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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Too Many People Are Going to Hell

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” Ezekiel 33:11

I intensely dislike my phone company.

Dandelions inspirational original oil painting of little girl and mother in green grass meadow with flowers by Steve Henderson licensed open edition wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Vision Art Galleries, Art.com, Amazon.com, and AllPosters.com

Our doctrine of hell is harsh, and before we defend it so stalwartly, we might ask ourselves if it is in line with the Jesus we see in the gospels. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvas

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Every month they send me an abstruse, intricately convoluted bill to charge me for two things — basic phone service and Internet — and the amount of the bill is never the same. Sometimes it differs from last month’s by pennies, other times it’s $30 or so. Trying to track why they charge what they do is beyond my intellectual capacity.

So I call them, and after waiting 20 minutes and being passed to an average of 3 people, I generally get the problem solved — never to my satisfaction, but at least to what I can bear. When there’s a mistake — whether on my part of theirs — the payment for it always falls to me, and while this never makes sense, what can I say? They’re the only provider of this “service” in my rural area.

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When I think of the phone company — something I avoid since they’re irritating — I am profoundly grateful that God does not operate on this random, thoughtless, inefficient, disinterested system, although, if a person’s only exposure to Christianity is the fundamentalist, establishment sort that we encounter on Sunday morning and Wednesday night small groups, one can be forgiven for not seeing it this way.

Forgiveness

Because forgiveness is what it’s all about, and forgiveness — in evangelical land — is remarkably difficult to get, that is, if you live in a society where there is no mention of the God of the Hebrews, and the cultural norm is something different. In other words, if you live outside the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. (Israel doesn’t count, since in the pro-Zionist belief system of many Christians who passively accept the words of too many mega-church preachers, Jews receive a special dispensation of forgiveness denied to the rest of us.)

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Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother and child in victorian home by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at framed canvas art, amazon.com, and icanvas

Think logically: how much of a paradise is it when the people we love most are separated from us forever? Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at amazon, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

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For “those people,” the 9/10 of the world that is labeled lost, the only means to salvation is to “accept Jesus as savior” with a series of phrases that one is walked through at a football stadium with a noted speaker at the podium and volunteers in the aisles. But when a person doesn’t say the right words, he’s lost, for eternity. It all. comes down. to words.

This is such a prevalent belief in mainstream Christianity that to question it is to earn the dreaded appellation of universalist, as if there were something wrong in “taking no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” while the mindless acceptance of a disturbing contradiction is, somehow, doctrinally approved:

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If a child’s mother dies before her, without saying the right words, and spends eternity in hell, how does the child, upon later saying the words, experience eternal bliss away from her mother, especially knowing the fate of that mother?

Jesus Didn’t Follow the Four Spiritual Laws

Jesus Himself seemed to have had difficulty in applying the Four Spiritual Laws when He outright and explicitly forgave the sin of a weeping woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) and the man who was lowered by his friends from the roof overhead (Luke 5:17-26/Mark 2:1-12/Matthew 9:1-7). In both cases, the response of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was the same:

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“Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the leaders were actually irritated at Jesus for forgiving the sins of hurting, aching sinners, preferring, instead, that these wretched people not “turn from their ways and live.”

I get a similar feeling when I speak to many conventional Christians, who sigh with a shallow sadness upon an earthquake occurring in a distant land and killing thousands of human beings:

“How horrible that so many of them didn’t know Jesus!” the church-goers murmur.  “But thank goodness, the Christian relief teams will be able to share the good news with the survivors!”

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What’s the good news? “I’m so sorry. Your husband and son will burn in hell for eternity, but you yourself can live forever in Paradise, if you simply repeat these words after me.”

It makes about as much sense as my phone bill.

Mercy and Grace Trump Doctrine and Law

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I know the words — I attended years worth of conventional church services, and I have had recited to me, more than once, “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) and “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household,” (Acts 16:31) although the last four words are generally dropped from the latter verse.

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This same Bible, however, says something of possible interest to those highly militarized Christians who advocate invading sovereign (generally Islamic) nations and putting to death both military and civilians:

“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” (Matthew 6:15)

giving the strong idea that words alone are not what God wants of His people, but “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Repentance is not a one-time thing, nor is it accomplished simply by saying words — rather, it is a mindset, a way of living, a distinct choice to live differently than those around us, including those who say they’re already in the club. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that the verse above, from 2 Peter, is addressed to believers, who, those of us who are human know, do not always act in a Christ-like manner.

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Dear friends, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11-12)

This means that, if you truly believe that the world is lost if it doesn’t say the words, then you need to get out there — out in that area where 9/10 of the people are living —  and urge people to say the words.

But better yet, why not do what Jesus did: love people, accept them, listen to them in their pain, be merciful, and leave the judgment — and the judging — to God?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. We frequently say, “Jesus is love,” but what does that mean? Perhaps we spend too much time trying to fit into doctrinal molds, when we would be better off contemplating just who Jesus is, and why people were so attracted to Him.

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Why Many Christians Doubt That God Loves Us

Isn’t the “Good News” Supposed to Be Good?

 

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I’d Like to Change My Job Description

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 4:23, 24

If you’ve heard enough church sermons, maybe you’ve run into the joke about the man who was caught in a horrible flood, and found himself on the top of his roof, looking down at the water lapping his feet.

Dory Beach inspirational original oil painting of small dory boats on beach by puget sound by Steve Henderson

It’s not a luxury cruise liner, but it floats. Dory Beach, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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“Oh God,” he prayed. “Save me!”

Just then a man approached in a canoe. “Get in!” he called.

“Oh, no thank you,” the man on the roof called back. “I have prayed and God will send me help.”

“Okay,” the other shrugged.

Shortly afterwards a man floated by in a makeshift raft, and again invited the stranded homeowner in. Same answer — God would provide.

The third time it was a leaky rowboat, and for the third time, the man on the roof opted to wait — only by this time the water was up around his chest. Shortly thereafter, it engulfed and drowned him, and the man found himself in heaven before God.

“I prayed to you!” the man said in confusion, “but you never answered.”

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“Yes, I did,” God replied. “I sent you a canoe, a raft, and a rowboat, and you said no to each one of them.”

Leaky Rowboats

Sometimes, when we pray to God about a situation — our job, our marriage, our health, our family, our future, our hopes and dreams —  it seems like He sends us a leaky rowboat — and I think He does, actually. While all we can see is the water in the bottom that needs to be bailed out, the single oar, and the lackluster appearance of the life preserver, it’s easy to forget that the boat, though it’s ratty and ugly, does manage to fulfill the one major function of a boat: it transports us through water.

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It won’t do it comfortably, it won’t do it with any modicum of style or coolness, and it probably won’t do it easily, but when our primary objective is to get off the roof and not drown, all we really need is something that floats.

Shore Leave inspirational original oil painting on rowboats of beach in Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at art.com, amazon.com allposters.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

It’s wise to remember that, just because the boat is small and plain, this doesn’t mean that it can’t take us to a beautiful place. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, AllPosters, Amazon, Art. com, and Framed Canvas Art

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I was reminded of this recently as we negotiated a delicate situation that, ideally, would be resolved perfectly and well — in praying for the answer, I had it clear in my mind just what that answer should be. The major problem, however, was that achieving the perfect result was out of my hands. All I could see, six inches in front of my face, was one small thing that I could do:

One, small, insignificant thing, but the best thing about this thing is that it was, indeed, something I could do. So, I did it.

And then, as I got into the boat and steadied my balance from tipping, I saw a second small, insignificant thing — which grew out of the actions of the first — that I could do. So I grabbed the one oar, since it was better than nothing, and did that second small, insignificant thing.

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It goes on — a second action leads to a third, a third to a fourth, and at some point you realize, though your feet are wet because there’s always water in the bottom of the boat — which you keep bailing out with the bent-up tin can you found under the seat — you’re still afloat, and the current is taking you somewhere.

“Oh, God — I Wish Things Would Work out!”

The problem remains alive and well, just looking different because you’ve done whatever little thing you were given to do regarding it, and while you still dream about a king-sized suite in a private yacht with an experienced captain and a working motor, you do acknowledge that you’re no longer on the roof. Indeed, you’re so far away from the roof that it’s no longer visible.

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Over the last several days, I have interacted with three separate people, facing three completely divergent, significant issues in their lives, who sighed,

“I just wish things would work out the way I wish they would!”

Oh, I hear that. I do, do hear that.

But at the same point, I know — from experience — that waiting, especially, is part of the job description, and that as members of our Father’s household, it is an indispensable part of what He asks us to do, as we go about working for Him, and the kingdom of heaven.

When we pray, He does answer. But because it so very rarely looks the way we humanly expect it to, it is tempting to turn our backs on the rowboat. And while the boat is not really what we want, and it doesn’t look like it will take us anywhere, our objections to it aren’t strong enough to preclude our getting in.

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We are asked to do nothing more than accomplish what is set before us, and the more insignificant and unimportant the task is — in comparison to the big requests we are making — the harder this is to do.

But the encouraging news is this: that’s all we have to do, just the stuff set before us. And while it is frustratingly insignificant and so far from the mighty work that we are looking for, we “work at it with all our heart, as working for the Lord, not men, (because) . . . it is the Lord Christ we are serving.”

He took five loaves and two fish to feed thousands.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage you, in facing an insurmountable issue, to leave it in the hands of the Person who is bigger than your problem.

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The Obnoxious Jesus

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ “ (Luke 5:21)

Jesus Heals a Paralytic.

This is the chapter heading that one of my Bibles (NIV Study, 1985) uses to describe passages in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26, in which a determined group of men, unable to access Jesus through the crowds, climbs up on the roof, digs through the tiles, and lowers a paralyzed man, on his bed, down to Jesus.

Saturday inspirational original oil painting of sailboat in bay by Steve Henderson

Jesus simply refuses to conform to our ideas of who He is or how He should act. He, not we, guides the boat. Saturday, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

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We don’t know if the men were friends — although this level of trouble and activity is something we associate with people who care about one another — but what we do know is that,

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ “

Because of their faith (plural, indicating the men at minimum, possibly the paralyzed man as well) he (singular, the paralyzed man) was forgiven of his sins — an intriguing incongruity to contemporary politico-Christian doctrine which avers that the only way to be saved and have our sins forgiven is to say the Sinner’s Prayer, or repeat the Four Spiritual Laws.

Interestingly, the politico-religious element in the room at that time — “Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” — were offended by Jesus’s breach of their doctrine of the day, and they “began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ “

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Who Is He? He’s God

We, in hindsight, know exactly who this fellow was, and that He indeed has the power to forgive sins because He was, and is, God, but we, like the Pharisees, are also in danger of grumbling within our hearts, “What’s with this forgiveness thing? How could that person possibly think he is forgiven?”

In setting up rules, and doctrines, and extremely narrow parameters of determining who is, and is not, forgiven by God, we are at risk of shutting the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, not entering ourselves, nor letting anyone else enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:14)

Grace inspirational original oil painting of woman in pink dress dancing on ocean beach by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at amazon.com and framed canvas art

We don’t tend to feel like this inside, but the result of grace and forgiveness is freedom and joy. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon

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Many years ago, a friend of mine committed the sin that we still rank at the top of Bad Things Women (but Not Men) do: she slept with a guy, one time, got pregnant, and didn’t abort the baby. And while she earned points from the church community she was then attending for not taking the life of the child, she was ostracized to the point of having to leave that specific religious assemblage because nobody believed that she was truly forgiven — at least, not yet.

“I approached God immediately,” she told us, “and He forgave me. But for some reason, outside people seem to think that I need to ‘go through more’ before I can be fully forgiven. But that’s between me and God, and we have worked that out.”

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So it was between the paralyzed man and Jesus, who “worked things out” to the point that the very first, and most important, thing Jesus did was forgive the man’s sins.

“Why would you do that?” I asked God the first time I saw this. “From the man’s point of view, it’s more important that he walk again.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

Having spent a significant amount of time in the Christo-religious church environment, I have had it hammered into my head that true spirituality means being so overjoyed by the forgiveness of my sins and future eternal life that I am not affected by the flesh, but quite frankly, as a human being who lives in a body of flesh, I do get distracted by the physical stuff. When I’m hungry, I crave food — not the Word of God — and my spirituality battles regularly with the physical body. I’m pretty sure that this situation is not unique to me.

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We Bear Our Past Sins in Our Bodies and Minds

So Jesus’s focusing on forgiving the man’s sins — to the point that the passage should be entitled, “Jesus Forgives a Man” as opposed to “Jesus Heals a Paralytic” — was baffling.

But then I started thinking, which is a primary aspect of meditation and prayer, and I realized:

“Jesus doesn’t do things randomly, nor does He play with people. He knew — whether the paralyzed man did or not — that the man needed forgiveness first, or the healing of his body would be meaningless.”

Perhaps the damage the man carried in his body was “evidence” of his sin, much in the way that rotting teeth can point to someone who has had, or still has, a meth addiction; or liver problems indicate a battle with alcoholism; or a living child — and no corresponding wedding ring — shouts out, fornication!

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In other words, the results of our past behavior leave indelible marks upon us physically and/or mentally, and the very real tendency of the religious community around us is to point, and say,

“See! He’s a felon, and he committed that crime. It’s no wonder he can’t make anything of his life.”

And while that felon may have approached God in all humility and begged for — and received — forgiveness for his sins, we, like the Pharisees, are reluctant to see it happen, and every time that felon falls — and he will fall, because he is human — we say, “He’s just a felon. He’ll never be anybody.”

Yes, there are consequences for one’s actions: the apostle Peter no doubt understood this truism very well. But in dealing with those consequences, we are far more able to prevail when we realize that, when we ask God’s forgiveness, we get it. But how much it would hurt if, every time we told a little lie, or gossiped, or manipulated a situation to our advantage, someone announced, loudly,

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“Look at that liar and deceiver! He’ll never be forgiven, and he doesn’t deserve to be!”

Of course he doesn’t “deserve” to be. Neither do I. Nor you. But Jesus’s words to us are,

“Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, a column written by just an ordinary Christian who reads a lot, thinks a lot, prays a lot, and encourages all my brothers and sisters to do the same. For years, I was fooled into thinking that it took special credentials to speak for Christ, until I started taking a serious look at the words, and message, of some of those people with the special credentials.

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The Future Looks Bleak When We Don’t Have All the Information

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Yesterday, I went on a road trip with my daughter. We chatted while we drove, ate lunch in a charming city, and on the way back, my daughter napped. She ended the day with ice cream.

Low Tide at Moonlight inspirational original oil painting of ocean beach at night by Steve Henderson

It’s easier to see the landscape in the sunlight than it is in the moonlight, but quite frequently, we humans operate a bit in the dark. Low Tide at Moonlight by Steve Henderson, sold.

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While this sounds like the perfect outing with an 8-year-old, I neglected to mention one salient point. My daughter (who is an adult) was getting her wisdom teeth extracted, and I was designated chauffeur. And while it’s true that we did have a lovely drive, good conversation (on the way up), and a hamburger before the procedure, my daughter slept because the pain medication kicked in, and ice cream was the only thing she could eat.

Not knowing the whole story, nor being conversant with all the facts, makes a tremendous difference in our final interpretation. This simple truth — which is well understood and applied by marketing departments in both corporate and political settings — can and is used against people to manipulate them into thinking, acting, purchasing, or believing a certain way.

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Deceit Is Normal to Us

Lamentably, it is testament to the type of society in which we live that we accept this deliberate suppression of facts as normal. “It’s not deceit,” we aver. “It’s just good business (or politics, or media savvy). If you’re dumb enough to fall for it, then I guess that’s your fault.”

Well, the deliberate leaving out of information, with the intent to mis-guide someone’s interpretation of the facts, is clever, cunning, brilliant, and quite effective. It is not, however, Christian — and that many Christians accept it as normal (even within “Christian” establishments) should make us question our slavish belief that we, in the United States and other “progressive” western countries, live in a Christian nation.

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Christ did not practice deceit. As imitators of Him, we are not called upon to practice it either.

That’s Point 1. I never can walk by our corporate-based, military-obsessed, oligarchical culture without making a comment, and given the amount of time people spend listening to other people — TV evangelists, radio talk show hosts, political commentators, politicians themselves, actors, and endless advertisements — we can’t be reminded too much that those who want to sell us something — be it a product or an idea — are not necessarily reluctant to stoop really low to do so.

Drawing Conclusions from the Facts

Now to Point Number Two, which will take me a few paragraphs until I finally articulate it, and which concerns our verse at the head of this essay, 1 Corinthians 13:12:

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“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Life is full of unknowns, and for every human being breathing on the planet, the future is one great big unknown — both our future as individuals and as a community of Earth dwellers. Because we are intelligent beings capable of rational thought, unlike alligators, say, we regularly take the facts at our disposal and use them to come up with reasonable conclusions:

On an overcast, cloudy day, we grab an umbrella because the signs in the sky, as well as our own past experiences, lead us to predict that rain could happen, and while walking in a cloudburst has the potential to be romantic and definitely looks that way in the movies, it’s on the most part generally unpleasant.

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Jesus Himself mentioned our ability, and inability, to process information, when he observed to the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 16:4:

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” One factor upon another, in succession and over time, should lead us to draw reasonable conclusions, but we frequently don’t. For example, many people, upon finding out that they have been lied to — by an individual or an organization — are understandably angry, but, oddly, they frequently keep trusting and listening to the ones who have lied to them. They buy the products, they send the money, they watch the face on the screen.

It’s easier, in the short run. But it’s like going out on a ponderously grey, cloudy day in shorts and a t-shirt. We should use the information we have, as best we can, to make wise choices.

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But We Don’t Have All the Facts

That being said, we are not infallible, and we do not, like God, know all (thank you for your patience, I’ve finally manged to express with some lucidity, Point Number Two). So while we do know some things about our individual lives, or our composite lives as a nation or society, we do not know everything, and our predictions of the future — which are generally dour — do not necessarily mean that this is our truth.

In other words, when things look bad and we’re tempted to despair — because we’ve lost our job, say, as an individual, or because we’re told, by the upcoming election year’s crop of hopefuls that our nation deserves and will incur the wrath of God — it’s good to remember that we don’t have all the facts, but — and this makes all the difference — God does.

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He knows our future, both individual and composite, and when we fall into despondency because things look so bad that they couldn’t possibly ever be good, it’s wise to turn, instead, to the one Person who does have all the facts and ask Him for guidance.

We are far more likely to find the truth we’re looking for in His words, and under His leading, than we are in the words and wisdom of men — Point 1, and Point 2.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to stop listening so much to others and start thinking more for themselves.

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