Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, July 16, 2007

CWB: The Son of the Man


My conversation with Bob is generating some comments. Don't be bashful. The conversation is open to all, not just geeky theological types. Post a comment, a question, or something funny to lighten us up! However, like David Letterman will say, it is an exhibition not a competition. Please no wagering.

Some preliminaries in response to Bob's last post:

1) I really appreciate the way you summarize my comments and then respond, focusing on areas of agreement and then making your observations. It makes me feel good!

2) Are we not all five clicks away from Woodstock?

3) I dig the Kerygma series and have used it at both of my previous congregations.

4) I will never call you a conservative. You will always be Bob to me.

5) Didn't know about "beaten brass" as the literal translation of the firmament. Cool!

6) I agree and I didn't mention it that many of the titles for Jesus are found in the Hebrew scriptures as well. Jesus was a Jew, born, lived, and died a Jew. Yet, the early Christians also felt their message would reach the pagans. I think that language is in the Gospels, Paul, Revelation, and other New Testament works as well. Further, because the Roman Empire was so dominant and Roman Imperial Theology (Crossan's phrase) so pervasive, that much of the language attributed to Jesus reflected to the need to respond to that reality.

7) I should also point out (in agreement with you) that the language of cross and resurrection referred to personal transformation as well as social transformation. I find it valuable today. We pick up the cross, die to an old way of living, and are being transformed by the power of the resurrection into a new way of living. More on that below.

8) I really like the phrase, "radically biblical." That phrase reminded me of Walter Wink. I had the privilege of spending a week with Walter and his wife, June, at Kirkridge in the mid-90s. At that point he was working the phrase, "the son of the man." During that week he was wrestling over an adequate English translation for that phrase.

He eventually came up with "The Human Being" the title of his book on the subject, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man.

Wink was a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. He parted ways largely over this phrase, the son of the man. Here is his view of his parting and his views about Jesus. The voting generally relegated all apocalyptic son of man sayings to the early church. They retained for Jesus, just those instances when it referred to human beings in general, or was a way of Jesus to say "yours truly" as in "Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but [yours truly] has nowhere to lay his head."

I am not sure exactly what to make of it. It could mean:

a) Human beings in general.
b) Jesus referring to himself, (ie. yours truly).
c) The restored Israel.
d) The ideal human being, revealed in Jesus, and who we are to become, individually and collectively.
e) A person, not himself, who would come at the end of the age.
f) As the church basically concluded, Jesus, coming at the end of the age.

Last night I perused a chapter in his book. Chapter 9: "The Human Being: Apocalyptic versus Eschatology." He offers this definition:

Eschatology is concerned about the goal of humanity and the world; apocalyptic is consumed with the end of the planet Earth as presently constituted. Prophetic eschatology is ruthlessly realistic, yet incurably hopeful. Apocalyptic has abandoned hope and looks for divine, miraculous intervention. p. 199
For the most part, I am an eschatological kind of guy. In fact, I would say that most human beings are. I think we can find this theology in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament as well as in the Hebrew scriptures. We also find in all of those places, including on the lips of Jesus, apocalyptic theology. What was Jesus really? I personally think it is impossible to know. There is evidence for both views within the New Testament itself.

Wink goes further. He writes:

"But even that characterization is deceptive. For there is a positive role for apocalyptic as well as its better-known negative. The positive power of apocalyptic lies in its capacity to force humanity to face threats of unimaginable proportions in order to galvanize efforts at self- and social transcendence. Only such Herculean responses can rescue people from the threat and make possible humanity's continuation....we move into an apocalyptic mode when we no longer find ourselves asking 'How shall we live?' and ask instead "Will we live?" p. 199

Wink believes that the positive role for the apocalyptic is the anti-apocalyptic.

Optimists want to believe that reason will save us. They want to prevent us from becoming afraid. The anti-apocalypticist, on the contrary, insists that our capacity to fear is too small and does not correspond to the magnitude of the present danger....that is why everything the anti-apocalypticist says is said in order not to become true. p. 160

We face real perils on Earth. Wink writes:

Luke warns:
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the son of the man." (21:34-36)

It is not difficult to see real perils in that warning, perils that threaten the very viability of life on earth today. Global warming, the ozone hole, overpopulation, starvation and malnutrition, war, unemployment, the destruction of species and the rain forests, pollution of water and air, pesticide and herbicide poisoning, errors in genetic engineering, erosion of topsoil, overfishing, anarchy and crime, terrorism, the possibility of a nuclear mishap: together, or in some cases singly, these dangers threaten to "catch us unexpectedly like a trap." Our inability thus far to measure ourselves against these threats in an ominous portent that apocalypse has already rendered us powerless.
We are living in an apocalyptic time disguised as normal, and that is why we have not responded appropriately. (italics his) p. 160-1

He concludes the chapter with this:

To summarize, I see eschatology as a line stretching to the distant, possibly infinite, future. This is the horizon of hope, possibility, and becoming. I see apocalyptic as a detour, caused by an immediate crisis threatening whole societies. Negative apocalyptic paralyzes, positive apocalyptic energizes. When the crisis passes, normal eschatology is reinstated. Our situation today is unique in that, this time, the crisis may not pass. p. 165

My point in introducing Wink's work is your final question to me:

Frankly, John, I don’t see why you seem to feel the need to separate the New Testament explanation of the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection from the call to live for peace and justice. I suspect it has something to do with your ideas of the cosmology of the 1st century as compared to the cosmology of today and with your ideas about being a progressive. Maybe you can explain this to me because I just don’t see the contradiction.

1) I think the New Testament is diverse regarding the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection. At times it is eschatological, at times apocalyptic, and at times anti-apocalyptic. Their crisis was the War of 66-70. They viewed it variously.

2) I reject the negative apocalyptic which basically goes something like this: The Earth will end in a violent catastrophe. That is how God has planned it. Nothing to do about it except to put on my rapture bloomers and wait for Jesus to beam me up to that heavenly speedway. My goal as an apocalyptic Christian is to get everyone else to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus so they can join me in my great escape.

3) The eschatological view goes something like this: The Earth is getting worse, but reason will prevail. It will all work out, God is control. The death and resurrection of Jesus is about coming to a new sense of consciousness and personal transformation. While I am usually here, I now believe that we are in a time in which the eschatological view is not enough to deal with the present crisis.

4) I am becoming more and more convinced that the church needs to be anti-apocalyptic. An example is Al Gore and his warnings about Global Warming as well as the Peak Oil prophets who are all telling us that civilization is toast perhaps in our generation. Not only that, but I live in a country that thinks it is perfectly normal to maintain 10,000 nuclear warheads, that if used would leave the planet desolate. Those who continue to warn us about nuclear catastrophe are anti-apocalyptic. In this view, God has not planned this destruction. It is not God's will. Yet, God is not going to save us from our stupidity if we continue to be stupid. If we decide that ecocide is a swell idea, God will shrug and say, "Hmmm. Human beings. That was an interesting evolutionary development." A dead Earth will continue to revolve around the sun for hundreds of millions of years with no humans to enjoy it. God wants us to wake up, face the reality and respond. God is speaking through the anti-apocalypticists in order that we might change. But if we do not change that is where we are headed. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the courage to take risks and speak the truth to the powers who continue to set a course for our destruction.

5) I have no need of living after I am dead. I really do not care if my consciousness, body, spirit, soul, or spleen survives my death. I reject fanciful notions such as eternal heaven and eternal hell as dogmas invented by the church to control its sheep. It is used today to keep us passive and to serve the powers of our destruction. I care greatly that my life will contribute in some way toward future generations having a life.

6) Where is my hope? My hope is in the remarkable story of Jonah. He was anti-apocalyptic and he knew it. He told the people of Nineveh to wake up and repent or God would destroy them. Surprise! They did repent and God did not destroy them. That was why Jonah was so grumpy. He was proved a liar! I want to be proved a liar. But that will not happen unless we wake up and change direction.

To answer your question, I do think that the stories about Jesus in the Bible, including his death and resurrection are about action for peace and justice, if we use them correctly.

20 comments:

  1. John,

    You wrote:

    5) I have no need of living after I am dead. I really do not care if my consciousness, body, spirit, soul, or spleen survives my death. I reject fanciful notions such as eternal heaven and eternal hell as dogmas invented by the church to control its sheep. It is used today to keep us passive and to serve the powers of our destruction. I care greatly that my life will contribute in some way toward future generations having a life.

    Now, I know I've made some snide comments on your blog before, but I ask this seriously: how does this help people mourning the loss of a loved one?

    When I officiate at a funeral (and I've done a lot of them by now), I am able to point to what I believe to be the reality of life after death ... not in the sense of memories of the person who has died (because after a time even memories fade away), but in the sense of continued existence as individuals in the presence of God.

    I believe that comforts the bereaved. Indeed, the whole struggle of understanding how suffering can be redeemed by eternal life with God is what propelled me into the ministy to begin with.

    I know you're sincere in your views, but I guess I just don't understand how one can fulfil the pastoral call to offer true hope to those who suffer without a robust belief in life after death.

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  2. I'd also like to ask what liturgy you use at a funeral and what biblical verses?

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  3. I knew you'd pick up on that statement, Presbyman!

    You ask how John's view of life (or not) after death could be a comfort to someone mourning the loss of a loved one - and then you go on to say that, at funerals, you comfort the bereaved by telling them what YOU believe. It seems to me the role of clergy at that point is to tell people what they want to hear, not what you believe. I think it's pretty safe to say that, at that moment, it isn't about you.

    As for ways of comforting a grieving person, I know that clergy can be as inept and awkward as the next guy. When my mother buried her first born at 2 1/2 and the pastor told her, as a supposed comfort, she should rest well knowing that God needed her little angel more than she did, well, Ma turned around and walked away from him and the church - and never looked back. I think he really believed what he said.

    I am not asking you to make excuses for a pastor's callous piety from 50 years ago. Just keep in mind that a pastor's feelings may not be all that important to the person, at that time.

    Frankly, it seems horrid to think of a grieving person fretting that their recently departed may be in hell because of some "sin", be it a mistake or a "technicality". And when I start to think about the logistics of heaven - is my late husband with his ex-wife? How old is he to his mother? How old is his mother to him? What about HER parents? - I just get tired. It's craziness.

    You must admit that there is some truth in what John says about certain ideas being invented to keep people in line. I cannot imagine the naivety that would allow you to deny that religion has been used as a tool of suppression and oppression. Yes, it has also helped many people keep a small beam of hope in hopeless times, but I suspect those people would have found a way to hope if they had been raised without organized religion.

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  4. Snad wrote:

    you comfort the bereaved by telling them what YOU believe.

    Well, it's also what the Church has believed since the time of Christ. And, more importantly, it's in the Bible.

    Frankly, it seems horrid to think of a grieving person fretting that their recently departed may be in hell because of some "sin", be it a mistake or a "technicality". And when I start to think about the logistics of heaven - is my late husband with his ex-wife? How old is he to his mother? How old is his mother to him? What about HER parents? - I just get tired. It's craziness.

    So it's better just to give up any idea of the resurrection to eternal life and say that people just rot in the ground, and that's the end of the story.

    I bet THAT would comfort a parent grieving the loss of a little child.

    I notice that in your criticism of my comments, and the traditional belief in life after death, you provide no alternative.

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  5. Presbyman -

    I suppose I may be unique in this, but I am well comforted in the idea of nothingness. Grief, sorrow, joy, kindness, anger, fear, fun - these are all for the living, and part of living.

    As for rotting in the ground, I prefer the idea of nourishing the earth with myself as it has nourished me. No brass box for me, sir! Better the manure spreader, say I!

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  6. John, in your posting you state:

    “I have no need of living after I am dead. I really do not care if my consciousness, body, spirit, soul, or spleen survives my death. I reject fanciful notions such as eternal heaven and eternal hell as dogmas invented by the church to control its sheep. It is used today to keep us passive and to serve the powers of our destruction. I care greatly that my life will contribute in some way toward future generations having a life.”

    In the sermon which Bill Crawford linked too, which I just read a few days ago, you said:

    “The resurrection of Jesus, while written about in metaphorical language by those who experienced his presence with them, is indeed about something very real. They saw in him and were drawn to him because he exhibited an awareness that they could only speak about by using the symbols and stories available to them. Jesus was far more conscious than we are. His followers sensed it. Jesus like the Buddha and other enlightened mystics had a heightened level of consciousness. They saw more reality than I see. They are, I think, the first fruits of a higher evolutionary stage for humanity. …

    To see the resurrected Jesus or the cosmic Christ is to glimpse in a person the summit of consciousness to which we are ascending.”

    I have some questions. Which kind of Buddhism are you referring to when you suggest that Jesus is like the Buddha? If it is Amida or Pure Land Buddhism they believe in an after life. Even if you believe Jesus is simply an enlightened one is it necessary to throw out an afterlife? And if it is, why?

    Just one other question: Don’t get me wrong I believe good works are the fruit of being transformed by Jesus, but, it seems like you are embracing a works kind of religion. Can you explain the difference between our having the righteousness of Jesus Christ because of our regeneration and union with him, and ascending to a higher consciousness?

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  7. Snad,

    Well, I appreciate your sincerity, but I just don't understand that. And I don't believe God created us for such a short, finite existence. It seems rather pointless in the end. I mean, there is definitely injustice in this life, and while we are called to work against injustice (yes, I believe that, it's not just a "progressive" thing), we also have to admit that this world will NEVER be perfect this side of the Eschaton. So, everyone, good and bad, young and old, dies, and that's it. A little baby dies and that's it, and it means nothing more or less than Adolf Hitler dying.

    I've seen the mystery of death many, many times, in my own family and in ministry settings (doing a CPE Residency and now being a pastor). Death is the great "NO" to life. But I believe God has spoken a great "NO" back to death, through the conquering of death by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Now, as to why people die when they do, or exactly what happens regarding their age or appearance or relationships in heaven ... I don't know any of that and I wouldn't speculate on that either. But the Bible tells us that God will judge all people justly and will grant everlasting life to all people who are willing to accept that gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

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  8. Presbyman -

    It is well that we are able to tailor our beliefs to give us comfort. That, as much as anything I've seen, sets us apart from the rest of nature, for good or ill.

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  9. Snad, you obviously haven't been reading your Bible. There are many things that Jesus said that we all wrestle with - they are not comfortable at all.

    The pastor who hurt your mom would have been better to keep silent; the bitterness of losing a child obviously was with her all of her days. I can still feel some that anger and pain in your own words.

    We do not tailor our beliefs to suit ourselves. We try to tailor our lives to become what Christ wants, which is very uncomfortable at times, too.

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  10. Hey Snad,

    Don't worry about reading your Bible. These fine folks will read it for you and tell you everything you need to know! : <)

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  11. John said:

    "Don't worry about reading your Bible. These fine folks will read it for you and tell you everything you need to know!"

    Ain't it the truth, brother!

    Stushie said:

    "Snad, you obviously haven't been reading your Bible."

    Yup. That's right. That's why I don't get involved in a lot of these comments - much of it comes across as "theo-intellectual elitism". You fellows feel free to chatter amongst yourselves, though!

    As for anger, you make that sound as if it's a bad thing! On the contrary, anger is quite useful - it is only when you do not understand your anger and it gets directed at the wrong thing that it becomes a problem - one might even say a "sin".

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  12. I think Stushie missed the point that Snad was making. Presbyman was using comfort as a reason for believing in the afterlife. For example, he wrote:

    So it's better just to give up any idea of the resurrection to eternal life and say that people just rot in the ground, and that's the end of the story.

    I bet THAT would comfort a parent grieving the loss of a little child.


    Snad correctly pointed out that this idea that we should believe in an afterlife simply because it comforts us is a highly questionable route for theology take.

    I agree it would be nice to believe in an afterlife. I'd like to believe in an afterlife myself. But I can't get worked up about the idea. Maybe there is one, maybe there isn't. It just isn't that important to my faith in God, just as, I might add, it was irrelevant to the ancient Jews in a big part of Old Testament times. For centuries during Old Testament era, Jews didn't believe in an afterlife; it only developed after time, particularly during periods of martyrdom against occupation by the Greeks. Even by Jesus's time, the afterlife wasn't accepted by all Jews (the Sadducees, specifically, did not.) It is perfectly possible to believe in God without believing in an afterlife. I personally would rather focus on how we can build on our relationship with God in this life than worry about the afterlife.

    And for those who believe in the barbaric doctrine of hell, I think there is a particular arrogance in presuming to know what God's judgment will be for anyone anyway, so this business of comforting people by telling them that their loved ones will be in heaven is an interesting case of theological hubris for the sake of comfort.

    And speaking of small children...I can tell you that when I was 7 years old and broke my arm after being hit on my bike by a car--and for a few split seconds before the accident I thought I was going to be run over--I cried in the emergency room because I was afraid I was going to go to hell. This is the kind of bullshit that hell-believing religions leads to--making small children cry because they are worried about such nonsense.

    Hell-believers can have their believe in an afterlife. I would rather focus our relationship with God in this life.

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  13. Mystical Seeker wrote:

    And for those who believe in the barbaric doctrine of hell, I think there is a particular arrogance in presuming to know what God's judgment will be for anyone anyway, so this business of comforting people by telling them that their loved ones will be in heaven is an interesting case of theological hubris for the sake of comfort.

    It's arrogant to presume what God's judgment would be for anyone ... but it's not arrogant to dismiss the idea of Hell as "barbaric?" That of course presumes God would never allow anyone to go to Hell, or that in his providence God would allow Hell to exist.

    Maybe God would not, but it's just as presumptious to assume that as anything else.

    I never presume to judge whether a specific individual goes to heaven or hell. That's not my calling. I do say, however, the we are assured of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. As a Pastor, that IS my calling.

    And, I think it is quite possible ... in fact it is something Biblically mandated ... to be concerned with this life AND the next life. IOW, belief in an afterlife is not to be used as an excuse not to be involved in working for justice in this life.

    On a personal note, I've always thought of the eternal void ... the state of non-existence ... to be something truly horrifying. If you don't exist, you don't even get to remember whatever you have done in this life. It will be completely irrelevant.

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  14. BTW, at least Snad and Mystical Seeker are engaging this question. Pastor Shuck sidestepped it completely with one of his flippant comments.

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  15. I never presume to judge whether a specific individual goes to heaven or hell. That's not my calling.

    Fair enough, but then how can you say that we should comfort those who grieve by telling them that their loved ones will be in heaven? Especially when this need for comfort was argued as being an important part of the faith?

    It's arrogant to presume what God's judgment would be for anyone ... but it's not arrogant to dismiss the idea of Hell as "barbaric?"

    Yes, that's correct. I think you summed it up. :)

    I don't have a problem in general with people assigning roles or attributes to God, or debating what the attributes of God are. I am only suggesting that it makes no sense to assign roles to God as God's exclusive province and then turn around and assume for one's self the role that they suggested that God alone had.

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  16. **It's arrogant to presume what God's judgment would be for anyone ... but it's not arrogant to dismiss the idea of Hell as "barbaric?"**

    I would agree with this as well, because of how the concept of heaven/hell gets used. Often, those who do hold to the idea of hell are certain they know exactly who will be going there, and also claim to exactly know the mind of God. Does everyone who holds to a belief in hell do this? No, but I've come across enough people that do behave this way.

    It also depends on how one defines hell -- I would find the concept of an eternal place of torture barbaric, just because there's nothing worthy or redeeming about that concept of punishment. It accomplish nothing, and would make the one who established such a place no better than us.

    I think the Eastern Orthodox has a pretty good handle on it -- heaven/hell is the same location, it's a matter of how one reacts to the love and peace available. Some would be miserable with that kind of love, because they are so content in their "evilness," for lack of a better word. Such a love would be painful, almost.

    In reverse, there are those who hold to the concept of heaven can also be arrogant, and thus since they are "forgiven," they can be as nasty as they want so long as they do the proper repentence. That's one of the difficulties I have with simply saying faith in Christ/God is enough -- I don't get that from the Bible. It's not enough, it's how that faith is demonstrated in one's life. Works do matter -- they don't merit salvation, but they play a rather big role in how the faith is enacted. There are those that live a Christ-like life with absolutely no faith in Jesus. Should that automatically condemn them to hell? One can live a life of turning away from sin with the aid of grace without a belief in Jesus.

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  17. Mystical:

    This may seem like splitting hairs, but I never actually tell anyone that their loved one is in heaven. How would I know?

    But I DO repeat the Gospel message that people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

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  18. I am pleased that Bob and I have generated some conversation! Thanks all for good comments!

    Sounds like there are more areas to cover, such as

    Hell
    Heaven
    The "Fall"
    Salvation
    Sin

    It is interesting how all of this theo-mythology crumbles in light of modern cosmology and evolution.

    Stay tuned for my reasons!

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  19. Presbyman wrote:

    "And I don't believe God created us for such a short, finite existence."

    Everything else in nature has a short (in many cases very short), finite existence. And most of nature is waste. Think of the seedlings falling from your maple tree in spring; how many billions of seedlings never grown into trees, yet the maple tree survives as a species.

    Now, I do not wish to get into a tediuous conversation about being an evolutionist or such. All I know is that one can take what one READS about God's creation and decide one knows what God does, or one can take what one SEES and draw conclusions. And the third possibility is that one can do a little of both.

    Bob said: "play nice". Bob, I think we have been playing nice, for the most part. Sure there are a few barbs and jabs, but nothing ugly, in my mind. I see nothing wrong with a little poke now and then in order to challenge one another. I've reread most the comments and feel sure each person would say "oh, well, he doesn't mean me, after all"! ;-)

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  20. I agree with Snad in that this has been a good discussion and pretty civil at that.

    I would answer Snad's comment about nature by saying that human beings are uniquely created in God's image and are, as CS Lewis put it, "hybrids." Meaning part body and part spirit. IOW, while we are certainly part of God's created order in nature, we are also more than that.

    That, of course, then gets into the whole discussion of how our spirits and bodies relate to one another after death, and what it will mean to have a "new creation" at the end of the age.

    I think our continued existence and the nature of the new creation will be so fantastic that our present existence and world will seem like a pale shadow that flees before the solid reality of God's kingdom when that comes. That's CS Lewis' take on it, anyway, and I think it's a good one.

    Reading The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce helped me move from a more skeptical posture to a robust orthodoxy. Lewis addresses many of the questions we have discussed here ... about 1,000% better than I have. >;-)

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