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I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]

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This is a concept that has been debated at least since the 1970’s: can one be a “gay Christian”? It started with denominations for homosexuals who professed Christ. Recently it has “conquered” mainline denominations. The conversation is beginning to happen in conservative denominations, like the one I serve in. Okay, precisely the one I serve in. So far I’ve seen more heat than light in this debate. There is little thoughtfulness and plenty of knee jerk reactions.

As Joe Dallas notes in Speaking of Homosexuality, both terms in this phrase need to be identified so we know precisely what we are talking about.

“Gay can refer to someone sexually active, whether in a relationship or in more casual encounters. Or it can mean a person who’s not sexually active but it willing if and when the time seems right. It can also refer to a Christian who believes homosexuality is wrong but is tempted that direction and sometimes yields. Yet again, it could mean someone who’s homosexual in attraction only but chooses not to act on the attraction. Clearly the term’s meaning influences the question’s answer.

“Now, Christian, for some implied simply being “saved”; to others it implies both being saved and walking in rightness before God.

“Muddying the waters further is the question of salvation. Can it be lost, or is it a once-and-for-all status? How you view eternal security will likewise direct your answer to the gay Christian question.”

In addressing the second part of this question, Dallas writes as an Arminian. I am thinking this through in my own heritage, that of Reformed Theology. As such I ponder this in terms of the Preservation of the Saints and Assurance of Grace and Salvation. So, let’s work through the four ways “gay” can be understood.

Can a Christian be sexually active with the same sex?

The answer is yes. But before you either rejoice or want to stone me, let me explain. I do view homosexuality as a sin (like I would consider murder, theft, lying, gossip, adultery and other actions and predispositions to be sin or outside the boundaries established by God). Christians do sin. Sometimes we sin big too.

We should not simply say Christians persevere to the end because God preserves them in grace (by Christ’s merit & intercession as well as the indwelling Spirit). That is true, but not all that is true. We should reckon with the rest of what the Westminster Confession says about this, including:

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. (WCF, XVII)

A Christian may, for a time, fall into the practice of homosexuality. This is disobedience, but Christians can and do disobey God. We see such sin a result of the remaining corruption within us (indwelling sin) which produces internal temptation, and the external temptations of Satan and the world which tells them it is okay, and “don’t knock it til you try it”. While they may feel “like themselves” in so doing, we see there are earthly consequences as they grieve the Spirit, harden their hearts and are deprived of a measure of graces and comforts from the gospel. Its hurts and scandalizes others as I know all too well from watching people I know fall into this sin and become entangled by it.

In the next chapter on Assurance of Grace and Salvation we see similar comments:

4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. (WCF, XVIII)

The key is “for a time.” One who is truly regenerate and justified will eventually repent and acknowledge its sinfulness as well as apprehending the mercies of God in Christ and endeavoring to obey. But “for a time” is vague. No time limit is given such as having 1 year. People would probably abuse that as an opportunity to spend such time in full rebellion of their choosing and show up at the appointed time with a mea culpa like Amish teens returned from their experience in the world.

For instance, I had a friend who was promiscuous as a teen. While working with teens later, his past was known. One teen contemplated partaking of fornication and his justification was “you repented.” My friend wisely replied, “How do you know you will?”

In the meantime, a faithful church will admonish, rebuke, suspend and possibly excommunicate a member to guard the honor of Christ, reclaim the sinner and protect the church (not from the person but from believing such actions are acceptable and appropriate among God’s people). In this sense it is possible to be a Christian and gay, but not part of the visible church due to discipline so they may produce a later harvest of righteousness.

In terms of Dallas’ second category, we see it is also possible to be a “gay Christian” in the same sense. They would need to repent of their erroneous understanding of homosexuality even if they aren’t sexually active. In due time this should happen if the Spirit really dwells in them.

In both the 3rd and 4th categories, the Christian experiences same sex attraction but knows that to act on it is wrong. The attraction is a result of remaining corruption, and they experience that inward pull toward people of the same sex romantically and sexually. While they know this is not what God intended in creation, it is what they experience due to the Fall, and have not yet been relieved of it in redemption. That may, and often does, await glorification as it does for all Christians though the particular temptations differ.

Here is where it is tricky. While the temptation flows from remaining corruption (our sinful condition) is the temptation itself sinful? Here is were some of the debate lies as we try to parse temptation. It is different from the temptation Jesus experienced in that it is internal. Jesus was tempted from without. We should confess it flows from indwelling sin and that it is wrong, though we have not committed a sinful act. The person who acts on such temptations periodically should repent like any other Christians who sins does. While they are still a Christian, they have been disobedient. As I noted above, this desire may never go away (though not experienced in every waking moment), just as other sinful desires may never go away.

There is another question that arise, should such a Christian as we see in categories 3 and 4 self-identify as a “gay Christian”? It seems strange to those of us who are straight. I’m not a straight Christian. Nor would I identify myself with any of my habitual sins. People don’t say “I’m an alcoholic Christian” or “a deceitful Christian.” Should we, as an act of repentance or confession? I suspect it isn’t very helpful.

In her book Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield addresses this question over the course of two chapters. In the first, she focuses on self-identification and the roots of self-identifying as gay. She ought to know since she used to teach Queer Theory at Syracuse University. For years she was working toward the world we now live in here in America: acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriage as normal. So she unpacks all that so you know what many (not all) gay people mean by that term. She explains why she does not like the term “gay Christian” nor advocate for its use. In typical Rosaria-style she can be quite blunt.

“Any category of personhood that reduces a saint to a sum total of his or her fallen sexual behavior is not a friend of Christ.”

“Because as Christians, we need to practice what we want to model: a call to use words honestly. A call to use words honestly, in ways that correspond to God’s truth.”

“The conservative Christian church bears some responsibility for driving brothers and sisters in Christ into this “gay Christian” ghetto with our blindness to the way that we have insensitively tried to fix or fix up all of the singles in our church.”

“New nature does not necessarily mean new feelings (although it may). … “New creature in Christ” means that we have a new mind that governs the old feelings and a new hope that we are part of Christ’s body.”

“Believers know that help does not come in destigmatizing the word gay, but in helping the boy and his family do what all believers must do: mortify sin and live in faithfulness to God.”

While she argues against using the term, in the next chapter she talks about when Christians disagree, particularly about that issue. She addresses her relationship with a friend named Rebecca who has a different viewpoint, and is a professing Christian too. While Rosaria sees the word gay as laden with Queer Theory, Rebecca says “For me the word gay is no different than saying, “I am deaf” or “I am quadriplegic.” It simply refers to the truth that I have an enduring affliction (whether based in biology or environment) that has not been healed despite many years of prayers.” We return to the idea that two people can use the same term in different ways, and that we should try to understand how they are using it because we love them.

We see this problem in social discourse all the time. For instance, in the 2016 election “the wall” has very different meanings for progressives and those who voted for Trump. Progressives hear xenophobia, racism and other ideas that make them angry or want to cry. They see his election as betraying their ideals and lament for America. Many of those who voted for him (and may like myself who didn’t) hear wise immigration policy, having a border like most other nations that means we have some measure of control over who enters our country not because we hate other people groups but for our national and economic security. It doesn’t mean you are against immigration reform, but that you believe we actually have a border that matters.

Rosaria counsels love in the midst of such disagreements. She’s only advocating what the Scriptures do, but in this gospel-deprived society this is seen as a novelty. We have to allow each other some space to own our ideas instead of mandating that they agree with us. After all, the Scripture doesn’t directly address this. We can treat the use of this phrase as one of indifference as long as we are using very different definitions of the term. She talked with her friend, listened to her friend, and found they were using the term in very different ways. They could choose to disagree and remain friends because they agreed on the basics of the gospel and its implications for homosexuality even if they disagreed on the use of a term. I think there needs to be more of this: listening, understanding, discerning and accepting one another as Christ accepts us when we do disagree on secondary issues.

“Friendship and neighborly proximity are necessary components to working through theological differences in Christian love. … Ideas that divide must travel on the back of Christian life practices that allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder as we submit before our holy and loving God. This is the Christian labor of real neighbors.”

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Lots of people have their best of 2010 lists.  Why should I be any different?

But I will do it a bit differently.  Instead of books released in 2010, I will recommend some of the books I read in 2010.  Unlike some guys, I am not always on top of the new releases.  Additionally, sometimes this can mean we forget great books from the past.  I will include 2 books that I re-read this year as well.  Great books hold up over time, even if you suffer from ADD.  Lastly there will be a few books I read this year (or at least tried to) that I do not recommend.

Great Books I Read in 2010

  1. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes You Just by Tim Keller.  I just finished this book, so it is fresher in my mind.  In typical Keller fashion he challenges conservative Christians, “progressive” Christians and unbelievers to think more biblically.  The timing for this book was great as the conservative-liberal divide on the issues of social justice seem far more pronounced and polarizing.  He brings a wealth of information into the discussion, but is far from wishy-washy.  Keller has biblical boundaries for this discussion.  Some just want to talk.  I believe Keller does a great job of keeping the gospel central to this discussion.  Even better, it was released in 2010!
  2. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  This was a very good book that encourages pastors and elders to have a different understanding of ministry.  Too often our view of ministry limits our ministry in an unhealthy way.  I’m struggling with how to implement some of this in an existing church.  Not the fault of the book.  On second thought, perhaps that would have made a great additional chapter.
  3. The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. (most likely Edward Fisher) with notes by Thomas Boston.  Yes, this is a few centuries old.  But it is an important book that I’d been meaning to read for a few years.  I’d been providentially hindered from reading it.  It is written in the style of a dialogue between 4 different characters.  E.F. (and Boston in his notes) brings in the work of a number of even older theologians, and their own contemporaries.  It deals with the Christian’s relationship with the law both before and after conversion.
  4. The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline by Mark Lauterbach.  This book is a few years old, but I think it is an important book for pastors and elders.  Church Discipline is a much neglected subject and Lauterbach does a great job of keeping the gospel central to how a church practices discipline.
  5. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul Tripp.  Tripp applies a sound biblical, gospel-centered theology to communication. It goes far beyond “how to”, to unearthing our sin and idolatry.  Unlike some of the other books, this is appropriate, and aimed at, all of us who confess Christ.  Some great biblical wisdom that often brought me to repentance.
  6. Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and and Transforms Parenting by William Farley.  There is no dearth of parenting books.  This is one of the best precisely because he focuses on how the gospel is applied in parenting.  If you’re a parent, it might be wise to pick this up.  If you know a parent, give it as a gift (like I did).  I think you might catch the common thread thus far: the gospel.
  7. By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair Ferguson.  Continuing that thread is one of my favorite authors.  This is yet another great mind-transforming, heart-warming book.  It has both heat and light.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Buy this book!
  8. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russel Moore.  Again, the gospel as revealed in adoption this time.  Moore writes, as the subtitle makes clear, not just for families but for the church family.  It is a great book, though at times a tad clumsy as it shifts back and forth between his family’s story of adoption and the biblical theology of adoption.
  9. The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier.  There have been any number of attempts to justify various immigration positions from the Scriptures.  Hoffmeier uses this expertise in the OT and archeology to dig into the appropriate texts rather than just read his position into them as is common practice.  It is not a very long book, but is a very helpful book that is worth reading by anyone who cares what the Bible may have to say about this important subject in our day.

Great Books I Re-read in 2010

  1. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope that Matters by Tim Keller.  I didn’t read it all that long ago, but a great book holds up.  This is one of those books that holds up.  Another timely book by Keller.  As a great preacher, he is able to shape the books so they are bringing biblical truth to current issues.  But these are not “fad” books, but topics he’s been preaching about for years.
  2. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp.  I read this again for community group after reading it during the “lost years” of transition.  It is a great book for understanding personal ministry to one another.  It helps me as a pastor, and it should be helpful for ordinary church goers.  He brings a good biblical theology to the task.  Some material is also found in War of Words, but I found that to reinforce the message since I was reading them at the same time.

Books I’m Not Excited to Have Read (or at least tried)

  1. Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet by Jason Stellman.  I had high hopes for this book.  I struggled with how he applied his 2 kingdom theology.  It sounded too much like let the world go to hell in a handbasket except for those who embrace the gospel.  The church and Christians appear to have no real function in society aside from evangelism.
  2. Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers by Will Davis Jr.  I did not make it very far in this book.  It was basically an attempt to proof text his views instead of developing a solid, applicable theology of prayer.  This is why I usually don’t read broadly evangelical books.

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The 2nd chapter of The Immigration Crisis by James Hoffmeier is very interesting.  He examines the biblical accounts, and archeological evidence from that time frame to gain a better understanding of what was meant by “alien” in Abraham’s day.  This is important to the matter today.  Some treat “alien” in the Scriptures as if it were equivalent to “illegal immigrant” today.  But is it?

We sometimes think that the Ancient Near East (ANE) was some borderless mass with free passage.  Yes, there were migrations and often mass migrations.  But, Hoffmeier argues that there were clearly delineated lands in that day.  Often the borders were natural (rivers, mountains etc.).  And these borders were frequently defended.

“Indeed many of the mass migrations throughout history have resulted in the eclipsing of various languages, cultures, and the national sovereignty of countries.”

We see this in the case of the Israelites wanting to pass through Edom after the Exodus (Numbers 20).  Any large migrating group would ask for permission to pass through the countryside belonging to another nation.  Israel asked for this permission.  And it was denied, repeatedly.  They respected Edom’s right to determine who could and could not cross their borders.

(more…)

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One of the books I picked up at the PCA General Assembly was The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier, currently a prof of OT and Biblical Archeology at Trinity.

His own history is interesting.  He grew up in Egypt, the son of missionaries.  When Egypt went to war with Israel, their visa was revoked and the left Egypt with only suitcases never to return (he did return as an adult, but they lost nearly all their possessions).  They spent 2 weeks in a refugee camp on Cyprus.  He has lived in other countries, as a legal immigrant.

On the basis of his background, I’m very interested in how he develops the material.  He notes the release of Christians on the Border by M. Daniel Carroll just as he was finishing this book.  While not a response to Carroll’s book, he does mention a few points of departure in their approach.

In terms of the Christian community there are 2 main camps- the Sanctuary camp, and the Law and Order Camp.  These are the camps you see in my (altogether too brief) interview on a local news station.  The female pastor (?) of a PC (USA) supported the PC (USA) boycott and was offering their church as a sanctuary.  She reported anecdotal evidence of racial profiling- which is odd since at the time SB 1070 had yet to become law.  It was not being enforced.  She didn’t seem able to distinguish between a law and unjust enforcement of the law.

What is interesting is that groups like the Sojourners fear the Religious Right.  Apparently they aren’t afraid to use the Bible in politics, just not when Conservatives try to use it.

“Typically those who want to apply biblical law to the western culture do so selectively, accepting laws they personally feel comfortable with and rejecting those that create unease.”

Often both sides use the Scriptures improperly.  Hoffmeier address hermeneutical issues in the first chapter.  He lays out 4 primary approaches to understanding and applying the Scriptures to this (or any) political issue.

Looking for the literal correlations between past and present.  It is very common among Conservatives, but was also practiced by the “Sanctuary” proponents as well.  This view fails to understand the original historical and cultural context, and does not make adequate epochal adjustments.

Applying the biblical demand for justice to the current laws.  This was used by Martin Luther King Jr..  He rightly called for the laws to be applied fairly to blacks as well as whites.  It requires just laws in the first place.  That seems to be one of the missing pieces in this puzzle.

Examine the legal material to develop the theological or ethical principle there to shape or critique modern laws.  Walter Kaiser takes this approach.

Establish a biblical worldview as a way to evaluate contemporary social and legal issues.  This approach, used by Christopher Wright, takes the theological, social and economic context of Scripture into consideration to “preserve the objective” while changing for the context of any culture or time.  This is the approach that the author will use.

When discussing this issue with other Christians who differ, it is important to understand how they are using the Bible in making their arguments.  This is just as important as their views.

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I keep hearing this from evangelicals.  That’s right, Leviticus 19.

33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (ESV)

Somehow people think this should apply to illegal or undocumented immigrants. They fail to correctly exegete the passage (its historical context) and make appropriate epochal adjustments in their application.

  1. The Israelites were initially invited into Egypt (Genesis 45). They were not citizens of Egypt, but were welcomed there by the government. Obviously this all changed after Joseph’s death, and a new Pharaoh came to power.
  2.  Nations then did not normally have closed borders.  But they did have troops at the border along the trade & travel routes. Let us also remember that the people have the rights and entitlements.  There were not government schools, no welfare, no health care benefits etc.  Neither were there WMDs that could be smuggled in.
  3. This passage should be applied to those who enter this country legally.  We should not treat them unfairly since they speak a different language, have different customs, or have a different skin color.  We should not abuse them, but show them love and kindness.

(more…)

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