Holy Saturday

I’m sitting in my bed reading Vanity Fair while an “Early Jazz” station plays on Pandora, and Jesus is laying in the tomb.  If Mary (or the Marys, depending on which gospel narrative you use) had gone to visit the tomb today, it would have been just another day in the mourning period, nothing miraculous. Jesus’ body rests in the tomb on this Great Sabbath; his loved ones mourn on this Black Saturday, and maybe the point is that it’s nothing miraculous. Maybe we need Holy Saturday to reflect, to mourn our loved ones who won’t be there to greet us tomorrow on the road.  There’s a great anonymous internet quote that says Holy Saturday “acknowledges those struggling between post-traumatic defeat and pre-resurrection hope“.  It’s a liminal space, the day after the world had seemingly ended (I imagine that losing a child or best friend must make one confused as to why things just keep going on when the world has clearly ended). There’s something special (and by special I mean unique) about the day AFTER a great tragedy. We see life go on around us as usual, and the shock has worn off, leaving us with a sort of resigned, automatic, prone-to-tears version of ourselves that maybe makes a few attempts at going about our daily business. Maybe Mary made some bread, maybe the disciples had logs to split.  It wasn’t a very hopeful day, in the way that we who know the ending have hope.  

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Sermon #3, or “Which Line to Cross?”

Forgot to post this when I wrote it. It’s based off of 2 Samuel 13:1-20 and John 8:1-11


So we have two stories here.  Two women, victims of violence.  Two stories about lines, one in each testament.  Let’s talk about lines, shall we?  We encounter lines, boundaries, every day of our lives.  In school we have deadlines, telling us when to hand in an assignment, keeping our time management in regulation. We have lines on the street telling us which lanes to stay in, which direction to go. We talk about crossing lines and toeing lines, we have lines around us that we call ‘personal space’, and we have lines that we use to determine if someone has the right morals, according to us, or according to the law, I suppose, since laws are lines of agreement between the government and its people.  Often lines are not to be crossed without invitation.  There’s that little red line at the customs desk at airports, where you can get in trouble for crossing before you’re called.  We build our own lines that we dare not cross, and call them ‘comfort zones’, and do our very best to stay within them.

I don’t know if any of you are Robin Thicke fans, but there has been a lot of controversy over his song “Blurred Lines”.  Conversations have sprung up across the country about sexual boundaries, what it means to give or have consent, what constitutes ‘legitimate’ rape, or what amounts to crossing the line in the first place; especially when the lines don’t seem clear.   Let’s take a stab at it. 

Studies tell us that one in four women will be the victim of sexual assault over the course of her lifetime. Eighty percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. Less than five percent of completed or attempted rapes are reported to law enforcement.  In the Hebrew bible, we heard a story about Tamar, daughter of King David.  Her story could very well be the story of a classmate or friend or stranger on the street.  Like eighty percent of victims, Tamar knew her rapist, her half-brother Amnon. Like thirty percent of attempted or completed rapes, the attack was premeditated, the very method being suggested by Amnon’s cousin Jonadab.  

Amnon exploited Tamar’s compassion and kindness, pretending to be sick and asking for care so that he could get her alone.  Like ninety-five percent of rapes, Tamar’s went unreported.  Tamar’s other brother Absalom said to her, ‘Hey.  No need to make a big deal out of this.  Better to keep it quiet.  It’s a family matter, after all.  And in any case, he’s your brother.  Don’t take this so hard’.  Don’t     take     this     so     hard.  Absalom is basically telling his sister that her lines are unimportant, that they don’t count- and even if they did, the reputation of the family is more important than her trauma; more important than her boundaries. 

But Tamar’s boundaries ARE important, and Amnon crossed them at every step of the way; when he decided to lure her into his bedroom, when he didn’t listen to her pleas to stop, or for him to ask King David to marry her, thereby saving her at least some scrap of dignity in the eyes of society.  In that era, unmarried women who had been raped or involved in incest were seen as defiled and disgraced; rape was a physical, spiritual, and social act of violence, inviting scorn and exclusion where compassion and inclusion would be needed, and Tamar knew this.  She knew that no matter what she said, her physical boundaries would be invaded- her last hope lay with preserving her social boundaries and saving herself from social rejection.  By raping her, Amnon not only invaded Tamar’s boundaries, but violently shoved her outside of society’s boundary as well.

So maybe this story isn’t so old; maybe our society isnt so different from the one that abused and rejected Tamar.  We see Jonadebs in frat houses, pouring extra-strong drinks for the girls encouraging and enabling the Amnons; we see Absaloms in university administrations, keeping sexual assault reports a ‘university matter’, trying to avoid a PR disaster…ever heard the phrase “boys will be boys”? Sounds like Absalom to me… We hear people question what a victim was wearing when he or she was attacked,  or how much they had had to drink…we draw our own lines to keep the victims on the outside, on the irresponsible side, on the blamed side.  We take away their ability to cross back into the fold.  But what about when the person on the other side of our line is someone that we have a really hard time seeing as a victim?  What if the person is a criminal? An Adulterer? A con man? A prostitute?  What then? 

It’s really, really hard to have compassion for a rule-breaker. We want some sort of justice or vindication, whether we call it punishment, karma, or divine judgement.  We hate stories where the culprit ‘gets away with it’.  But what’s really going on there?  

I mean, its nice to be able to draw a line between rule breakers and rule followers, or between the sinners and the  saints…especially if we get to be on the side of the saints.  Calling out the misdeeds of others has the side effect of showing off our own piousness, or so we’d like to think.  Aren’t we supposed to take a stand against wrongdoing? To draw our lines in the sand, between what is and isn’t acceptable? 

Let’s think about that for a minute.  If we’re drawing lines to separate ourselves from others, we do just that. We separate, pull apart, and loose sight of our beloved community.  The further apart we place ourselves from the ‘outsiders’ or the ‘sinners’, the harder it is to see that they are made in God’s image, too. The more attention we put onto keeping them out, the less attention we have to pay to ourselves and our own actions.  ‘I may have cheated on that test’, we say to ourselves, ‘but at least I’m not an adulterer!’.  We fall into the trap of piety by proxy. 

So, in our Gospel story today, Jesus drew his own “line in the sand”. In some translations, he “wrote with his finger on the ground” (NRSV). We don’t know what he wrote. Was it a line, actually inviting people to cross it, symbolic of their allegiance? Was it a line of protection, not meant to be crossed?  Was it just a doodle to prove a point that their insistence on choosing punishment over grace was not of importance?  Often, when we hear someone say ‘I’m drawing my line in the sand’, what they’re really saying is that ‘this is as far as I’m willing to go. I’m gonna take a stand now, I won’t go any further, and you shouldn’t either’.  As we saw with Tamar, often, lines are boundaries and are not meant to be crossed. But maybe jesus wanted the crowd to cross this line.  

Mosaic law, the law of the Jews, didn’t leave much room for choosing the response to crime. According to the law, the adulterous woman should be stoned to death.  You didn’t have to make a choice. The scripture told you what to do.  Jesus, however, defied the authority of the scripture and gave the crowd a choice.  Jesus gave the crowd the opportunity to offer grace to the woman; mercy was suddenly in the equation.  If we are to imagine that the ‘line’ was drawn between the woman and the crowd, with Jesus on the (literal and figurative) side of the woman, he was making his statement that, if Jesus is one of us, he is all of us. Jesus was the crowd and the woman.  Many people in the Bible bristled at this Jesus guy. Who did he think he was, teaching the New Way, flouting the Mosaic law that made decision-making so easy?  In his frequently quoted response, Jesus said to the crowd, ”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. 

Jesus not only gave the crowd a choice between following the Mosaic law or practicing grace, but he also gave them the choice to affirm their unity as a community of humans, all of them children of God.   Jesus, perhaps snarkily (I always imagine that Jesus might’ve gotten a little snarky when provoked or annoyed), reminded them that they were no different from the woman they were so eager to stone.  By standing on her side, Jesus reminded them that he was no different from the woman.  If the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself, Jesus was showing us that to do that, we must first see each other as neighbors.

So maybe this line in the sand wasn’t to separate, but to unify.  Jesus was daring people to cross the line of their comfort zone.  The line between who they will or won’t accept in society.  The line between ‘us’ and ‘them’.   Jesus dared the crowd to choose mercy and grace and unity.  He dares us every day to cross our own lines; to welcome back the Tamars and the Adulterers alike, he dares us to break down the barriers of judgement and separation, and rejoin, rejoicing, as a beloved community.




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Good Friday

Well it’s still cold, but it will warm up for Easter, according to weather.com. Isn’t that a nice little metaphor? It got cold for a bit, but it’ll warm back up. We can always warm back up, can’t we? To each other, to new experiences, to new ways of being in community, the list goes on and on.  On a literal note, though, I really want the weather to warm back up. I’m feeling impatient. I had a taste of the nice weather and then physics (is that what weather is?) had to go and take it all away. Ever notice how 45 degrees feels colder if it comes after a stretch of 60 degree weather than when it comes after a stretch of 20 degree weather? 

Back to Good Friday…I’ve been thinking a lot about this post, which has really helped me grow more comfortable with my observance of Holy Week; it’s always been hard for me to get completely behind the idea that Jesus’ death was somehow a collective punishment for all of us, it didn’t fit well with how I had come to know God.  What a relief to find that I wasn’t alone in that uneasiness. This woman’s interpretation of the crucifixion kindof knits together my various christological beliefs as well as my beliefs about God, etc…thanks for that, Pastor Dawn.

So today Jesus is crucified. Today Jesus shows us that Love is more powerful than death, which Dumbledore would echo back to us some 1975 years later. Today Jesus shows us that Love is the point. Love enough to live your life boldly and in service of that Love. Love so much that it pisses off the Empire.  

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I don’t like this cold.

It was warm and then it was cold again. I don’t like it. I’d like to be able to put away my midweight coats until November, thankyouverymuch. My classmates and I were chugging along nicely, wearing capris and dresses, even shorts, and then it *snowed* Tuesday night?! Not a fan. Why is it that when we’re comfortable with something, it has to change? I used to get really really bad, very frequent nosebleeds for two years, but just April-October. I figured out the trigger was inconvenience. Back to the cold- Is there some kind of cosmic Murphy’s Law at play here? Is it in league with the groundhog?

Yes, I know the weather is uninfluenceable, and I know that’s not really a word.  But people aren’t uninfluenceable. Just when things are going along hunky dory, one of your friends betrays you after your Passover seder, bribed by 30 pieces of silver.  We make jokes about New England weather changing at the drop of a hat, but what about each other? Judas was so ashamed, he hung himself; he’s now become a cultural trope for betrayal, a bit like Brutus or Benedict Arnold.  We gloss over his remorse, his heartache at what he’d done.  It’s hard to have compassion for the guy who led the guards to Jesus, after all. We see Jesus telling him “Friend, do what you have come here to do,” but moments earlier we also saw Jesus weeping and praying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me”.  We have a much easier time forgiving Peter for his trio of denials that we do Judas for his betrayal, yet both of them are forgiven in God’s eyes.   Would you be able to welcome Judas to the table? To share communion with him? Jesus did.


This is a short post today; I’d like to share a poem by Rev. Milton Brasher-Cunningham, from his blog Don’t Eat Alone. It’s about how the Wednesday of Holy Week is called Spy Wednesday, and it really moved me:

it’s the name I found
when I went looking
for what happened

on Wednesday of the
Week we’ve labeled
Holy — using capital

letters as though there
were some sort of scripted
suspense instead of a simple

day of preparation for Passover,
for supper together, and the
selling of one friend by another.

No cloaks. No daggers. No
hidden microphones in camel’s
ears. Just a lot of getting ready.

I have to get ready for Judas
to leave the room tomorrow night;
it breaks my heart every time

because he didn’t last the
weekend. He never heard the
news he was forgiven.

Love was lurking through
it all like a thief in the night,
or a spy on Wednesday.

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Sermon #5, or “Are We Risen Yet?”

“If only I had a teleporter; an armchair teleporter”…that’s a refrain I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in these cold days when the last thing I want to be doing is walking to school or from the T…especially during midterms…think of all the time I could save for studying, if only I had a teleporter. An armchair teleporter.  Not only could I skip over the uncomfortable, time-consuming parts of my day, but I’ could sit back and relax while I do it.  Would I miss anything if I just travelled everywhere in my armchair teleporter? I wouldn’t miss crowded subway cars, or the frigid wind in my face as I trek to school.  I would miss the amazing feeling of relief that happens when I walk into a warm room after half a mile in the cold.  I’d miss the dogs and cute children that I pass along the way, and the opportunity to organize and process my thoughts that my walk to school affords me.  Cold as it may be, I’d probably miss the sunlight, too.  But still…an armchair teleporter.

In Romans, Paul talks about the interplay of suffering, patience, and hope.  It’s easy to speed through the passage, on our armchair teleporters, skipping straight to the hope and relief part.  Paul seems to anticipate this impulse, writing of the benefits of enduring suffering…as my parents would say, it ‘builds character’.  Which, to be honest, can be really hard advice to follow, to have patience and ‘endure’ your suffering, when you’re right in the middle of it.  In our Hebrew bible reading today, we saw the Israelites asking for water, and when Moses chides them for ‘Testing’ God, they get pretty irritated with him, asking “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?”.  The theology and philosophy of endurance and trust didn’t matter much to them if they were soon to be dead from dehydration.  And we then see God provide water for the people. Yes, this story is about trusting in God to provide, but it also is a story of a God that cares about the people; providing a thirsting people with water takes priority over reinforcing some lesson about patience.  

So anyway, I think it’s important to point out that in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he isn’t saying that if you haven’t suffered, God loves you less, nor is he saying that Got loves you more if you have suffered, for that matter.  God’s love isn’t ever really up for debate.  It’s a constant. Rather, Paul is reminding us (especially those who have suffered?) that God’s love is there in the first place. When it seems like there is nothing in this earthly world left to lift our spirits, Paul reminds us of God’s love.  God’s love can be the on the sidelines that gets us through the final mile of the marathon. 

On the topic of marathons, I’ve always been befuddled as to why anyone would voluntarily run 26.2 miles (or more, if you’re an ultramarathoner), knowing the strain it puts on your body and the extreme discomfort that you have to endure.  If you google image search ‘marathon runner’, many of the images aren’t pretty…in fact most of them look downright in pain. So what motivates us to run marathons?  Well, I may not ever understand that one, but I do know that I, and hundreds of thousands of christians across the world, participate yearly in another marathon of sorts…Lent.   Lent is a forty day period during which many of us deliberately give up something that gives us pleasure in life.  It used to be a fast, modeled in part after Jesus’ 40 day and 40 night fast before beginning his public ministry, and means many things to many people; to some it’s about sharing suffering as a preparation for the redemption of Easter, for others it is about repentance and renewal, a cleansing.  

So most of us don’t fast for Lent anymore. We continue eating as normal, maybe giving up chocolate or some other food that we really love, so as to prepare ourselves for Easter.  During the Lenten season, we repent, atone, practice self-denial, pray, give alms, and make penance; it’s a pretty somber season, leading up to the Great Tragedy which is followed three days later by the Great Joy.  It’s a somber, reflective season, but what I want to talk about is that it’s an intentional season.  As Paul encourages the Romans to have patience, mindful of the grace and hope to come, we use lent to practice being intentional about our patience.  Paul hints that patience is about more than just enduring the waiting period.  Lent, the marathon of voluntary self-denial and solemnity (?)…what greater purpose does it serve?  Why would we choose to run this marathon?  I’ve heard friends of mine that are marathon finishers saying, “well now I know; if I can run for 26.2 miles without stopping, a little [insert discomfort] wont kill me”.  In the training for marathons, they run and run and run, so when the time comes to do the full 26.2 they know they can endure it.  They know they can endure it. 

Maybe thats what Paul is talking about.  The other day I was watching one of my favorite British period dramas, and one of the characters gave the following advice to a grieving colleague who felt like she couldn’t go on.  She said, “you just have to keep on living until you(‘re) (feel) alive again”. So maybe that’s what lent does. It gives us practice enduring. Maybe that’s the intentionality. We intentionally endure some measure of self-imposed hardship, practicing knowing that life goes on. When tragedy does strike, we have our lenten skills to draw on.  Keep calm and lent on, the poster might say.  

Ya know, there’s a certain reassurance that comes with lent, knowing that we have an end in sight.  We know that come easter, not only will we be able to indulge again in all the chocolate, junk food, or guilty pleasure television, or whatever it was that we had given up for 40 days, but Jesus will have risen!  It’s almost as if we can armchair  teleport our way over the crucifixion, eyes on the prize, focusing on that moment of joyous relief that the resurrection brings.  After all, the resurrection story happens year after year and the ending never changes.   We seem to want to breeze through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…I mean, we observe them, being appropriately somber and contemplative, but we know Easter is coming.  We know about the resurrected Christ.  We’ve been buying Easter candy and decorating eggs in preparation, after all.  Resurrection is no surprise to us.

But Mary and the disciples didn’t have the privilege of knowing that the Great Joy was coming, and with it the relief and celebration of resurrection and salvation.  Mary had just lost her son to the hands of a bloodthirsty crowd and a jealous, nervous government. The disciples had just lost their beloved friend and teacher. This wasn’t a lenten practice for them, Easter hadn’t happened yet.  Is the point to try and recapture the raw grief that jesus’ followers and loved ones felt? Is that even possible, given that we all pretty much know the happy ending to the story by heart? 

There may be an argument that this familiarity with the end of the story helps us be more intentional in our Lenten practice, knowing that new life is just around the corner.  Maybe we aren’t meant to live out the exact same emotional experiences that the founders of our faith had, but to cherish and pay homage to the legacy that they left us.  They lived the story, and now we keep the story sacred by using it as the foundation of a practice that can uplift ourselves and our community. 

So how do we keep Lent from turning into a time for religious new years resolutions?  Not that it’s wrong to want to find a fresh start and redevote your practice, I mean, but in the Christian calendar, Lent culminates with the last supper, a community event. A man who, it can be argued, knew he was about to die, gathered his friends and gave them one last lesson on togetherness. How do we find a Lenten practice that turns the focus on each other, on community, gradually drawing us together so that we can not only comfort each other during the Great Tragedy but are there to hug and rejoice with one another on the day of the Great Joy.  I think that we, as the beloved community, can find a communal intentionality to apply to our Lenten practices.  It may be joining a friend for a meal, stopping to give a lost stranger directions, or even adopting an action mantra (i.e doing one random act of kindness per day), anything that acts out the idea that we are a community in the risen Christ, not just on Easter, but every day. 

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Sex and Sexuality Fair & Panel

The past few weeks have been quite hectic, as a project I had been working on since October finally came to fruition. I had been working on organizing a Sex & Sexuality fair for the MIT community as well as facilitating a panel on the intersection of Faith and Sexuality later that evening. This involved contacting both MIT student groups and outside organizations to ask for people to set up/staff a table in the venue space, as well as finding panelists willing to talk about their sexuality and their faith.  I had some really great responses at first, and many people and groups seemed very interested in being a part of the fair.  I was proud of myself for having started so early, so that I could get all my ducks in a row by the time the Fair/Panel rolled around.  


About 4 weeks before the event, the woman who was slated to facilitate the panel told me that she actually works remotely, based in New Jersey, and could PSCOMM cover her train and hotel costs (the answer was no).  Then, about 2 weeks before the event, three organizations that had agreed to staff tables at the fair emailed me to say that they no longer would be able to participate (however, 2 of them did mail me some materials that I could display/give out).  Finally, a couple days before the event, another panelist emailed me, to apologize because his advisor had scheduled a mandatory conference call for the evening of the panel.  

I was frantic, a little peeved at the world, and dealing with the imminent death of a family member, which ended up happening 3 days before the fair… So I went into crafts mode!  I figured that with some construction paper, glue, and other supplies, I could still make sure that this fair provided all the information that I wanted it to, and still be engaging. I made a glitter-glue consent board, where people could write different ways of asking for or giving consent (under the headline “Consent is Sexy!”), a sexuality vocab memory game (match up the terms and definitions), a post-secret postcard making station, a sex facts quiz (with awesome prizes), a list of local STD/HIV testing sites, and an outline of a gender-neutral person where you could draw hearts on the places where you liked to be touched and X’s on the places that you don’t (to reinforce the point that what you/one partner may like, another partner may not, and it’s important to keep open communication/consent in a sexual relationship).  This was in addition to contributions/tables set up by the MIT Sex-Positive club and the MIT Rainbow Alliance, who both provided fantastic displays and really really great information for the community.

A few people came to the fair, and one person even came back about an hour later to ask for some relationship advice.  I had never been expecting an enormous turnout, but I *was* happy that someone found the fair useful enough, and enough of a safe space, to come back and seek help about a sexuality relationship issue.   A member of the Queer People of Faith group at MIT and my supervisor both attended the panel, which was great because we felt like we had a bit of an audience instead of just talking amongst ourselves.  I had worked previously with a couple of the panelists to come up with questions that would get at the meat of a lot of issues that religious people (especially people in the LGBT community) face when deal with the intersection of their faith and their sexuality/sexual orientation.  The panelists were articulate, open, and engaging; I really felt that God was in the room as we dove into the questions and talked about our experiences.  

The week’s events had left me pooped.  But it was the same kind of nourished exhaustion that I felt after completing the Walk for Hunger; my body and mind were exhausted but my soul was joyous.  I wish more people had attended, however I took pride in the fact that even providing these events was a step toward building and supporting a healthy, sex-positive, identity-affirming community.  

A few days passed by, and today I received an email from the person who had come back at the end of the fair to ask for advice. They said that the book that I recommended really helped them get to the bottom of what their conflict was, and has changed their outlook/goals moving forward.  I was grinning from ear to ear reading that email. That one email, just a paragraph of text, was testament to the idea that even if the fair helped just one person, it wouldn’t matter if that were the only person who attended.  In a way, my interaction with this person was my first time giving counsel in a more ministerial capacity (rather than a friend venting about something over dinner).  I was, and am, so proud of myself for this project, and I’m so happy that it was able to help someone who really seemed to be frustrated over and a bit resigned to their problem. 

All in all, came out of the week feeling fortified, hopeful, and fulfilled. 


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The Digital Church

And the LORD said, “let there be bandwidth!”

So one of the classes I’m taking is called Church Ministry in the Digital Age, and so far I am LOVING it.  As a native to the technology age (as opposed to my immigrant parents), I’m still finding it just challenging enough to really be a growing experience.   We’re learning practical stuff, like making websites and using bible software, which has definitely convinced me that while my trial-and-error method of learning various technologies has its use, there is still much to be learned from tutorials and how-to guides.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.  In divinity school we talk all the time about opportunities for ministry.  Jesus never really shied away from these ‘teachable moments’…strangers and followers alike received his ministry.  In class we’re talking about how the digital world, the digital age, presents new and expanded ways to minister.  Churches could cancel service in a snowstorm and create a video service that gets emailed out to congregants. Youth groups can use Facebook to do outreach and spread the word about events and service opportunities.  There are also conundrums, too.  With any new arena for ministry comes a new arena for potential pitfalls. With the advent of this technological era has come a need for photo/video release forms, should-a-minister-‘friend’-their-congregants questions, and the question of whether or not to CC or BCC the parents of a youth group member when discussing sensitive issues.  Churches are scrambling to adapt their boundary awareness trainings to include online interactions, especially where social media is concerned.  Some might find this discouraging, but I don’t…not really, anyway.  I mean, in ever arena of ministry we have to be aware of boundaries, what signals we may send out, and how our interactions may appear toward others.  With email and cell phones making us ‘always available’, we have to work harder at keeping our own sabbath, for our own sanity and spiritual health. Turning phones off, not checking email; to me, right now, it seems like a great way to practice intentionality.

Anytime we assimilate a new system into our existing framework I think we have to learn how to apply our values and morals to that new system. The internet can make it hazy, but the prospect to me is exciting. We can let the spirit guide us to not only apply our values to the digital age (discussions of cyber bullying, privacy, etc) but also as we explore new venues for ministry

…what would Jesus blog?

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