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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.

 

On Obeying the Traffic Signs (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

When we get into this kind of frame of mind, this need to hurry up and rush and get there, we miss everything that happens in between “here” and “there.”

In school, we cram for tests and immediately after forget everything we learned.  In relationships, we force people into the expectations and assumptions we already laid out for them.  In our spiritual lives, we speak and act according to the authority we recognize without ever considering for ourselves what we really think, how we really feel, and who God really is in our own experience.

Culture doesn’t help. We’re encouraged and even required to fill up our lives with busy-ness, productivity, activity, movement, achievement, and DOING without allowing for any space of quiet, rest, stillness, or being.

But sometimes, if we are attentive enough in the moment, we might notice signs alerting us that we are soon to be driving through a construction zone.  We might be able to justify breaking the speed limit (just a little) in construction-free areas, but now the signs warn us of an extra consequence: traffic fines are doubled in construction zones.

Now we have to slow down.

As we begin to pay attention to the traffic signs in our lives, learn to slow down, and sometimes even stop altogether at the roadblocks in our lives, we may recognize — as I did — that we are being routed a whole new way.

My detour has been neither the shortest distance nor the fastest route to my destination.  Rather, this detour I am on is the only way to the place where I am going.  Without this detour, I would still be spinning my wheels at the roadblock, intent on taking the road I had chosen and ignoring all the signs around me telling me it was not the way.

In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen talks about the phrase, Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.  Ironic that just at the time that I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also learning the value of silence in my own life as well as the value of my own silence in the lives of others.  Silence keeps us moving down the path, keeps us walking toward God.  In silence we learn the value of our words; we learn wisdom; we learn purification of the heart.  To walk this path, the path toward God, we must be silent.

Nouwen also talks about the Greek word hesychia, meaning “the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world alluring, and the demons noisy.”  Nouwen describes this kind of prayer as the prayer of the heart, “a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness.”

The prayer of the heart, then, is prayer born out of silence and solitude, defined by a rest that keeps us moving forward toward God, and encompassing our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit. 

This is what creating a holistic body theology is moving us toward: a full integration of our whole selves in pursuit of the God who created us a mind-body-spirit beings. 

Over the next few months, I’ll be moving toward creating a more intentionally spiritual component to Holistic Body Theology Blog.  While there will still be an emphasis on the categories of body theology as defined here, the blog will also be a work in progress toward fuller integration.

For more updates, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

I invite your thoughts, perspectives, and ideas along the way.  You can always reach me in the comments section, on my Facebook page, or by email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.

Imaga Dei

My brother complained recently that my blog is too often about “women stuff.”  Well, he’s right. I write toward a holistic body theology from my perspective as young, white, female, married, member of the 99%, seminarian, and writer — just to name a few descriptors.  I don’t speak for everyone’s experience. I can only speak for my own and hope that some part of my story may inspire, inform, or challenge part of yours.

But lovely readers, today is an especially “women-stuff-filled” day, so prepare yourselves.  If you are a woman, perhaps you will find something of yourself in the post below.

If you are a man, I hope that you will keep reading and recognize within yourself as you do the way you feel as you read on.  Do you feel somewhat excluded? Do you find yourself doing some mental gymnastics to get at the part that relates to your own experience?  If so, then you are on your way to discovering what it’s like for women to experience God in a patriarchal framework.  My hope is that you will find the experience useful in your own spiritual growth.

*****

If you follow my profile on Goodreads, you’ll know that I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd‘s book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  I could have quoted half the book for you, but the following passage stood out to me as particularly necessary to inform our holistic body theology.

In Christianity God came in a male body. Within the history and traditions of patriarchy, women’s bodies did not belong to themselves but to their husbands.  We learned to hate our bodies if they didn’t conform to an idea, to despise the cycles of mensuration–“the curse,” it was called.  Our experience of our body has been immersed in shame.

Let me interrupt to say that the understanding that patriarchy has had a negative impact on female body image is not a new idea for this blog.  We’ve touched on this idea here, for instance, and here and here, and even here.

This negative impact must be recognized as a lie and uprooted so there is room for planting new understandings of the body that are more in line with the truth about who we are as human beings: male and female, together we are created in the image of God. 

We’ve talked before about how the foundation of holistic body theology is our identity in Christ, but this truth is much more difficult for many women to embrace on a heart-level and experience in their own bodies than it is for men because we first have to break down the gender barrier.  We have to “enter into” our identity as the image of God “in a new way,” through an embracing of our physical selves.

Waking to the sacredness of the female body will cause a woman to “enter into” her body in a new way, be at home in it, honor it, nurture it, listen to it, delight in its sensual music.  She will experience her female flesh as beautiful and holy, as a vessel of the sacred.  She will live from her gut and feet and hands and instincts and not entirely in her head.  Such a woman conveys a formidable presence because power resides in her body. The bodies of such women, instead of being groomed to some external standard, are penetrated with soul, quickened from the inside.

I’ve been working on this process for a long time.  At my awakening to the need for this “new way,” I struggled to give voice to my experience and name my pain.  Now, I am still in the process toward accepting the truth about myself in my physical being and experiencing God in myself in this new way.  The journey is not complete.  There is more work to be done.  One day I trust that I will be able to see myself fully — both spiritually and physically — as the embodiment of God, the imaga Dei.   

This is where I am on my journey toward holistic  body theology.  Where are you?

What did this passage stir up in you?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or via email: bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.

29 Truths I would tell my younger self

I turned 29 recently and have been reflecting on my life’s journey thus far. I have come a long way personally and spiritually and am no longer the person I was when I was in high school or college.  If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, here’s what I would say:

29 Truths I would tell my younger self

  1. It gets better. I promise.  Keep on keeping on until it does.
  2. Know who you are.  When your identity is sure, you will stop believing the lies other people tell you about who you are.
  3. You are beautiful and worth loving.  You will fall in love and get married sooner than you think.  Live with confidence in who you are.
  4. Let people in. They may bring pain, but they may also bring healing and joy.
  5. God loves you. No, really.
  6. Stand up for yourself. Ignoring the problem behavior only makes them try harder to hurt you. Show some backbone and they’ll never have the guts to cross you again.
  7. Acknowledge pain others caused you, deal with it, and then move on.  Pretending it didn’t hurt doesn’t make it true.
  8. You don’t have to be always right.
  9. You don’t always have to prove you are right to everyone else. Sometimes it’s more important to maintain a relationship and open conversation.
  10. It’s okay to let go.  You don’t have  to carry everything all at once.
  11. It’s okay to fail. The world will not fall apart. Plus, you can always try again.
  12. Practice self-care.  Rest is as productive and necessary as work.
  13. You don’t have to take care of everyone all the time forever. Share the burden. Give people the opportunity to learn to care for themselves.
  14. Quoting Bible verses to support your argument to people who don’t read the Bible can be alienating.  Meet people where they are.
  15. Allow people to be who they are, where they are in their personal growth, and trust that God will get them where they need to go in time.  Offer people the same gentle patience God shows you.
  16. Instead of focusing on what divides, look for common ground, what unites people, and build on that foundation.
  17. Be willing to admit you could be wrong.
  18. Admit when you’re wrong.
  19. Your voice has power. Speak.
  20. Pace yourself.
  21. Don’t judge others. I know you think you don’t, but you do. Stop it.
  22. Have more compassion.
  23. Show more compassion.
  24. Life is not black-and-white. God is not black-and-white.
  25. Stop correcting people’s grammar out loud.  People make mistakes. Don’t rub their faces in it.
  26. You think you’re motivated by love, but you’re not. You’re motivated by fear. Let go of the fear, and there will  be room for the love.
  27. Own your mistakes. Say you’re sorry. Make it right. Pretending it didn’t happen does not make it true.
  28. All-or-nothing is easy, but it’s not healthy. Aim for the happy middle.
  29. Keep writing. It will save you.

10 Concepts of Compassion

If you missed our series on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, you can find quick links to the posts below, or scroll down for a brief recap in 10 Concepts.

The Compassionate God
The Voice of Love
The Compassionate Life (Part 1)
The Compassionate Life (Part 2)
The Compassionate Way (Part 1)
Compassion in Everyday Life
The Compassionate Way (Part 2)
 

10 Concepts of Compassion

1. To be compassionate means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition.

2. We learn compassion by the example of God, who showed us compassion by sending the incarnate Christ to become obedient to the cross on our behalf.

3. We experience God’s compassion through listening to the loving voice of God in our lives.

4. When we listen to the loving voice of God, we discover our unique calling to voluntary displacement.

5. Voluntary displacement — and thus compassionate living — can only happen within the community of God.

6. Voluntary displacement is first an inward shift before it can ever be an authentic shift outwardly.  It is not primarily something to accomplish but something to recognize.

7. We must be disciplined and patient in order to hear the loving voice of God.

8. The first action of compassion is the discipline of patient prayer.

9. The second action of compassion is the participation in the Lord’s Supper.

10. The third action of compassion is the voice of confrontation — both self-confrontation and confrontation of injustice in the world — spoken humbly and gratefully.

The Compassionate Way (Part 2)

It’s our final day with Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Last week in The Compassionate Way (Part 1), we talked about what it looks like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement, the individual choice to move ourselves (both inwardly and outwardly) out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.  We established that we cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God through the discipline of patience.

More on The Compassionate Way

It is not just the practice of prayer that positions us for compassion.  It is also the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

When we eat bread and drink wine together in memory of Christ, we become intimately related to his own compassionate life. In fact, we become his life and are thus enabled to re-present Christ’s life in our time and place. (111)

[O]ur praying together becomes working together, and the call to break the same bread becomes a call to action. (113)

This is one reason I am in favor of the open table, which allows everyone (even those who may not fit into our neat categories and labels) to participate together in one of the most sacred and intimate sacraments of the Christian faith.  When we pray together — listening for the loving voice of God — and eat together — with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our minds and hearts — we cannot help but be drawn together toward compassionate action as the unified body of Christ.

The authors are adamant that we need both prayer and action to live the Compassionate Way:

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. (114)

But our actions — like our prayers — must be tempered by the discipline of patience that marks the Compassionate Way. It is only through this patient action that we can truly experience the Compassionate Life we have been called to by our Compassionate God.

Patient actions are actions through which the healing, consoling, comforting, reconciling, and unifying love of God can touch the heart of humanity. (115)

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian….Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and response to it wherever he is revealed….So worship becomes ministry and ministry becomes worship, and all we say or do, ask for or give, becomes a way to the life in which God’s compassion can manifest itself. (119)

It is important to remember, above all, that when we choose voluntary displacement, guided by the loving voice of God, we are merely joining in with what the Spirit of God is already doing in the world.  The Compassionate Life is really an invitation into the fullness of life that we have been promised.  It is the ushering in — as well as the recognition of — the kingdom of God:

Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished. (121)

At the end of The Compassionate Way, the authors add that a compassionate act may also require confrontation — both of the sin in ourselves as well as the harmful competition and pursuit of power in the world.  Without this confrontational voice, we would not be able to be defenders of God’s justice.  If compassion is the daily act of kindness toward those individuals hurt by competition, then compassion is also the confrontation of systemic injustice in the world:

Compassion without [humble] confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration. (123)

Confrontation always includes self-confrontation…each attempt to confront evil in the world calls for the realization that there are always two fronts on which the struggle takes place: an outer front and an inner front. (124)

Only when we voluntarily displace ourselves, listen to the voice of love, and follow that unique calling into patient prayer and patient action will we truly experience the freedom offered to us as children of God because of the compassionate obedience of our incarnate God. The Compassionate Way is the way of grateful, free, and even joyful action:

[T]he compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. (125)

This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. (127)

Conclusion

[Compassion] is hard work; it is crying out with those in pain; it is tending the wounds of the poor and caring for their lives; it is defending the weak and indignantly accusing those who violate their humanity; it is joining with the oppressed in their struggle for justice; it is pleading for help, with all possible means, from any person who has ears to hear and eyes to see. In short, it is a willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. (136)

In the conclusion, the authors restate the message of Compassion as the true mark of the Christian life precisely because compassionate action is larger than any one person or organization. Compassion is the collective activity of the body of Christ in the world to bring healing, justice, wholeness, and completion to the broken world our incarnate Christ died to save. Compassion is living into the kingdom of God:

[W]e can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself…There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation.(131)

How are you ushering in the kingdom of God?

What do you think of Nouwen’s perspective on the Compassionate God, the Compassionate Life, and the Compassionate Way? Is he right?

Listen to the loving voice of God in your life. What is God revealing as your unique calling to the Christian life of compassion?

 

The Voice of Love

On Monday, we took a look at what Nouwen has to say about The Compassionate God in Part One of his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life.

Today I had planned to dig into Part Two: The Compassionate Life, but I haven’t been able to get past the end of Monday’s post:

The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God.  We do not listen for God to speak because we have somehow internalized the lie that God does not love us, does not want our best, does not care infinitely more for us than we could ever hope or imagine. 

We see ourselves in our sinful state, like Jeremiah’s filthy sash, unworthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We see God as full of empty promises, all rules and demands and impossible standards.

We think we are not worthy, not able, not enough. We think God is not faithful, not gentle, not loving.

But God has a different message for our ears.  God has a different truth for our hearts.  We are enough, enough for God.  And God is loving, more than we can comprehend.  Our God is the God of chesed and lovingkindness, of agape, of John 3:16.

When we listen — really quieten our hearts and minds, still our bodies — to hear the voice of God, do we expect to hear a voice of love?

Maybe we expect judgment, condemnation, demand, criticism, disappointment, unforgiveness.  But these voices are not the voice of God in our lives.  These are the voices of the world, of culture, of people we know, of our own harsh expectations and guilt and shame, of the lies of the enemy.

When we listen to hear the voice of God and truly hear the still, small voice — that voice, the voice of our gracious and merciful God, is a loving voice.

Jesus shows us by example what it looks like to hear the loving voice of God and respond with obedience.  In the same way, we are enabled by our adoption into the family of God to hear that same voice — the loving voice of God — and are called to respond with the same obedience.

Dear lovely reader, if you hear anything other than love in the voice of God, if you are afraid there is anything other than love in God, know that there is freedom in accepting the truth of who you are and the truth of who God is.

The truth is that you are worthy, capable, and enough because you are a child of God.

The truth is that God is faithful, merciful, and loving.

The truth is that y0u can hear the voice of God — anyone can hear from God.  And that voice is trustworthy and gentle and full of all the chesed and agape you can possibly imagine.

[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

Let us allow ourselves to be included and led so that we can enjoy intimacy with God as we have been designed to do.

Okay, next time we really will look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

The Compassionate God

 

This week, we are reading through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Introduction & Part One: The Compassionate God

To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition. (6)

But being compassionate toward others, especially the poor and marginalized to whom competition does the most harm, does not come naturally. We do not like to be around others’ pain and suffering, and we certainly do not like to give up anything we consider ours for the benefit of someone else — even in the name of fairness and justice, much less forgiveness and compassion.

Fortunately, we are not governed by our own desires and fears but by the movement of God in our lives:

God’s own compassion constitutes the basis and source of our compassion….[I]t is only in discipleship that we can begin to understand the call to be compassionate as our loving God is compassionate….[I]t is through these disciplines [of prayer and action], which guide our relationships with God and our fellow human beings, that God’s compassion can manifest itself. (8)

Their central argument is that Christians — as human beings who are by our very nature threatened by the idea of showing compassion to others (and thereby losing competition and identity) — are enabled to share in God’s compassion through the new identity we have been given as a result of our experience of the compassion of God in our lives through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This means the compassion that moves us to “be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition” does not come from our own nature; it comes from God.

It also comes from the example of a God who would make himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likenessBecause of the humble incarnation of Christ, the example of Jesus’ life, the choice to be obedient to death, and the miracle of the resurrection, we are able to experience the compassion of God for ourselves:

Jesus who is divine lives our broken humanity not as a curse…, but as a blessing. His divine compassion makes it possible for us to face our sinful selves, because it transforms our broken human condition from a cause of despair into a source of hope. (15)

The mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away, but that God first wants to share that pain with us. (16)

Once we have experienced God’s compassion in our own lives, we are transformed by this new-found grace and freedom to live into the new identity we are given as children of God. Then we are able to follow the example of Jesus. Indeed, we are called to do so:

[O]nce we see that Jesus reveals to us, in his radically downward pull, the compassionate nature of God, we begin to understand that to follow Jesus is to participate in the ongoing self-revelation of God. (27)

Personally, this is where I get stuck.  I can agree all day that Jesus taught us to be servants and showed us by example how to live radically counter-cultural lives that defy competition in favor of compassion and justice for the poor and marginalized.

But what does that look like in my life?  Am I missing out on the will of God by not living in Calcutta or joining Shane Claiborne’s intentional community? What does it mean to be radically counter-cultural?

Radical servanthood is not an enterprise in which we try to surround ourselves with as much misery as possible, but a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood….[S]ervice is an expression of the search for God. (29)

That’s a beautiful line: a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood.

It’s not about finding the most misery.  We don’t all have to be Mother Theresa to be doing God’s compassionate work in the world.  It’s about a radical paradigm shift.  It’s about seeing with new eyes, eyes opened to who God is through service.

So how do we know what we are called to do in the world?  How do we know if we are Mother Theresas or mothers of three? Our wise authors remind us that it’s much simpler than we imagine:

The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

God is all about relationship.  God is all about intimacy.  When we relate to God intimately, we cannot help but see the world with new eyes.  We cannot help but be moved by compassion.  We cannot help but pray and act — those disciplines that guide our relationships with God and others.

On Wednesday, we’ll look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

 

Forward Friday: Prayer for the Rhythm of God

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and time (and blog writing) got away from me. I’ve missed you lovely readers.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a few moments of stillness in the midst of all the busy-ness this weekend.

Take some time each morning this weekend to still yourself and enter into the rhythm of God.  Notice how the prayer exercise below affects your body and your mind. How does it change the way you interact with the rest of your day?

Extra credit: Try this exercise each morning for the next week.

The following prayer exercise is from Body Prayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God by Doub Pagitt and Kathryn Prill (emphasis mine):

…[T]here is a rhythm of God — a rhythm that encompasses life, both the life we can readily see and the unseen life of the spirit.  The rhythm of God beckons us, guides us, and dwells in us.  When we discover the rhythm of God, we find the heart of God, the dreams of God, the will of God.  As those who are created in the image of God, we are endowed with this rhythm.  We can find it, step into it, and live in it. This is the kingdom of God — to live in sync with the rhythm of God….

[Pray this prayer aloud.]

The Lord our G0d
Sets our feet in spacious places,
Delivers us from evil,
Has given us freedom with the opening of his hand.
Let us lean into the future before us,
Let us follow the Way.

Prayer Posture

Begin by standing with your feet together and your arms hanging at your sides.  With either your left or right foot, lunge forward far enough to feel the stretch in your thigh.  If you can, lower the thigh of the leg in front to create a ninety-degree angle in the bend of your knee.  Switch legs after a while if you need to.  Feel the rhythm of God in your muscles as they strain, in your legs as you switch positions, in your breathing, and in the breathing and sounds of those around you [if you choose to try this prayer exercise in a group setting].  As you let the rhythm created in the room around you expand in your mind, consider how the rhythm of God is all around us.

Next week we will do some theological and spiritual reflection on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. Until then, lovely readers, may the peace of God be on you all.

Forward Friday: Reflect [on] the Body [of Christ]

 

This week we talked about what we can learn from each other about God and what we can teach others about God.

This weekend, identify one person in your life who has taught you something about God.  How has that person’s presence and action in your life revealed the truth of God to you?

Extra credit: let that person know how they have impacted your life.  Write a thank you note or letter.  Take them to coffee.  Leave a shout out to them in the comment box below and send them a link.

Then, take some time to reflect on the role you have in the lives of those around you, both within the community of God and beyond.  How will you be the body of Christ in the world?

Come back and share your thoughts in the comment box below, or send me a Facebook message or email. I always love hearing from you!

Shalom, lovely readers! Peace be with you all.

 

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