Joy to the World

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Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people there might seem little to be jolly about.  In one of the most famous holiday stories of all time, the central character Ebenezer Scrooge gave what has become an iconic line about the holiday season.  Scrooge said:

“What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer?  There’s nothing merry in that.  If I could work my will, nephew, every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Not exactly a fan of Christmas, Scrooge may have echoed sentiments that lie dormant in many of us.  Over the years, it seems the holiday season starts earlier and earlier.  There is more pressure than ever to buy the right gifts and to spend increased amounts of hard earned money on presents for friends and loved ones.  The airwaves and pulpits bemoan the crass commercialism that accompanies so much of the holiday season while at the same time making sure that all commercial breaks are properly inserted between the “holiday messages.”

Our churches are full of giving trees, toy drives and Christmas shoes boxes.  Perhaps giving more at Christmas to some mysteriously perceived needy children in dire need of more toys will make us feel better about ourselves for ignoring the poor and needy for the rest of the year.  Even at church, the message that Jesus meant for us gets diluted with the drive to fill the toy box.  Do we even know any more what message Jesus wanted us to hear?

the-gospelJesus talked about the three classes of good people.  The first class hears his message but has little time to do anything about it.  The second class hears the message and when convenient they try to help others and spread the message of Jesus.  The third class commits their body and soul to sharing Jesus’s message.  The third class of men/women make a commitment to doing this year round and 24/7.  For the third class, it is not a onetime thing or something to be done when they have time or are not busy.  It is a lifetime commitment to share his message with the world.

“The title, Three Classes of Men, stands for three kinds of persons in any walk of life. They might be three classes of religious or priests, husbands or wives, workers or professional men.  However, classified, they represent three levels of volitional disposition to sacrifice whatever is less than God and stands in the way of His more perfect service and love.  Viewed from another aspect, they are three states of spiritual detachment which in ascending degree dispose a man for the reception of divine grace.  Implicit in the meditation is the belief that no matter how entangled in secular pursuits and impeded in the way of perfection, a person can rise above this condition if he takes the trouble to recognize these impediments and is humble enough to pray for help to overcome them.” — Three Classes of Men by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Most of us will watch at least a few moving holiday stories before December 25th.  From Miracle on 34 Street to the story of the Christmas Truce during the fighting of WWI, we will hear many heartwarming tales of kindness and love.  Most of these stories are similar in theme to the Christmas Carol.  An individual who has utter contempt or callousness for the Christmas message somehow finds redemption through the love and compassion of others.

quote-the-life-of-jesus-christ-is-a-message-of-hope-a-message-of-mercy-a-message-of-life-in-max-lucado-90-79-19The Joy of Christmas is a state of fulfillment, contentment and gratitude.  Through the love of others who give selflessly of themselves, we can all be free to experience a Joy that cannot be bought or traded.  It is one of the reasons that giving and not receiving is said to be the true path to happiness.  During the holidays, we are excited about the chance to give to others.  And nowhere is that feeling of giving more delightful than in watching the face of a young child receive something that we know they really wanted.  However, Joy to the World should mean more than just giving toys to tots.  There are physical gifts which we can give but there are also emotional and spiritual gifts as well.

thank-you-fatherI am frequently critical of all the toy drives that I see going on at Christmastime.  Not just because I think most kids in America have more toys than they know what to do with, but because of the message that this sends.  Why not I ask, have a “books for tots” drive?  Why not give books for a present?  Why is it always about toys?  We become so narrowly focused that we lose sight of the larger picture.

Christmas is about Joy.  But Joy does not just come from toys.  Joy comes from learning.  Joy comes from sharing.  Joy comes from helping others.  Joy comes from being present when needed by others.  Joy is not just a physical phenomenon; it is a spiritual and emotional phenomenon.  The Message of Joy that Jesus wanted to bring into the world was a message about peace and love.

I see a lot of talk these days about putting the Ten Commandments up on scrolls and even billboards.  Here in Arizona City, they have erected a billboard with the Ten Commandments printed on it.  To the best of my knowledge, Jesus said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-20

acts-kindness-inspiremoreThus, Jesus did not come to replace the commandments but he did come to go beyond the commandments.  God brought the commandments to Moses but the message that Jesus brought to us is in addition to the commandments.  Jesus extended the Ten Commandments with a list that has come to be known as the Eight Beatitudes.   A beatitude is something that gives one both happiness and blessedness.  Jesus gave these Eight during his famous Sermon on the Mount:

THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

message-to-the-worldI am continually surprised by so-called Christians who seem to revel in the Ten Commandments but treat the Eight Beatitudes as though they were bastard children of Satan.  When was the last time you heard anyone wanting to put up a statue or sculpture or sign with the Eight Beatitudes on it?  The Message of Christmas is the Eight Beatitudes.  The Joy that Jesus wanted to bring to the world can only come by following the Eight Beatitudes.  If you call yourself a Christian but you do not practice these in you daily life, then you are not spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

In this present climate of fear, bigotry and uncertainty engendered by the recent US Presidential race and outcome, the message of Jesus needs to be repeated and spread as never before.  If there was no Joy in Muddville when Casey struck out, there certainly will not be any Joy in the World until all of us, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Baha’i  and others start believing in and following the Eight Beatitudes.  I am not saying this to try to convince anyone to be a Christian.  The kindness-quotes1words of the Beatitudes go beyond any one religion.  They speak to a way of being in the world and a way of treating other human beings.  Just as I have found valuable teachings in other religions, I think more Christians should be willing to share the Message of Jesus in the Eight Beatitudes.  Keep in mind though, that sharing this message will never work unless you also live by the message.  You must be the change you want to see in others.  Do you know what the famous Indian Chief Sitting Bull said when asked what he thought of Christianity?  Chief Sitting Bull replied: “I have read your Bible and the religion seems good but I do not see many White people practicing it.”

Time for Questions: 

  • When we denigrate people on welfare and refuse to support the poor and needy what Beatitude are we ignoring?
  • When we want to wage war on other countries to support our lifestyle, what Beatitude are we breaking?
  • When we have no time for immigrants and refuse to shelter those needing respite from tyranny and injustice, what Beatitude speaks to this?
  • When we practice racism and discrimination towards those who are different from us in thoughts, words or deeds, what Beatitude are we not following?
  • When we fail to speak out against bigotry and hatred, what Beatitude would challenge our behavior?
  • When we fail to treat others with honesty and integrity, what Beatitude are we disdaining?
  • When we fail to give compassion and comfort to those in need, what Beatitude should we be thinking more of?
  • When we practice narcissism and think we are better than others, what Beatitude would Jesus tell us to look at more closely?
  • Which “Class” of people do you belong to?

Life is just beginning.

“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness.  It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.” — Thomas S. Monson
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I Never Thought

A German who voted for Hitler in 1932 said this after the war:

“I never thought things would turn out this way.  He said he would make our country GREAT again.  I never thought over 60,000,000 people would die in a war.  I never thought that he would torture and murder six million Jews.  I never thought that he would kill over 3 million Slavs and murder 15,000 homosexuals.  I never thought he would euthanize 270,000 disabled people and more than 220,000 Gypsies.  He said he would make our country GREAT again.”

“We were coming out of a great economic crisis.  Jobs were scarce and money was very tight.  He said he would get rid of all the people who were taking our jobs.  He would eliminate the ruling class and get the crooks out of politics.  Jobs for Germans is what he said.  I thought he would make our country GREAT again so I voted for him.”

If I only knew. 

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trump

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rudy

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gingrich

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Time For Questions:

Are you going to support Fascism in America?  Will you fight to protect the rights of minorities, gays, women and immigrants? If not, why do you think you are an American?

Life is Just Beginning. 

Hard to imagine life beginning under a Trump presidency.  But the race is not always to the swiftest.

“I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the strong, and neither is bread to the wise nor riches to those of intelligence and understanding nor favor to men of ability; but time and chance overtake them all.” — ECCLESIASTES 9:11

O Ye of Little Faith – What is the Role of Faith in our Lives?

Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of: “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about. Read the comments about Pete Seeger. He was a prime example of a man that had Faith.

faith_hope_loveWe now come to the first of the three major theological virtues.  For some reason, I decided to start with the second and end with Love.  As I thought about preparing this blog on Faith, I asked myself the question, “what is the difference between Faith and trust?” Perhaps there is not a difference.  I thought about how we use the words in common language. For instance we might use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word “Faith” for trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust. A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.

Faith: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs

Trust: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

childs trustI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms. Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her. Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof. We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God. So what is the relevance to this in our lives? What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for Faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

faith mlk quoteThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our Trust being unfounded or mistaken. Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith. You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child. It is unconditional. You have Faith simply because you want to believe. You have Faith because you accept something without conditions. You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof? What would a life without Faith be like? Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.” — Buddha

faith and flyingBuddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India. Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference. I am called upon to have Faith.” If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachers
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.” As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients. Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only. That force is the power of Faith.

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” — Mahatma Gandhi

awesomepoweroffaith2_tEach time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life. I have now written over 700 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them. The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment. And that is fine. People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

Fortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith. (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics. I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am. It is Faith that keeps me motivated. Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time. Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit. The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

“Faith can believe everything that we say.  Belief can increase the strength Of Faith.  Belief is pure, Faith is sure.  Belief looks around To see the truth.  Faith looks within not only to feel the truth But also to become the truth.” —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in? What helps you to maintain your Faith? Where would you like to have more Faith? Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine

 

 

 

“And Now Abides Faith, Hope and Love”  — Does Anyone Really Give a Damn!

Faith-Hope-LoveI like to think my major theme as a blogger is “Social and Political Commentary and Satire.”  However, I often talk about justice, equality, respect, diversity, values and a whole range of subjects that can come across as religious, theological or at least speaking of morals from a high bully pulpit.  Many times, my writing of these subjects has helped to clarify in my own mind what they mean to me and what relevance they have or could have in my life.  (Listen to the Song “Lullaby” by SIA as you read my blog this week. The lyrics are wonderful as is her voice).

If you attend some church or temple or synagogue or mosque, you have probably been told more times than you can count how important virtues, morals, grace, ethics, and values really are.  If so, my blogs may seem repetitious and like preaching to the choir.  You know everything I have to say.  Why is he telling me these things? Who does he think he is?  My answer is simply this:

“I am a former atheist, now agnostic, taking a look at some presumptions given by others on how best to live our lives.”  Any value or insights I can offer on these subjects comes from looking at them through (I Hope) a different lens.  I reject most orthodoxy and usually identify with the radical elements of theory and reality.  My goal is to bring more mindfulness to the world and I think we can only do that by discussing subjects that we think we understand or in many cases that we are certain we understand.  My subjects for my next three blogs fit this description very well.

For the next three weeks starting today, I would like to look at the three most often described theological virtues in the world.  I suddenly realized that I don’t know what they mean.  It seems they should be more prominent in my life but often I only pay lip service to them.  Probably like many people, I hear the words but do not know the meanings.  Or I read the meanings but do not assimilate the importance in my actions and daily activities.

The three theological virtues I am referring to include:

What do these three virtues mean to an agnostic?  What do they mean to a world that grows less and less religious every day?  What do they mean if you are not religious but view yourself as spiritual?  Are they simply a remnant of Christian thinking or are they important for everyone?  Come along with me as I take a journey to investigate each of these virtues and see what if any relevance they might have for the world today.  By the way, if you think that these are common virtues and that everyone has Faith, Hope and Love, simply look at the newspaper today and see how many of these virtues are implicit or explicit in the actions of our leaders and “role models.”

I want to start with Hope:

Why you may ask start with Hope?  Answer:  I have often thought that Hope was a futile wasted effort.  A fiction placed on us by spiritual leaders and politicians to help keep us docile and obedient.

  • Hope you will win the lottery. Buy lottery tickets!
  • Hope you will get a better job. Vote for me!
  • Hope you will make it big. Go to the casino!
  • Hope your cancer will be cured. Pray to the lord and put your donations in the box!
  • Hope the world will be a safe place for you and your children. Pay your taxes!

Hope, in my mind has been a pacifier.  It keeps you running in the rat race and paying homage to those who want your Hope.  God wants your Hope. Your religion wants your Hope. Your country wants your Hope. Everyone wants a piece of your Hope.

  • “Let’s keep hoping things will be better.”
  • “Let’s vote for Hope.”
  • “Let’s run Hope for office.”
  • “Let’s have the audacity to Hope.”

“Once again Hitler reduced his demand to a formal profession of faith that would be binding upon me: ‘If you could at least Hope that we have not lost!  You must certainly be able to Hope … that would be enough to satisfy me.’   I did not answer.” 

Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer, R. Winston & C. Winston (trans.) (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971), 452–3.

It has been said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  Perhaps Hope is the tranquilizer that our leaders (both political and spiritual) regularly inject us with to insure our compliance and submissiveness.

What good does Hope do if all around us things are going to hell? 

Do I sound skeptical?  Were you expecting a plethora of exhortations to Hope, Hope, and Hope some more?  We are hemorrhaging and they ask us to have Hope. Keep hoping until you bleed to death.  “Hope for the best” they keep saying.  Did you expect me to give you “Ten GOOD Reasons to Have Hope?”  “Never give us Hope.”

To rephrase Shakespeare:  I have taken here some liberty with his words.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to praise Hope, not to bury her.”

statue of hopeDid you know that the three virtues are usually depicted as women?  Why do you think that is?

  • Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle, hands together with fingers extended together
  • Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm, hands with fingers closed interdigitated
  • Love – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit, hands crossed over heart

Actually, I tell you the truth.  I have come to praise the role of Hope and not to bury yours.  My caveat however will be evident in this dialogue.  It is simply this:

“Hope without action is futile.  Action without Hope is pointless.”  —- J. Persico

Yes, I quote myself.  Nevertheless, let us examine my quote in more detail.

“Hope without action is futile.”

A comment that I have used a great deal is “pray to the Lord but row for the shore.”  Intent without action is meaningless and hopeless.  The purpose of Hope is to give us something to strive for.  Hoping for success, happiness, wealth, good health or better politicians without being willing to work for these things is the ultimate in laziness, naiveté and stupidity.  Have you noticed that good things come to those who are willing to work for them?  Thomas Jefferson said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

laziness_a834e2_1332585The concept of entitlement (much used to describe today’s workers) suggests that somehow our birthright or DNA entitles us to such things as money, good health, happiness and success.  However, the Founding Fathers did not say we were entitled to any of these things nor does Jesus in the New Testament suggest that we are.  The Declaration of Independence says we are “entitled” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It does not say anything about an education, health care, money or success.  It also uses the word “Pursuit” and not something stronger.  If you want happiness, you must pursue it.  This means you can Hope for happiness, but you must work for it.

The apostle James says:  “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”  James 2:14

James might just as well have substituted the word Hope for faith.  Hoping for salvation, nirvana, satori, enlightenment or any other spiritual awakening is useless if you do not take action on your Hopes and dreams.

“Action without Hope is pointless.”

energizer-bunnyHave you ever seen the energizer Bunny?  He or she is an example of action without Hope.  Hope kindles in us a possibility for better things.  It is a dream of something that transcends our daily existence and offers us the possibility of a better tomorrow.  Hopes and dreams are complimentary ideas. Few of us Hope for a worse reality than the one we may currently face.  We Hope for things that we do not have. We Hope for happiness. We Hope for good health for our loved ones.  We Hope for a world where people will be safe and secure.

Many people are busy everyday but they do not know why.  We multitask.  We shop till we drop.  We watch TV nonstop on the weekends.  We fight hours of daily traffic to get to our jobs.  We keep moving at work to insure we will seem busy and productive.  We tell everyone we know how busy we are.  We retire and we become busier than ever.  Once retired we are so busy we cannot figure out how we once had time for work.  We have NO TIME.  We even have had a song that immortalized this problem by the Guess Who:  No Time . One song I particularly like that also describes this problem is by Alabama called:  “I’m in a Hurry.”   The following are the lyrics for the song:

I’m in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I’m in a hurry and I don’t know why.

no timeDon’t know why
I have to drive so fast
My car has nothing to prove
It’s not new
But it’ll do 0 to 60 in 5.2

Can’t be late
I leave plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock
I can’t stop
I’m on a roll and I’m ready to rock

I hear a voice
That say’s I’m running behind
I better pick up my pace
It’s a race
And there ain’t no room
For someone in second place.

As we rush pointlessly about our lives, the pointlessness of our endeavors suggests that we have really nothing to do of any potential importance but we rush anyway.  What some might say is that we rush to prevent our inevitable appointment with death.

“In Osho’s library, there is a book open at a page where Osho has written, in big letters, ‘The journey itself is the goal’. I used to pass that book every day, always busy with some object to be achieved. Certainly too busy to take the words in. Then one day, the meaning just hit me. Like a sledge hammer. I realized that I had spent my whole life obsessively active, always aiming for a goal, whether completion of some project, or finding a solution to some problem.”Anando

Hope is like the temper to the steel. The blade is no good unless it is tempered. We need Hope in our lives to point us to something more than just rushing around doing things.  Spending energy without focus or purpose is just what the Energizer Bunny is doing until he finally winds down.

My Conclusions:

quote-what-i-would-say-to-the-young-men-and-women-who-are-beset-by-hopelessness-and-doubt-is-that-they-abbe-pierre-145752It should be clear “I Hope” that I am not against Hope. I am for dreams and a better world. I am for looking to things as we would dream they could be and not as they are.  However, I am against idle dreaming without action to help bring about the fruition of our Hopes.  It has been said that you can measure a human by the breath of their dreams.  I think we can also measure someone by the breadth and depth of their Hopes.  Who among us simply wants to accept the reality that is and not have Hope for another world with more peace, justice, equality and happiness for everyone.

Time for Questions:

What are your biggest Hopes and dreams?  What Hopes have you had come true for you or your loved ones?  What do you do about your Hope to help make them a reality?  Do agree that Hopes and action must go together? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you Hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”   ― Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke & Bone

 

 

 

 

 

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