain a small victory, it is never enough and our bitterness is never really appeased.

Then we go on another aggressive hunt for yet another foe to fight against, another guilty group we can punish, another surrogate we can take it all out on.

Such bitterness reigns over individuals, groups, and entire nations.

The Terrible Relevance For Our Times

“What does all this have to do with anything?” you might ask.  Consider the following words:

“But around the world today we see the rise of leaders who offer various forms of authority without vulnerability—strength without risk.

This is the promise of every authoritarian government and every dictator, and it is increasingly the currency of American political campaigns. One candidate promised to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico—and to make Mexico pay for it. Another promised free tuition at public universities—and to make “Wall Street” pay for it.

These promises have several things in common, and not just that they are entirely unfeasible. They promise goods without a price, protection without effort, and benefits without costs—at least to people like us.

They depend on extracting the effort and cost from others—others who are treated not as potential partners but as permanent enemies.”

Read the whole article here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/may/trump-clinton-when-it-comes-next-president-we-need-more-tha.html

The Bitter Nation

Bitterness, in other words, now marks us deeply as a society from top to bottom and across the political spectrum.

It is a social cancer which will only lead to the death of all bonds holding our society together–for bitterness metastasizes and spreads from one person to another.

Each self-aggrieved group or person gives themselves permission to violate, demean, and even destroy others–producing a counter-reaction of bitterness in the targeted “guilty” group.

And each self-aggrieved group is smug, sees themselves as wiser, better, and morally superior–decrying the other guy’s bitterness but never owning and repenting of their own.

Which is why the Bible repeatedly warns against bitterness, contentions, and enmity in such stark terms.

God understands in ways we do not how few people ever escape the clutches of bitterness once it reigns in them, and how few societies can ever put the genie of bitterness back in the bottle once it has been let out.

Healing begins with admitting we too are bitter, and need Someone far greater than our powerless, imprisoned self to intervene from the outside and restore us to sanity.

There is a solution.

The Third Option

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2016 by jcwill5

imagesTo my politically discouraged Evangelical brethren:

Welcome to the political wilderness.

Neither party owes us anything, and both candidates are disregarding our values or have track records of doing so.

Now what?

Option one is to grin and bear it–making the best of a bad situation and holding our nose and voting for the lesser of two evils.

We work within the system in hopes of influencing it and improving our lot in it.

Option two is to withdraw and sulk–quitting the field and throwing up our hands and staying home on election day.

We opt-out of the system and wash our hands of the resulting follies and evils.

We hope, in light of failure, the people who scorned and disregarded us will come hat in hand to us–recognizing we are the king-makers, appeasing our demands, and adopting our goals.

Personally, I don’t think those dots will ever connect and our stay in the political wilderness may well be permanent in the two-party system.

Perhaps there are more options than going along or quitting.

A Third Option

Option three is to repent and quietly seek the face of God during this humbling season of diminishment.

Stop complaining in public and go off the political grid for awhile.

We bring the toughest, most exposing questions to God and let the Spirit throw light on them.

What lessons is Christ seeking to teach us–but our loud political activism has plugged our ears?

What hidden idols are being exposed and stripped from us–especially our political, economic, and ideological idols?

What fleshly agendas of control and pride in us are being thwarted and crucified by the Spirit–agendas that not getting our candidate or our political way has revealed?

What unholy alliances have we made with the greedy and the powerful and the exploitive–alliances that have brought the gospel itself into disrepute in the long run?

What new, gospel-oriented, kingdom of God endeavors is the Lord calling us to pursue that our previous news-driven, talk-radio-fuelled, politically-obsessed thinking was crowding out?

The Ever Relevant Goal of Maturity

This option recognizes that whenever God creates a space through failure and disappointment, He wants to fill it with Himself.

This option recognizes that God’s work within us–to make us more like Christ–is as valuable to Him as any work He might want to do through us and our activism.

There are many places in the Bible that tell us trials are for our training, adversities are to strip us down and grow us up in godly character.

This option says, “I’ve been pretending to have control over uncontrollable things, and looking to something other than Christ in this life to provide validation, security, and hope–and now I see it and turn away from it back to Christ.”

One More Option

Perhaps there are even other options.

In Europe, they have “Christian Democratic” parties that marry biblical morals with the defense of the little guy and the conservation of what’s good against continuous assaults.

In them, the idea is to work to uphold both justice and righteousness, and to guard against totalitarian ideologies of the left, right, and center.

It might well be possible to unite Catholic and Evangelicals of all races and nationalities around such an agenda–to the confounding of the current dominant parties.

Instead of seeking a third party candidate, perhaps our time would be better spent these next few years in creating a viable third party not married to either Big Business or Big Government.

Perhaps the two-party duopoly itself needs to be replaced with governing, temporary coalitions of several parties.

I don’t know.

But it be very interesting in these next years to find out!

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