Friday, November 16, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 18 November 2018

Mark 13:1-8        As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

Reflection       Reading this text from Mark can be down right disturbing. Great buildings will fall flaming down. We will be misled, hear of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, all manner of disaster. And this is only the beginning? This sounds too much like a summary of our current events. We want to run away and bury our heads in the sand. 

But if we pause and allow ourselves to rise to the 10,000 foot above the ground perspective we may catch a glimpse of something more. You see, although our minds cannot unravel the complexity of our circumstance and our emotions cannot resist being  swept up in the dramatic tide of news cycles, our hearts ‘know’ there is something more. The apostle Paul explains this in his second letter to the Corinthians, it is “because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2Cor 4.16) 

Regardless of the explosive uncertainty of current events there is something deep within us that  insists there is more to life than meets the eye. And that is what allows us to “walk by faith, not by sight,” (2Cor 5.7)  especially in the midst of chaos. When Jesus instructs the disciples and us to “Beware…” I do not believe he is telling us to build bomb shelters and stock pile supplies to mitigate impending doom. No. Jesus is warning us not to ascribe inordinate value to things that are temporary, things that by definition have an expected ‘shelf-life.’  

When we put our faith in the unborn, undying eternally all that is we are able to sit at the foot of a collapsing building and not flinch. It is not that we are unaffected by the looming loss. We understand that all things that are accessible to our temporary senses are temporary. At the same time we affirm, there is that which “cannot be seen,” and it is eternal. 

We are misled when we put our faith in things that we see because ultimately they will disintegrate and betray us. We rise with Jesus to the 10,000 foot perspective when we see beyond the tumult and rubble to the peace that eternally pervades the maelstrom of commotion. This is the peace Jesus leaves with us, the peace that we cannot see, the peace that is present even when the buildings collapse and “not one stone is left upon another.”

For an experience of 20 minutes of something more please listen to Benjamin Zander’s TED talk.

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 11 November 2018

Mark 12:38-44        As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Reflection        Did you know that according to a report released by the Pew Research Center in 2017, ninety one percent of the members of Congress identify themselves as Christian? * That being the case, we should be a nation above reproach; people imbued with the Spirit of God working together for the common good? With ninety one percent of the members of Congress identifying themselves as Christian, surely they affirm the fundamental Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God which means we understand all people to be good and therefore treat one another with dignity and respect? Of course we welcome strangers, for we never know, we could be entertaining angels? We share our resources to insure that all of our sisters and brothers have access to decent lives?       How are we doing?

I do not recall anything in Jesus’ teaching about the virtue of amassing wealth and shoring  up power. But today, like the scribes of old who walk around in long robes, demanding respect and seats of honor at elite banquets,  many of the most vocal purveyors of Christian righteousness have sold their moral high ground for financial gain and a place at the table of power. They quote scripture and put on bombastic displays while “devouring widows houses” and turning their backs on the most vulnerable.

Here is the thing. “From the beginning we have misused our freedom and made wrong choices” by “putting ourselves in the place of God.” (bcp 845) That  is  what caused our ancestors Adam and Eve to trip and fall out of the garden, misusing their freedom and making the choice to eat the one and only thing they were told not to touch. And that is what trips us up today, “putting ourselves in the place of God.”

As people of God we have free will to turn toward or away from God. As people of God it is our commission to believe and trust in God, to love our neighbors as ourselves and do to them as we wish them to do to us.” (bcp 848) There it is.  Christians love God and love their neighbors. The purview of sorting and judging people belongs to God - not us.

This is a really high standard; value and dignify all people and leave the judging to God. The cost of being a true Christian is enormous, and frankly, there is only one way we can do it. It is by remembering the New Commandment given to us by Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.” We do not have to rely on ourselves to muster up love out of thin air because we are already full of love, love born and blooming within us as the Spirit of God with us. 

Six hundred years before Jesus the prophet Jeremiah foretold of this, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31.31,33) Jeremiah’s promise is fulfilled when Jesus gives this parting gift to his friends, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13.34) and then he promises, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you… but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14.18,25) 

We are not left on our own to conjure up love for all people. The law of love is written on our hearts. We no longer have to depend on ourselves to generate love because the Spirit of God rises in our hearts and pours through us to love one another. This is what makes it possible for us to stretch to the high standard of valuing and dignifying all people and leave the judging to God.

Etched on the stone of our hearts is God’s law of love. The challenge is to remember and rely on it and let God’s law of love dictate our decisive actions. If we deign to identify ourselves as Christian then it is incumbent upon us to verify our claim by our decisive actions; loving one another as God loves us. Nothing more and nothing less. 

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bcp refers to The Episcopal Church  Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 4 November 2018

John 11:32-44        When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go.”

Reflection        In the company of several parishioners and twelve hundred broken-hearted Tucsonians, I had the privilege of attending the Monday evening Prayer Vigil at the Jewish Community Center to remember the people murdered in the Pittsburg Synagogue. There we all were, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Protestants, Buddhists, Catholics, Atheists, and none of the above.  We were every color and every age, we were refugees and immigrants, women, men and children, each one and all of us suffering at the hand of hatred  dealt by the unconscionable racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races or ethnicity and therefore are entitled to social, political and institutional domination over others.  

It is right and good that we should come together in the wake of tragedy and loss to weep and wait and watch for a glimmer of light to pierce the darkness. It is right and good that we should be greatly disturbed in Spirit and deeply moved because there, in the depths of our darkness, we find God, we find God weeping with us. And so we each carry a flickering candle as a testament to love in the face of hatred, as a commitment to hospitality in the face of hostility. 

We cry out together, “O God, if love is indeed stronger than hate, where are you in all of this? If you were here, they would not have died.” And even as the words slip from our tongues we let our eyes dance across the sea of mourners and we see the glimmer of light in the darkness. Yes, there is God, there is God in every face. There is God, weeping with us.

Tucson’s Mayor Rothschild implored the community of the gathered to live the principles this country is founded on by voting and “recognizing the humanity in each other.” But as people of faith I believe we are called to an even greater commitment, to vote and to recognize both the humanity and the divinity in each other. We are utterly vulnerable expressions of the unspeakably exquisite divine. We are born of the star dust that is from before beginningless time and is for ever. We are One, One infinitely diverse expression of Divine creativity. We depend on one another the way light depends on darkness and dry land depends on the sea. 

Where bigotry, racism, mysogyny or any form of hatred prevails we are as good as dead. Our hands and feet are bound with grave cloths, our hearts are hindered by the weight of a stone. We are not free. Violence and hatred directed against one of us is violence and hatred directed against all of us. Hate speech and gun violence are a misuse of human rights. We do not have the right to harm one another. In fact, when harming another we are harming ourselves.

We believe that love is stronger than death and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. Thus the stone is rolled away from our hearts and we are free to see the glory of God reflected in the tears of the countless people gathered in Tucson and across the globe weeping for the tragic deaths of Joyce, Richard, Rose, Jerry, Cecil, David, Sylvan, Bernice, Daniel, Melvin and Irving. May they be a blessing.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 28 October 2018

Mark 10:46-52        Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 

Reflection        When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” I want to ask Jesus, “Why are you asking a blind man what he wants? Isn’t it obvious?” In “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything,” the theologian James Martin, S.J. suggests, “Jesus was helping the blind man identify his desire and to be clear about it.” (p 58) You see, it is when we notice and name the deepest desire of our hearts that we discover God’s desire for us. 

Martin explains, desire gets a bad rap in many Christian circles, mostly because we think of it only in terms of sex and consumerism. But, sex is clearly one of our greatest gifts because “without it, where would we be?” The desire to consume food, shelter and clothing is our natural desire to survive.  Desire is a primary way in which God speaks to us. Of course we are not talking about superficial or inordinate desires for a perfect home, a showier car, more power, more privilege, another cruise…  you fill in the blank.  

When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” he is asking, “What is the deepest desire of your heart?” Sitting by the roadside, Bartimaeus has had plenty of time to think about it, and when someone sitting near him nudges him, “Jesus is calling you,” he does not hesitate to declare his desire, “I want to see again.” When Jesus says to him, “Go; your faith has made you well,” he is inviting Bartimaeus “out of his distress into a broad place with no constraint.”  Accepting the invitation, Bartimaeus throws off the cloak of his past, leaps up, and changes the course of his life, no longer sitting on the sideline of life but immediately  following Jesus on the way. 

A key to discerning God’s desire for us is noticing and naming our desires. Our deepest desires help us to admit God’s desire for us.

A pivotal moment in my life occurred following a week long intensive, training future spiritual directors, when my colleague and dear friend looked me straight in the eye and asked, “What is your deepest desire, what do you want to do with your life?” I can still feel the sinking sense in my stomach knowing I would have to speak aloud the words I had denied for decades. “I want to be a priest.” My friend’s  response, “Well, it is about time you said it.” 

After nine years sitting in darkness, the voice of my friend broke through the whirlwind of my self-absorbed suffering, inviting me to notice and name the deepest desire of my heart. In so doing I  joined Bartimaeus in noticing and naming our desires. Finally I could say out loud, “Although there is no way I can do this thing called priesthood (frankly it terrifies me), I know that God can do all things, and that no purpose of God’s can be thwarted.” Within the month I left my home to begin the journey toward priesthood.

Now, let me ask you, what is the deepest desire of your heart?  

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday 21 October 2018

Job 38:1-7, 34-41
The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
so that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God, 
and wander about for lack of food?”

Reflection         For weeks, for months, it seems like forever,  we have been standing shoulder to shoulder with Job, crying out to God… “Where are you? Where are you in the midst of my suffering? Where are you in the ruins of Mexico Beach, Florida? in school shootings? among the homeless? the 16.2 million children going to sleep (cannot say bed because many do not have a bed) going to sleep hungry every night? where are you for the two hundred plus migrant children separated from their parents? Where are you for the people marginalized or persecuted because of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, social status or age? Where are you for the victims of violence, oppression and genocide throughout the world?”

In answer to these questions I hear the voice of Elie Wiesel, the Jewish writer, professor, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, whose book, “Night,” recounts his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald and his struggle to come to terms with the horrors of the death camps. When receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 Weisel said, “It seemed as impossible to conceive of Auschwitz with God as to conceive of Auschwitz without God.”  He continued, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” We must never stop calling out for God.

This week a parishioner sent me the link to a NYTimes opinion piece titled, “It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God.”* * The writer, Jonathan Merritt asks, “How do we speak about God in times like these when God is hard to spot?” To address his query Merritt turns to a survey of one thousand American adults, more than three fourths of whom report they do not often have spiritual or religious conversations, and that includes self identified Christians. Merritt, a preacher’s kid and part-time minister describes his own experience, “conversations stall out the moment the subject turns spiritual.”   In his book, “Learning to Speak God from Scratch”  Merritt avers that words connoting moral virtues such as love, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness and thankfulness “are falling out of use” by as much as 56% since the early 20th century. The question echoes, “Where is God in this?”

Here is the thing, what matters is not that we can speak fluently about God - after all, what can we rightly say? What matters is that we never stop speaking for God. Dear people of God, I believe what really matters is that we join Elie Weisel and refuse “to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.” Like Job, we must never stop calling out for God and then pause, listen for God’s presence in the midst of our whirlwinds. 

Another good read about finding God in the midst of pain is

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 14 October 2018

Mark 10:17-31       As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Reflection        Can you hear Jesus scratching his head when the young man protests, “I have kept all of the commandments;” (Jesus) “You have kept them? You have depended upon yourself to be righteous and upstanding? You really think you have done this by your own wit and will? Poor young man, you lack one thing. Humility. Go and sell all that you own then come and follow me.” In other words, if you want to find eternal life you must admit your dependence on God with you. 

And if this shocked the young man who was living in the Ancient Near East, a collectivist culture that stresses the importance of community and interdependence of the people, how much more unfathomable is this for those of us who have been raised in a Post Enlightenment culture that understands people as independent and autonomous. How can we digest Jesus’ counsel when the world around us makes it clear that being dependent upon others is embarrassing if not down right shameful? We are supposed to be self-reliant and anyone who is not ought to stop making excuses and “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

By our wit and will we are supposed to solve our own problems and accomplish our five year, ten year and lifetime goals. We are praised for being self-reliant, self-sufficient and self-made. All these are respectable qualities except we fail to notice one thing, they separate us from God and one another.  

And so Jesus looks at us with love and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” As long as we hold fast to our self-determination we are essentially setting our selves apart and claiming sovereignty that belongs to God alone.  Being thus bloated with our selves it is no wonder we do not experience God with us. This is why Jesus counsels the young running man and us to sell everything and follow him. 

Here is the thing. Most of us get stuck on the first part of Jesus’ instruction. “Sell everything.” Really? Not all of us are cut out to make vows of poverty and live in monasteries. So we join the running man grieving and set out again on our own thereby completely missing Jesus’ second instruction, “follow me.”

To follow means to come after, to subordinate our selves to someone or something else, to accept another’s authority as guide or teacher.* When we consent to follow, we affirm our interconnected interdependence which by definition means we stop clinging to our culturally prescribed identities as self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-made and self-determining creatures. We sell all that baggage and follow Jesus, the teacher, who shows us that the way of eternal life is all about being in unselfish, magnanimous, open handed relationships which are possible when we put our confidence in God with us, rather than our selves.  

I believe life is a story and we get to choose whether we want our story to be “with God” or not. If we choose “with God” life, we must get rid of whatever separates us from God. Some of the  culprits are our inordinate desires for safety and security, affection and esteem, power and control. If we choose “with God” life we must grow beyond the presumption of being self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-made and self-determining and affirm our purpose in the world with and for one another. When we choose a “with God” life story we realize, it is not all about me, it is all about we. It is not all about mine, it is all about ours. Our “with God” life story is a story of radical inclusiveness;  life in and of, with and for the well-being of all people. What story do you choose?

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Hebrew Testament text for Sunday 7 October 2018

Job 1:1; 2:1-10        There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Reflection      Job is a man of grand slam success and insistent faithfulness. We meet him at the heels of a wager between God and Satan. All of his livestock are destroyed, his servants are carried away, his business decimated. A great wind collapses the house in which his sons and daughters are eating and all ten of them are killed.  “(Despite) all of this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1.22) God wins the wager. Job remains faithful in the face of unrelenting loss, a fact God loses no time pointing out to the Satan.  “(Job) still persists in his integrity, though you (Satan) incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 

Furious the adversary ups the ante. “People will give up anything to save their own life…” Again, God,  betting Job will persist in his integrity, accepts the second wager and empowers the Satan to inflict unspeakable physical suffering on Job.  And indeed, though his body is covered with oozing boils and Job sends himself into exile sitting on an ash heap, when his wife confronts him saying, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die,” Job endures saying to his maligned wife, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?” 

This is integrity. No matter what happens to us on the outside, our interior values, our moral principles, what we know to be true, must continue to determine how we behave. Which is to say,  our values are revealed in our daily actions. The quality of our actions bespeak the authenticity of our faith. Integrity. 

Job’s faith is established through his acceptance of blessing as well as suffering which is not to say, Job liked his suffering nor did he think he deserved it. In fact, for the next twenty-nine chapters of the Book of Job, he never stops calling out to God, asserting his innocence, despising his condition and demanding God’s attention. And therein lies the key. Job never stops calling out to God because he sees God’s hand in the good as well as in the bad. 

This melodramatic tale of enduring faithfulness and resolute integrity has much to say to us today. As we navigate our troubled times, like Job we will do well to put our confidence in God with us regardless of the raging tides of our circumstance. Like Job we must act with integrity making our daily actions line up with our hearts values; receiving blessing as well as suffering. Rather than asking, “Who is to blame?” better we should ask, “Where is God in this?” 

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