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Forward Friday: Double Belonging

I ran across the term double belonging during my training in spiritual direction in Arizona.  If you’re not familiar (I wasn’t), it’s a relatively new term used to describe people who ascribe to one particular religious tradition (e.g. Christianity) but also learn from another tradition (e.g. Buddhism).

You may have even heard people describe themselves as Jew-Bus (Jewish Buddhists) or Buddha-palians (Episcopalian Buddhists).  What would a Presbyterian Buddhist be called? Buddha-terian?

While I’m not advocating synchronicity, I do believe we have a lot to learn from each other, both within our own tradition and from people of other faiths.  Particularly with people whose spiritual paths involve meditation, there are many similarities between different religious practices.  Thomas Merton, for example, was well known for being influenced by Buddhist meditation techniques as he practiced and taught Christian contemplative meditation.

So let’s try a very simple and open-ended Forward Friday:

This weekend, take some time to explore other faith traditions in your area. 

You could attend a Jewish temple or try a yoga class.  If you’re not sure how to get started, try picking up a book from your local library on comparative religion or a specific tradition you’ve always been curious about.

Remember, this exercise is not designed to encourage you to embrace a new set of beliefs in place of your own or to create opportunities for proselytizing.  Just be curious, courteous, and conscious of what pieces of truth you might pick up along the way.

Happy weekend, lovely readers!  Come back and tell me all about it.

Forward Friday: YOU define body theology

I’ve been thinking all week about Isherwood’s definition of body theology as created through the body rather than about the body.  Our tendency is to relate to our bodies as something “other,” as a separate entity that is not the same as our “self.”  As Isherwood says elsewhere in that chapter, our language betrays our perspective when we say that we have bodies rather than that we are bodies.

This weekend, take some time to reflect and perhaps journal on the following question:

How do YOU define body theology?

This question is more than a cognitive exercise in generating a pithy statement about what you believe the term “body theology” means or what the phrase evokes in you, though these are of course useful exercises as well.  What I’m really asking here, what I’m encouraging you to ask yourselves this weekend, is this:

How does who you are as a mind-body-spirit being, designed by and created in the image of the Divine Being who defies all category and definition (including age, race, and gender), and believer in and follower of the way of the incarnate, flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing, dwelling-among-us, crucified-and-resurrected Emmanuel (which means God-with-us) — how do YOU define body theology? 

How is body theology defined through the unique physical human being only YOU can be?  What does your experience of being alive in your own skin bring to the table? What does your body teach us about who God is and about who we are as the community of God?  How is God made manifest in and through you that is only possible because you are a bundle of tangible flesh?

This is a big question.

Open yourself up to the possibilities presented by this kind of approach to theological reflection.  Really sit with the reality God reveals to you.  Write it down or talk through your experience with a trusted friend.

Then come back and share in the comment box below.  What came up for you as you meditated on these questions?

What is body theology? another definition

This week we’re exploring the various definitions of body theology out there.  Read HBTB’s definition of body theology. Read James B. Nelson’s definition from Monday.

Now let’s consider an excerpt from Introducing Body Theology by Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart. Take some time to read and reflect on the passages below.

[B]ody theology…creates theology through the body and not about the body.  Working through the body is a way of ensuring that theories do not get written on the bodies of “others” who then become marginalized and objects of control. It is also a way of deconstructing the concept of truth that Christianity used to hold so many falsehoods in place.  Once one moves from the notion that there is absolute truth into which the bodies of people have to fit, the way is open to begin questioning and we soon realize that truth is not the issue in relation to prescriptions about the body, but power.  Christian history shows us the extent to which power has been exerted over bodies in the name of divine truth and the crippling results.  If the body is given the space and power to speak what will be the consequences for both the body and theology?

… Body politics have exposed the underlying power games at work in sexuality and society and by so doing have become a source of inspiration and liberation for many.  Christianity is an incarnational religion that claims to set captives free, it tells us it is a religion of liberation.  Yet it underpins many of the restrictive practices that body politics expose.  In some cases Christianity has been the instigator of these practices because of its dualistic vision of the world.

The questions being posed in our time are to do with the body, that of the world as well as the individual.  Can body politics ever become body theology in a truly radical and transforming way?  This might mean for example, that the Christian religion…risk taking the bodies of women seriously as sites of revelation in the creation of theology….That it develop a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desire of all and integrates it into a mutual and freeing celebration of embodiment.

…The Christian faith tells us that redemption is brought through the incarnation of God. A redemption that could not be wished or just thought, even by God herself, she had to be enfleshed.  Therefore, it can be argued that until the body is liberated from the patriarchal ties that bind it, many of which have been set in place by Christianity, creation will never understand the truly liberating power of incarnation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  React to and engage with the quotation above in the comment box below.

What is body theology? a miniseries

This week, let’s take a little step back and consider more about just what body theology is, how it has been defined and how we define it here at HBTB.

Read Holistic Body Theology Blog’s definition of body theology.

Below is an excerpt from Body Theology by James B. Nelson.  Take some time to read and digest what he says about the relation between our human bodies and the incarnation of Christ.

What, then, is body theology? It is nothing more, nothing less than our attempts to reflect on bodily experience as revelatory of God….Theologically, [embodiment] means Jesus as the Christ, the expected and anointed one.  Through the lens of this paradigmatic embodiment of God, however, Christians can see other incarnations: the christic reality expressed in other human beings in their God-bearing relatedness.  Indeed, the central purpose of Christology…is not affirmations about Jesus as the Christ. Rather, affirmations about Jesus are in the service of revealing God’s christic presence and activity in the world now.

…[T]he human body is language and a fundamental means of communication. We do not just use words. We are words.  This conviction underlies Christian incarnationalism. In Jesus Christ, God was present in a human being not for the first and only time, but in a radical way that has created a new definition of who we are.  In Christ we are redefined as body words of love, and such body life in us is the radical sign of God’s love for the world and of the divine immediacy in the world.

The time is upon us for recapturing the feeling for the bodily apprehension of God. When we do so, we will find ourselves not simply making religious pronouncements about the bodily life; we will enter theologically more deeply into this experience, letting it speak of God to us, and of us to God. (emboldened emphases mine)

Thoughts? Questions? Reflections? Share in the comment box below.


The Spiritual Practice of Breathing

Spiritual rhythms are like bodily rhythms: respiration requires both inhaling and exhaling, taking in and letting go. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction

Breathing is perhaps the oldest and most widely accepted spiritual practice that involves the whole mind-body-spirit being.  Aside from Buddhist and Zen uses of focused breathing to enhance mediation, Christians have long used breathing as prayer practice, perhaps the most well known of which is the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is a simple, repetitive prayer to be used as you breathe in and out:

Inhale: Lord Jesus, Son of God,

Exhale: have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

A simple Google search of “Jesus Prayer” pulls up a number of very helpful descriptions and guides for breath prayer, so I won’t reinvent the wheel.  What I want to point out is this:

We have been created for rhythm and ritual, repetition and regularity.  Just as our bodies depend on the pattern of heartbeat and inspiration/expiration to function and remain alive, so our spiritual selves depend on patterns of spiritual practice to function and remain alive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

This is who we are. We are mind-body-spirit beings.  We are creatures of habit.  We are soothed by the rhythmic sound of rain or waves.  We reduce stress with slow, steady breathing and periodic times of quiet.

We meet God in the most ordinary, uninspired moments. We come alive with the breath of God.  God comes to walk with us in the garden, to enjoy our company in the cool of the evening.  All we have to do is be available and attentive, recognize the presence of God in our daily experience, and open ourselves to the tingly rinse of the Holy Spirit within us.

It’s as easy and natural as breathing in and out and in.  It’s who we are.  It’s who we’ve been created to be.

Next time the world feels like it’s crashing in on you, next time you’re stressed out and rushing, next time it all feels like too much — take a moment, and breathe.

From Bent to the Body of Christ


On Monday, I shared what  my husband taught me about God. But there’s more to the story of the incarnation (and more to body theology) than our individual connection with God.

The experience is also corporate.  We teach each other about God every day, whether we intend to or not.

We all know the negative impact Christians can have on each other and on the world with careless statements of judgment and intolerance, falls from pedestals into sexual sin or greed, the authoritarian parent who teaches young children to fear punishment, not to mention the dark elements of our Church’s history (Crusades, Inquisition) we’d rather forget.

We understand and interact with God and with each other through the lens of our own experience.  Sometimes our experience has influenced us negatively, but we can also redeem our experience of who God is and who we are because of God through one another.

This is what body theology is all about.  This is why Paul’s metaphor of the community of God as a human body is so apt.  Our corporate (all together, working in unity within our great, beautiful, and necessary diversity) function in the world is to be the body of CHRIST — the community of God encouraging and sharpening one another — and the BODY of Christ — the community of God in action in the world according to the example, teaching, and calling of Jesus.

We have a responsibility to represent the truth about who God is and who we are in Christ to everyone we meet, not just with our mouths but with our actions. 

For all the people in the world  (like me!) who have deep-seated trust issues, we have the opportunity to show people God is trustworthy by being trustworthy ourselves.  For all the people in the world who are at heart struggling with a seemingly unshakable sense of shame and un-loveliness, we have the opportunity to show people God loves them by loving them ourselves.

This is not to glorify ourselves but to work by our small and unique activity in the world to point to the truth that is fuller and greater and more complete than anything we can experience on our own.

For this reason, social justice is necessary.  For this reason, gathering together as the community of God is necessary.  We cannot see the truth fully on our own.  Our individual lenses are small and dirty and fractured.  In the words of C. S. Lewis, we are bent.

We — and by we here I mean every human being — need each other to know the truth of God fully, to experience God fully, through relationship as we have been designed to receive and understand ourselves and the world around us.  We do not exist in a vacuum. We experience our lives among others and in the world.

Whether we like it or not, whether we intend to or not, we are affecting the lives of those around us, and we are representing the truth about God to those around us.

Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to speak (and act) into the lives of others with purpose and intention as we learn more about the truth of God together.


All You Need Is Love

In the evangelical Christian worldview, we like to have the answers for everything.  We like neatness and order.  We like clarity.  We like black and white truths.  We like boundaries. We like to know what is okay and what is not okay, what is allowed and what is not allowed, who is in and who is out.

Bonhoeffer on Community

I’ve written before about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s expression of intentional Christian community (see here and here).  Bonhoeffer described the number one characteristic of Christian community as Jesus as mediator.  When we communicate and interact through Jesus, when we view our brothers and sisters through Jesus, we cannot help but act and react, share and respond out of love.  When we know our brothers and sisters view us the same way, we cannot help but trust that their actions and communication are out of love as well.

Bonhoeffer also stressed the importance of confessing our sins to one another and forgiving each other as Christ forgives all of us.  One of my favorite lines in Life Together is when Bonhoeffer notes that it is difficult to interact with members of our community with anything but love and trust when we hear the confessions of our brothers and sisters and grant them absolution, praying together with them for the forgiveness and blessing of Christ.

The Life of Love

In the Critical Journey, the authors call Stage 6 the Life of Love.  (Here’s a great chart reviewing all the stages.) When we reach this stage in our journey, we live, serve, and speak out of our healing, out of the love we have experienced in our encounters with God.

We let go of the questions, the boundaries, the concerns over who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, and we just love on people.  We love people as Christ loved because our agenda is gone.  Our wall has been dismantled, and we no longer live in our pain and react out of fear and anger.

It’s no longer of principle concern whether we are warning people about hell or condemning their actions and words.  It’s no longer our concern whether people know and love Jesus as we know and love Jesus.  Only God knows a person’s heart, and we are not designed to fill in for God in matters of the heart.  We are designed to be God’s hands and feet in the world, the body of Christ among the people of God—all of them.

When we reach Stage 6, we no longer worry so much about the doubts and questions of Stage 4.  They may still be there, unresolved, unanswered, but they are no longer driving our thoughts and actions.  They are no longer overwhelming us.  They are rather a reminder that we do not have all the answers, that we do not have it all figured out, and that’s okay.  The one thing we are sure of when we reach Stage 6 is what our experience of God is like, that we want to continue moving toward God along with our brothers and sisters, and that we cannot help but share our hope with one another.

Paul’s Theology

Paul’s well-known 1Cor 13 passage is the epitome of the Life of Love.  No matter what wonderful things we have accomplished, what honest and intentional lives we lead, if we are still living in Stage 3 where our words and actions are coming out of our duty and our pain and woundedness are still skewing our efforts to serve God, then we are nothing more than a whole lot of loud and ineffectual noise.

I love what Paul says later on in the chapter about growing up in Christ.  When we are children, we behave like children, which is right and appropriate for our natural development.  Being a child is good—while you are young.

But there comes a time when our natural human development moves us into that wonderful world of responsibility, wisdom, and work called adulthood, and it is in this stage of life that it is no longer right and appropriate to behave like children.  Now it is time to grow up, get a job, move into your own apartment, pay taxes and bills, maybe join with another adult and start a new family.

This is natural and right.  This is good.  Behaving like child is good while you are a child, but behaving like an adult when you have grown up is just as good.

Just as we should not retain our childish interests and behaviors when we are grown, so we should not remain in our childhood or adolescent state of spiritual development.  This is another area where the lack of a holistic body theology is evident.  We too easily remain unaware of the necessity of spiritual growth along with physical growth.  As our bodies grow and change, so should our spiritual lives.

There’s a reason Paul uses the metaphor of a physical human body so often in his letters. The wellbeing of our physical and spiritual selves are intimately related.  Thus, they should both be growing.  We should pursue spiritual health and growth just as fervently as we pursue physical health and growth.

Too easily we are satisfied with life in Stage 3.  We think if we can get people to grow up enough to start giving back, then that’s enough.  We’ve arrived!

Never mind people are giving back out of their woundedness.  Never mind people are giving back out of their fear and lack of understanding.  Never mind people are following blindly after others who are giving out of the same woundedness, fear, and lack of understanding.

It’s no wonder so many Christians leave the Church when they reach Stage 4. In Stage 3 churches, there is no room for questioning and doubting.  There is no room for messy, for in-between, for grey.

It’s no wonder so many people view Christians as intolerant, rigid, ignorant, and hateful.  Stage 3 is a wonderful and necessary part of the Christian journey, but when we get stuck there, when we fool ourselves into believing we’ve “arrived,” then we become intolerant, rigid, ignorant and hateful.  We become everything we say we are against.

We become Pharisees.

But God has called us to more than this.  The Christian life is not about the conversion experience.  It’s not about the active Christian life.

It’s about the Life of Love.  It’s about love—dirty, messy, sacrificial, costly love. It’s about love that humbles itself to take the form of a human being.  It’s about love that humbles itself to become obedient to death by the most violent and painful method of execution ever designed.  It’s about love that follows after Jesus not because it’s what is acceptable or required but because the call to “come follow me” is irresistible and renewed each day.

Much-Afraid Becomes Grace and Glory

The allegory Hinds Feet on High Places ends with Much-Afraid’s arrival at the Mountain of Spices.  She is healed, transformed, and receives her new name, Grace and Glory.

But that’s not the end of the story.

In the sequel Mountain of Spices, Grace and Glory makes her way back down from the Good Shepherd’s home, back down into the Valley of Death where her family lives. She faces the cousins who tortured and taunted her, and she responds to them with love.  Her love confuses them! Her transformation inspires the journey of others in the Valley.

What Much-Afraid, Bonhoeffer, and Paul all have in common with the Critical Journey is Stage 6, the Life of Love.  It is when we are living and acting out of our healing that we are truly interacting with each other through Jesus as mediator. When we are living the Life of Love, we can confess our sins to one another and forgive each other.

When we live the Life of Love, being in community is a joy.  It may not be easy, and it may not be comfortable.  It may not even be “acceptable.”  It certainly won’t be ideal.

But it will be real.  It will be genuine.  It will be full of love that casts out all fear, in which we are rooted and grounded, in whom we live and move and have our being, out of whom we speak and act and are the body of Christ.

Having a holistic body theology is great, but it is nothing without love to drive us toward something fruitful, beautiful, honest, holy—without love to drive us toward God, always toward God.

May love be the foundation of our communities, lovely readers.  Let us be the beloved Bride of Christ, the Church active in the world and actively loving the world, our body theology lived out among the people of God.

The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 1

If you’re like me, you have a complex.

You have a desire, nay, a driving need, to DO, to DO WELL, and to HAVE DONE more, concurrently, and better than everyone else you know.

You excel at doing, and you draw your self-worth from how much you have done and how well you have done it.

You are a task-completer, a list-checker-off-er.  Your number one strength on the StrengthsFinder test is Achiever.  (PS. This actually means you have a bigger complex than I do because Achiever is only number three on my StrengthsFinder results. Nany nany boo boo.)

You feel as if every day starts at zero.  By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself.  And by “every day” you mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations.  No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied.  You have an internal fire burning inside you.  It pushes you to do more, to achieve more.  After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment.  – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p37)

Okay, maybe not all of you are Achievers, but a lot of you are.  A lot of Christians are, especially Christian women.  We’re taught early and often that we live to serve, and that our value both in our church community and in our homes is based on what, how much, how often, and how well we DO for everyone.

This is not news.

Martha, sister of Lazarus and friend of Jesus, would have scored Achiever as her number one strength, right above Responsibility.

That’s right. This is you, too, and a lot of other Christians.  Your word is your bond.  You always come through.  You never let anything fall through the cracks.

[You] take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion.  Your good name depends on it…. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable…. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should. – Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (p149)

Super-DOer.  That’s you.

You have this need to achieve, and whether you want to or not, you find yourself committed to doing more and more.  You are the quintessential soccer mom.  You have it all together.

You are super human.

You are BUSY.

You are TIRED.

You are JEALOUS and CRITICAL of anyone who is not caught up in your whirlwind of activity and responsibility.  You JUDGE.

How do you have time and energy to do and be everything everyone wants and expects you to do and be?

You are a DOer.

So was Martha.

Okay, that’s not news.

Rachel touched on this when she said advertising tries to make us believe we aren’t enough.  Kathy touched on this when she said that well-behaved women won’t change the church.

What you need to know is what to DO about it, right?

To be continued…

Reflections on Body Theology: 10 Realities of Christian Community

1)  It’s not good for us to be alone.

2) We were created for relationship.

3) We need physical touch, eye contact, and attention to bond with others.

4) Unsafe community is toxic at the least and abusive at the most.

5) We react out of fear or jealousy when we feel unsafe or ashamed.

6) We find healing–physical and emotional–through safe, consistent community.

7) We won’t be honest about our struggles when we don’t feel safe.

8) True, safe, trusted community is organic and cannot be contrived.

9) Community is not Christian unless Jesus is the mediator.

10) There is no perfect community.

Lessons Learned in Prison — Part 4

Community, as Bonhoeffer describes it, requires Jesus as mediator, discipleship, and participation in the incarnation.  Today, we’ll conclude with a brief look at the benefits and challenges of community as well as how Bonhoeffer’s theology relates to holistic body theology.

Challenges: pride and disillusionment

Bonhoeffer criticizes those who live apart for their pride, which separates them from living in a right relationship to God and to others. “The wish to be independent in everything is false pride,” he writes in one of his prison letters and continues, “Even what we owe to others belongs to ourselves and is a part of our own lives, and any attempt to calculate what we have ‘earned’ for ourselves and what we owe to other people is certainly not Christian.”

Bonhoeffer recognizes the difficulty of this kind of intentional Christian life and takes great pains to acknowledge that sin happens.  He warns against idealizing community life by glossing over sin: “In Christian brotherhood, everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.”  The greatest harm to a community comes through disillusionment when sin enters in (as it inevitably will) and is revealed or is kept hidden.

Shame is a deeply crippling issue universal to the human experience.  Christian or not, we deal with shame because of our fallen nature.  Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics: “Man perceives himself in his disunion with God and with men…Shame is man’s ineffaceable recollection of his estrangement from the origin; it is grief for this estrangement, and the powerless longing to return to unity with the origin.”  Shame requires hiding (i.e., we were ashamed because we were naked), and hiding creates an environment of isolation and loneliness within the community, exactly that which community is designed to eradicate.  When sin comes out, disillusionment sets in and the community rarely survives.

Benefits: freedom from shame and loneliness

For Christians, however, there is hope: community.  Bonhoeffer urges “brotherly confession and absolution” to correct this tendency toward shame.  “Lying destroys community,” Bonhoeffer observes, “but truth rends false community and founds genuine fellowship.”  It is this truth spoken to one another in community that keeps accountable for the sin that cannot be avoided completely.

Confession and intercession are essential for a healthy community life. Bonhoeffer encourages his readers to confess to one another when he writes, “If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.” When we confess sin in a safe space to a safe person, that sin no longer has power to shame and isolate us from the rest of the community.  “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses,” Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, ” I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.” When we pray for someone, it is infinitely more difficult to remain distant from that person.  Prayer brings us together, whether we are praying with or for one another, because we are looking to Christ who mediates between us all. Church, like the home, should be a safe environment to make mistakes and be encouraged.

Bonhoeffer suggests in Life Together that the “fellowship of the Lord’s Supper is the superlative fulfillment of Christian fellowship.”  However, the imprisoned Bonhoeffer feels the lack of community on a much more human level: “I very much miss meal-time fellowship…So may not this be an essential part of life, because it is a reality of the Kingdom of God?”

Living and acting out the spiritual disciplines within the community are certainly essential, but Bonhoeffer realizes while he is in prison that we most feel the lack of simple coming together, sharing life together; not just the Lord’s Supper but any supper.  Not just confession but communication.  Not just the visible church-community but daily and freely communing with fellow believers.  It is the sense of togetherness that Bonhoeffer suggests as the greatest benefit of community.  After all, where two or three are gathered, there is Christ among them.

Holistic Body Theology: The Body of Christ and the Body of Christ

Part of holistic body theology is engaging in healthy community as the body of Christ.  We are the community of God, and through Christ we interact with one another to build each other up as we seek to live fully into our identity as the image of God. Likewise, another part of holistic body theology is engaging in healthy interaction with the world, both as individuals and together with the community of God.  This is the body of Christ, the activity and impact of the community of God as we participate in the incarnation of Jesus.

As we learned from our tour of Bonhoeffer’s writings this week, community and Christian fellowship are infinitely vital to the Christian life. Equally vital, however, is the role of the visible church-community in the world and the impact it should have through participation in the incarnation of Jesus.

Bonhoeffer writes, “A man’s attitude to the world does not correspond with reality if he sees in the world a good or an evil which is good or evil in itself…and if he acts in accordance with this view,” that is, idealistic interaction with the world is lacking in the reality of the call of Christ to the action of the disciples.  Rather, “his attitude accords with reality only if he lives and acts in limited responsibility and thereby allows the world ever anew to disclose its essential character to him.”  (This is what Richard Niebuhr would call Christ transforming culture.)

We are called to be a city on a hill, but we’re not supposed to be a gated community, inaccessible if you don’t know the secret code. Jesus entered into the context of his day, and so should we. The role of the Christian in the world is to think and act according to the ever-changing reality of events in the world.    Bonhoeffer makes community life seem so apparent and logical, so clear in scripture, so necessary a part of the live of the disciple who is participating in the incarnation and acting on behalf of those who need justice.

Let’s take our cue from Bonhoeffer and follow his example into a community that has Jesus as the mediator, is made up of costly disciples, and is determined to participate both individually and communally in the incarnation as the body of Christ.

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