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Posts Tagged ‘Christian liberty’

Toward a Christian perspective on art

Everybody warm up your proverbial right-brain.

I read J. Mark Bertrand’s “(Re)Thinking Worldview” recently (review pending). Among other useful elements, the book had me thinking again about the meaning and use of art in all mediums. Bertrand has much to say about employing one’s worldview as a filter to both create and appraise art. He further explains what it means to be an active evaluator of art, rather than a passive receptacle. All this combined with my own thoughts about art and the use of Christian liberty has helped me formulate a few points.

First we need a definition of the term, “art.”.

For the purpose of this discussion, I define “art” as any form of communication apart from the traditional use of language. “art” can include poetry, song, literature of every kind, painting, drawing, sculpture, music, photography and anything else you can think of. Yes, some of my agenda is layered into that definition but I think you’ll find it helps make better sense out of a controversial topic.

Working with that basic definition of “art”, let’s explore more. All art is grounded in truth. The purpose of art is to communicate. There is always a “point” or something to be understood. It may be straightforward, hidden, or obscure. The “point” may even be that there is no point at all. The message may be designed to be undetectable, or even nonsense. But in every piece of art there is a truth claim; art says something.

Part of the beauty of art is that it says something in so many different ways. In as many means as man can imagine, “the point” can be put across. As man is made in the image of God, he has proven to be endlessly creative.

What is the point of “saying something”?

Here’s another idea: Art is meant to create empathy. We enjoy art when we experience empathy. Empathy is understanding what someone else’s experience. It is easier to feel empathy when we have shared that experience. We have empathy if we see someone angry when we ourselves have been angry. But shared experience is not necessary to achieve empathy. We achieve empathy simply when we reach understanding. While I have never committed murder, a film may help me get inside the mind of one who has done so. I may abhor it, but I still understand what the murderer was thinking, what motivated them. Really, art accomplishes a direct line of understanding (not approval, mind you) between two people that have never met.

Out of this I build an important idea: good art must not be equated with moral art. In my opinion, art is good when it effectively communicates. It may communicate something immoral, but morality is not the issue. Communication, empathy is the issue.

In this sense, it’s better not to use the words “good” or “bad” in reference to art. I think that the better word is “effective.” this word carries the sense of function apart from morality.

It is at this point that we can draw some application. I listened to a song on a local alternative rock radio station. I like the station because they tend to play lesser known artists that are more engaging. One particular song they play a lot lately is a bleak, even violent imagination of the future. The language is not explicit or graphic, and yet the message is clear: the future is full of hopelessness and death. On one hand, I consider the song effective as art. The artist paints a picture of the future that is not true, and he actively rejects Biblical truth. Though I feel I have empathy for the artists outlook, I do not like the art. The message is immoral. I reject the “point” of the lyrics. I would not buy this music.

One important caveat: Just because art portrays immorality does not make it immoral. The thing to consider is how the consumer of art is asked to respond. For example, Steven’s Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List” portrays all kinds of evil by the Nazis on the Jews. Oliver Stone’s film “Natural Born Killers” portrays two violent criminals in love and on the run from the law. “Schindler’s List” despises the evil and “Natural Born Killers” revels in it. Spielberg’s film is one that I can watch again and again. Isaw Stone’s film as an unbeliever and I wish I never had. Yes, I would say that “Killers” is effective as art, but I reject it and refuse to consume it.

When we are evaluating art, the quality of that art should be based not on its morality, but on how effectively it communicates. Your taste for consuming should be based on its morality. To sum up, lets restate my points:

  1. Art is a form of communication.
  2. All art has a point, rooted is the assumption of truth.
  3. Art is effective when it accomplishes empathy.
  4. Empathy is not agreement.
  5. The morality of art is a separate consideration from its effectiveness.
  6. The portrayal of immorality is not necessarily immoral, what is immoral is being asked to agree with immorality.

THEREFORE:

  1. The act of consuming art is not sinful. The theology of Colossians is key here (Col 2:20-23 for example). Physical elements of the world do not perpetrate sin on the consumer. As active consumers of information, Christians can view and evaluate art.
  2. Simply considering art can be enjoyable even if we reject it (Rom 12:9) as we seek to line our thoughts up with Scripture (Rom 12:2).
  3. Because all art has a “point” Christians CANNOT be passive receptacles. Un-Biblical ideas are accepted when Christians do not critically evaluate the truth-claims of artists (Rom 16:19).
  4. Christians can consume art as a function of Christian liberty (1 Cor 6:12).
  5. The orientation of the heart toward art is the key (Jer 17:9) and here is the caution:

HOWEVER

  1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should (1 Cor 10:23).
  2. What we consider the exercise of liberty can actually be sin (Gal 5:13). You must examine your motives for consuming art.
  3. Remember that your sinful hearts seek to use art as an occasion for sin. Guard against this. Even pornography is art. It is absolutely immoral. There is no provision for viewing this kind of art because it invites the heart to spiritual and literal adultery (Matt 5:28).

Ultimately, the critical evaluation and consumption of art can be used to glorify God. Evaluating the faulty truth claims of artists is an occasion for reflecting on Biblical truth. The beauty of empathizing with fellow human minds through art is a testament to man’s being made in the image of God (gen 1:26). The sheer creativity of man, even when he is being immoral, is a reflection of the mind of God. Even the act of creating art reflects God’s original creation, ex-nihilo (“out of nothing”, Genesis 1:1). Art , in all it’s forms, perverted and good alike, is an endless well that reveals the complexity of God in His creation, ultimately shedding light of His character, bringing Him glory.

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Fastidious, Pt.1

If the Ikonographer poses a trivia question and nobody answers, does it make a sound? Man, I know my readership is not that great, but no takers? OK. I want to get the whole thing over with, but I have some other things on my mind that I want to get to while they are fresh.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am curious about fasting. I’ve been studying Christian disciplines and fasting is one discipline mentioned that I have never done. More to the point I’ve been under the impression (I’m not sure why), that fasting is not for the church age. If it is a valid way to grow spiritually, I want to do it. istock_000004322751xsmall.jpgAll the same, I want to be sure about it. It’ll take me several posts to work through it. I thought I’d do it publicly for our mutual edification.

If I have one major hang-up about fasting, it’s the teaching of Colossians about spiritual maturity. Paul is VERY clear in Colossians that physical denial of the body is not a means of godliness (col 2:18-23). The relationship between the body and the soul is a one-way door. The soul influences the body, but the body can’t touch the soul. Paul explains that Christ is the creator of the physical world and he made things, so things can’t in themselves be bad for us. Rather, it’s how we use things that is sinful. Alcohol is a prime example. Christians can enjoy alcohol in moderation, sinners get drunk.

The teaching of Colossians on the true nature of Christian growth has been IMMENSELY liberating for me. It really helped me move beyond me early understanding of holiness which had grown somewhat legalistic. I learned about enjoying all things to the glory of God. I got back some things that I enjoy that I thought I had to give up. I learned that Christian life is about freely acting out of love (Galatians 5:13-14), rather than selfishly avoiding certain behaviors.

The law of Christ, or the law of liberty is a beautiful thing. The book of Galatians is a valuable bookend to Colossians in this respect. Where Colossians is about the danger of exceeding Scripture for the purpose of holiness, Galatians is about misunderstanding Scripture itself for the purpose of holiness. Both books present different angles on the pursuit of holiness. In both epistles the cure is to understand the finished work of Christ and Christian liberty.

What I am getting at here is that I do not want to go backward and submit myself to a yoke of self-denial (Galatians 2:4). If fasting is Biblical, then it obviously can’t conflict with the law of Christ (James 1:25, 2:12).

So as I view the Scriptural view of fasting I have to bring these two truths together:

  1. Scripture does not advocate or prohibit fasting, but it does describe it and give some guidelines. When it is seen to occur, it is a good thing.
  2. Scripture does teach that self-denial does not equal maturity.

I am looking for the right view of fasting that upholds its use as a Christian discipline that does not deny the teaching of Colossians. The only time that Scripture speaks negatively of fasting is when those who are fasting have the wrong motive (Isaiah 58:5). I particularly want to understand the relevance of Christ’s comments about the old and new cloth, old and new wineskins, and the relevance of the bridegroom’s presence in Mark 2, a critical chapter regarding the New Testament understanding of fasting.

OK, I am officially getting ahead of myself. More to come. I hope this is helpful to some of you.

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Here is a passage that is more often abused than used correctly:

“Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Cor 8:4-13)

In this passage, Paul is addressing the correct use of knowledge (also called wisdom). The correct use of knowledge is aways guided by love (1 Cor 8:1), as in, to serve others. In many cases we have freedoms in Christ, liberty if you will. However, sometimes we forgo our liberty for the sake of another. This is the essence of Christian living. After all, it was Jesus Himself who said that the whole law was summed up in two commandments, the first being “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. (Matt 22:37) and the second being “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF (Matt 22:39). The first commandment really sums up the whole law, but the second commandment sums up how the Christian can express the first law toward the world. Paul expands on this in Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Translation: Liberty is first and foremost for the benefit of others.

That said, I’ve noticed in my life as a Christian that many people use this fact like a weapon…no, like a terrorist.

To explain what I mean, let me explain what the ‘weaker brother” (a la 1 Cor 8, quoted above) is NOT:

  1. He is not someone who understands Christian liberty. The weaker brother is still thinking of his faith as a list of things to avoid doing, rather than having been freed to pursue the desires of the indwelling Spirit.
  2. He is someone who does not trust in the sufficiency of God’s Word. Likely he knows that he has freedom, but insists on being narrower than the Bible.
  3. He is not someone who fully grasps the Biblical process of holiness. This person is often under the notion that things do something to you, rather than seeing the heart as a sinful user of things.
  4. He is not someone who is offended. The ‘weaker brother’ is someone who is tempted. The idea here is not that we avoid doing things that make others upset. The idea is that this person thinks that a particular behavior is sinful and is tempted to defy his conscience because he sees you do it. (For more on this, please get to know the entire book of Colossians.)
  5. He does not use outrage as a tool. Here’s the kicker, people play the ‘weaker brother card’ all the time because they ARE narrower than the Bible and they want to force you to be just as narrow. These people will eventually control the church with their legalism if left unchecked. This was PRECISELY the case in Galatians. In Galatians 2:4, Paul refers to a similar false teaching he’d just dealt with in Jerusalem, “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”

So how do we deal with these kind of liberty-squashing terrorists? In the name of love, we have to be careful not to disregard objections we may face. I suggest the following:

  1. DO strive to discern between the one who is tempted and the one who is offended. The one who is tempted will often say nothing.
  2. DON’T force the issue, ever.
  3. DO be sensitive to the conscience of the one who struggles with what is free to him as a Christian.
  4. DO try and help him embrace his liberty at another time, so that he might be free of self-inflicted bondage and enjoy his liberties.

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I’ve recently finished one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in quite some time. Mark Driscoll’s “Confessions of a Reformission Rev.”is that book. Quite a lot has been said about Driscoll over the last year or so. He is the infamous “cussing pastor” mentioned in the popular and controversial “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. He is closely linked with Doug Padgitt and Brian McLaren as he worked with them earlier in his life before splitting with them over their theological drift. My guess is that Driscoll is one man who many think they know without having heard him speak for himself.

For this reason alone, I decided I needed to find out what he was about: everything I have come into contact with that has to do with him has been compelling, for better or for worse. Say what you want about him, he is never boring, and more than that, his influence is on the rise.

So I read the book. It did not disappoint. I’m reading “The Radical Reformission” right now, but that will have to wait. My reaction was both strong and mixed. Let me explain:

  1. Mark is, I believe, unnecessarily crass… a lot. He does not cuss in the book, but admits that he has struggled with swearing in the past. At the same time he is known for crossing comfort barriers in his preaching. In his book the words are not the issue so much as the phrases. You could call is crass, you could call it coarse, or you could call it frank. To his thinking it is a part of identifying with culture. You may disagree. At times I did.
  2. Mark calls the teachings of Padgitt and McLaren as heretical, yet insists on calling them friends. Go figure.
  3. Mark has a different idea of the church’s purpose than I do. He rejects the attraction-heavy, market-driven approach of Willow Creek, but he does believe that the church must market itself to unbelievers to a lesser degree. He remarks that his church is more for those unsaved people they are trying to reach than for the ones already there. He calls this being “missional.” Many people have now hijacked this term to justify becoming worldly in the name of evangelism. For Mark, being “missional” means having a singular drive to go into culture and see people saved. This is a right pursuit, but I believe that the first purpose is for the equipping of Christians for the work of service (Eph 4:11-13), under which evangelism falls.
  4. Mark goes a little to far in my opinion in accommodating to culture. This is a very touchy issue. He rightly observes that most Christians do not want to accommodate to culture at all; most want to drag converts into their own culture. When living IN the world, there is always the risk of becoming OF the world (1 Cor 5:10, James 4:4). I think Mark crosses this line a bit. I am reading “The Radical Reformission” right now, which addresses this question, so I am withholding judgment for now.
  5. Mark asks us to be more considerate of the cultures of the unsaved (in his case, the unchurched, ultra-liberal, punk rock culture of Seattle) while he mocks other subcultures. He picks on the ultra-conservative a lot. He unintentionally implies that the legalists are less deserving of patience than the heavily tattooed, pot-smoking crowd.

One the other hand:

  1. Mark convinced me that I do not truly love the unsaved like I should. He commended me for loving the people in my church but criticized me for not caring about my neighbor. I would classify this as a life-changing conclusion.
  2. Mark pushed me to re-evaluate the Church’s obligation to it’s community. This conclusion mirrors my personal reflections and extends them to the Church as a whole. He paints churches with too broad brush strokes, but he sums up the basic types of churches relative to their views on evangelism.
  3. Mark helped me rethink my ideas about how to contextualize the gospel to different subcultures. I would say that I have understood that context is important to the gospel (see all of Acts 17) but that I may have been too legalistic in what I expected of converts. In other words, I have expected that they should become like me. Christians and churches can exist inside subcultures rather than having to conform to mine.
  4. Mark has challenged my thinking about what is Christian liberty and what is worldliness. Again, I would say that I have not been a legalist about what passes and Christian liberty, but I have probably been too narrow. He has drawn me to examine exactly why some of my hang-ups exist. Whether I agree with him or not, I understand it better for myself.

The guy who titled a chapter “Jesus, Our Offering Was $137 and I Want To Use it to Buy Bullets” is definitely worth a read. Love him or hate him, he’ll make you think.

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Ever try to get into a Red Lobster on a Friday this time of year? I and my wife made that mistake last winter. We were out on a date, and I think we got there quite early, only to find the joint packed. We had to have some cheesy garlic biscuits, though, so we toughed it out. “Why the wait?” we asked the waitress.

The answer “Lent.”

Hordes of Catholic abstaining from red meat, particularly on Fridays, and fish frys all over the place are hallmarks of this Catholic celebration. On my morning drive, listening to a sports-talk radio program, the hosts had a lively discussion about whether one of the host’s pledge to abstain from sweets for Lent was being violated by eating sugar-free Jello with whipped topping. Apparently the whipped topping was an infraction. Google for Lent and you’ll see endless articles about Uncle Joe giving up Pepsi, or Dad giving up cursing (seriously), or Mom giving up ice cream.

What’s the deal?

I don’t consider myself an expert on Catholicism (though I have done my homework), but basically Lent celebrates the 40 days before Easter, and it is often observed with fasting and abstaining from certain things like red meat or a favorite food. The fasting is tied to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, and to Jesus’ suffering on the cross. It is a popular custom but not mandated by the Catholic church. Lent is also considered a time of self-reflection. Fasting is said to help with this.

Unfortunately, the Catholic observance of Lent represents a false understanding of true spiritual growth, and it is tied to Rome’s false teaching about salvation. the idea that one can grow spiritually by denying the body food or other material things is totally un-Biblical, and the idea that fasting can help us to understand the suffering of Jesus on the cross is dreadfully misguided and insulting to Christ. Here are a few points to help you sift through some of the issues:

  1. “Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'” (Acts 11:7) Just a slice of the total context is quoted here. Peter is basically being told by God that the ceremonial laws regarding food that were observed by Jews were an object lesson to remind them to be holy in the face of neighboring pagans. Since the gospel was now going to the Gentiles, the food laws were obsolete. Abstaining from certain foods was no longer a way to make a statement to the world about one’s relationship to God. Food is good, so eat it.
  2. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17) This passage clearly overturns the notion that holiness can be achieved through self-denial. The heresy of Colossians had a strong Jewish element, and was probably related to the continuation of the obsolete food laws. Just as the Jews had missed the point with the food laws, a new heresy was being inflicted on Christians. Food is just food. The real issue with holiness is the heart, not food, and Christ. Preoccupation with the material world leads to ignorance of the eternal.
  3. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:20-23) Even worse, the pursuit of holiness through self-denial rejects the finished work of the cross. Believers have died with Christ in order that they might be free of worldly bondage. Christ’s work frees us from the silly rules and laws that only serve to chain us. If you are born again, you are free to serve! not bound to abstain!

A lot more could be said, but I said enough already. Don’t fall into the Colossian heresy by thinking you can subdue your heart by skipping out in cheeseburgers. An In “N Out Double Double isn’t keeping you from growing, your heart is. Deal with spiritual issues with spiritual means like prayer, Scripture reading, fellowship, and submitting yourself to sound preaching.

And enjoy that Ben & Jerry’s to the glory of God!

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Free to serve.

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment.

“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

(Matt 22:34-40)
Reflecting on the two greatest commandments as presented here in Matthew 22, there are two conclusions that can be drawn from Christ’s summing up of the law:

1.) It is impossible to love God so thoroughly. Humanity is doomed to fail. Game over.
2.) Those saved by grace through faith in Christ are liberated.

As Christians we are encouraged because the commandments of the Bible are so well boiled down for us. All we need to do now is exercise our liberty in Christ to love God, and to love God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. That kind of simplicity is awesome.

False teachers always want to make complicated what is simple. Don’t let anyone stand in the way of your pursuit of God’s good pleasure. And keep it simple. Let the Scriptures show you what God loves and love Him by doing it any way you want. Enjoy he free exercise of your regenerated will.

I have never been so impressed with Christ as I have been in seeing Him deal with His enemies, lately. At the same time as He shrus off their attempts to ensnare Him, He also frees us from the bondage of bad theology and legalism. Only God could do such a thing. Make much of Him in your prayer, as you contemplate Him and meditate on His Word, and as you seek to please Him in all that you do.

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Some more thoughts on music

Some good questions and responses to the last post have prompted me to expand my thoughts on the subjects of Christians, music, and Christian music. Questions like “Is it sinful to listen to secular music?” and “What about different forms of music?” encourage me because they show that you people are paying attention. Don’t think you’re lost when you come to a fork in the road. In most cases it means that you’ve followed the map well, there just isn’t a simple road to follow. Think things through Biblically and you’ll get to the right place.

That said, most Christians struggle with the pursuit of “secular” things after they become Christians. They associate the things they did as unbelievers with unbelief, even if those things are theirs to pursue as Christian liberty. Pre-Christ baggage taints our ability to enjoy things that God has freely given to us. the book of Colossians, on the subject of true spiritual growth teaches us that it isn’t the thing, but the heart that is the source of sin. False teachers promoting a phoney “higher spirituality” told the Colossians that they could grow as Christians by abstaining from certain material things, saying “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” But the thing, be it a certain food or drink or a song, does not cause sin. Hearing a song does not make us sin.

However, our hearts can respond sinfully to things, in this case secular music. For this reason I direct our attention to Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

This text should guide the way we think about music. As Christians we pursue personal holiness to the glory of God. If the music we hear interferes with that, we turn away from it. Here are a couple of questions for personal consideration:

1.) What is the song about? Understanding lyrical content is important. Don’t try to walk the line by making the song be about something else. Artist’s intent is the rule. We don’t like it when people interpret the Bible any way they want because what God meant is what it means. Do the same with the music you listen to.

2.) What does the artist want you to think about the subject? Are you invited to glamorize sin or consider sin exciting. One of the best films I’ve seen in Schindler’s List. It depicts terrible, dehumanizing atrocities in graphic detail. But it deplores those acts, and serves to help the viewer realize the extent of the evil. On the other hand, much music invites the listener to consider sex trivial, to consider acting out in anger like “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by Drowning Pool, or to see drug use as funny like “Because I Got High” by Afroman.

3.) What must it look like when you sing along? Lyrics that don’t mesh with Christian life are like a needle running off of a record. Is that what you think? Then why are the words coming out of your mouth?

4.)What is your emotional response? If the music makes you feel angry, cocky, tough whatever…pitch it.

Hope that’s not to much to think through. remember it’s the heart that uses things such as music for sin, so first and foremost be dealing with your heart. If you seek out music to gratify your desire to sin, or if you relish toying with sin in the way you enjoy music, cut it out. Ask God in all things to reveal the inclinations of our hearts which are often hidden to us (Jer 17:9).

Music is largely open for our enjoyment. Most of it is composed by unbelievers, yes, but much of it is still free for us to enjoy. Just be discerning. And remember: enjoy!

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