Tag Archives: love

In our Hearts Grief and Grace often Ride Side by Side

By Eugene C. Scott

“Red Rocks is one of the finest places on the planet to perform,” James Taylor said near the end of his show last night.*

He’s right.

Towering above us ancient and unmovable were Ship Rock on the left and Creation Rock on the right. Taylor’s smooth, ageless voice filling the space between. Rock and wind and sky surrounded us while song and poetry and story filled us. The lights of Denver danced in the night sky above the back wall of the amphitheater. It was remarkable.

“There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range,” Taylor sang his famous lullaby. I closed my eyes and imagined that cowboy and sang along to myself, “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?” I breathed deep.

But Taylor was painting a different picture of life than the one many Coloradans had lived out in the last four days. I opened my eyes and saw Alameda Boulevard stretched out west to east in a straight line of lights from the foothills to Aurora. There on the far horizon I imagined one of the lights was the theater. There still lurking was the pain and heart ache of twelve innocent people dying and many more being wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Guilt buffeted against my peace. Should I be enjoying myself? How can this beauty, my sense of well-being, co-exist with that?

Still they seemed to. Drawing my eyes and heart back to the stage–to the here and now, to what I can be and do–Taylor sang, “Shower the people you love with love.”

And I could see, on the screen, in his now creased 64 year-old face, his alive but tired eyes, that he too has known pain. Yet he still believed what he was singing.

Maybe JT, right there on stage, without knowing it, was living out a truth: that in our hearts grief and grace often ride side by side.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his famous poem “Christmas Bells:”

“And in despair I bowed my head

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good-will to men!’

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe that’s the thing. Song, poetry–art in general–remind us of this dichotomy of life. In the midst of horrific pain and evil, beauty is undiminished. Grace prevails. Maybe it’s even made more beautiful. James Taylor put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. In a stunning setting. The clarity and sweetness of his voice matched the clarity and power of the message I heard God whisper in my heart. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

*July 23, 2012. This may be a slight paraphrase since I did not write his quote down word for word.

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Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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A Mother’s Day Tribute: Love Like You

My mom, third from the right, just two months before she passed.

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom passed away in 2003. I still miss her. She was a fierce, tiny woman, who loved to work and drank coffee all day long. She was a single mom before that garnered any sympathy, help, or understanding. She held the reins of our stampeding family with pioneer strength, though sometimes futilely.

Mom was a fighter. Sometimes we had to live without things other kids had. But we never lived without pride and her determination.

She was beautiful too. After my dad passed, men chased her constantly, but never caught her. And determined. Among her many jobs, mom held a job at Walgreens well into her seventies, even struggling with emphysema.

She was sweet but crass.

“Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up the fastest,” she would quip, except sometimes she didn’t say “spit.”

She taught me how to work and how hope makes you get up each day no matter. And she planted love in me. She loved me through all my crazy teen years and all my rotten treatment of her. Then she acted as if she knew all along I was going to be okay when God finally brought me to my senses. After I survived my own stupidity and she would send me birthday cards or letters, she wrote on the envelope in shaky letters, “Reverend Eugene C. Scott.” I laughed at that.

If I’ve loved anybody in my life, it’s because mom loved me first.

Fortunately, right before she died, I was able to sit on her bed with her, talking, praying, remembering, saying what needed to be said, thank you, I’m sorry, I love you, mostly. We laughed and cried and told stories too. And prayed more.

“They’re not your responsibility,” she said of the rest of the family. She was in pain and on a lot of drugs. “I’m ready to go home. I want to be with Jesus.” Finally we had hospice come and they took her out of her second story apartment on a stiff blanket-like chair. She sat in it grinning and waving like she was on a float and said, “I’m a queen.” Even though we all knew she was never coming back.

She was gone the next morning.

Still as I think of her–she would be 90 last month–there are things I would like to tell her. How strong she was and how much her strength added to my life. I would not have made it without her. How once again sharing a strong cup of coffee at her kitchen table in her small apartment would be worth a trip to the stars. She’s been on my mind and heart a lot.

That’s why, after my friend, Cliff Hutchison, sang the unfinished chorus of a song he had written about his mother, who like my mom had raised him as a single mom, I woke up in the middle of the night with a picture of the rest of the song in my head. I asked Cliff if I could work on it with him.

So, I wrote some lyrics out on a legal pad and he brought his guitar over to my study and sat in my ugly orange chair. I drew close to him in my desk chair, with the lyrics on the floor below us. We bantered and he sang. We crossed out words and added some back. And this, “Love Like You,” is what we came up with.

“Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom.” Thank you for loving me even when I didn’t deserve it.

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No Fear. Just Pain.

By Eugene C. Scott

Not the actual truck

The Nissan truck with the No Fear off-road package sat in the drive. Big knobby tires, six-inch lift package, fancy rims, dual exhaust.“Semper Fi,” said a sticker in the back window. We had driven from Winter Park to Loveland, CO on a fabulous fall morning to look at a used truck for sale. Necessitated by the untimely demise of my old, faithfulPathfinder.

As I climbed out of our car, I put my negotiating face on. It was a cool truck.

We walked across the road and into a wall of pain. A hurt, like a bad dream that won’t let you wake up, hung over the house. The owner of the truck, an ex-Marine with tattoos covering both arms and his neck, came out and shook hands. A big silver cross hung from his neck over his New Orleans Saints football jersey.

We introduced ourselves. He stood at an oblique in the middle of the street a good distance away from the truck.

“It’s a nice truck. You’re selling it so you can refurbish your son’s Mustang?” I said trying to pierce the awkward silence that surrounded him. I had spoken to him on the phone previously.

“Yeah.” His big frame sagged and he seemed to get smaller right there in front of me. He may have even stopped breathing. “It’s what he would have wanted.”

I could see the sorrow etched into his tough face. He didn’t look at the truck.

Long, agonizing seconds later he said, “He died a couple of months ago.”

There it was. The source of the pain.

“I’m sorry.” I touched his elbow. “What happened?”

“He killed himself.” Three words, flat, declarative, harsh, like someone had hit me in the face. He spat the next three words.

“Over a girlfriend.”

There in the middle of the street our worlds became a bubble, no bright blue fall day, no truck, no air. No fear. Just pain.

I turned to him and we talked. I told him as a pastor I had worked with suicidal kids, how tragic it was that those with so much to live for despaired so deeply. He turned toward me, opened his heart just a crack. More pain poured out. Pointing to a house two doors down he said a pastor lived there and he had been spending time with him. “You gotta trust God,” he said.

I nodded. “You can’t walk through this alone.”

I was relieved he had someone of faith to talk to and that God was part of the conversation. I lived several hundred miles–a world–away. My heart ached but I could not be his pastor, his counselor, or even his friend. The silence and the pain swooped back down.

“Can I drive it?” I asked pointing to the big, gray truck.

“Keys are in it.”

My wife, Dee Dee, and I climbed in. It was the kind of truck I had dreamed of in high school. It didn’t so much drive as it ate the road. It didn’t purr but rumbled. But the cab was clean, almost sterile, no signs of anything personal. The on board computer read, “0 miles,” indicating how far we could drive before we ran out of fuel.

Who lets potential buyers drive a truck that may run out of gas? I wondered as we pulled back into his driveway.

“Nice truck. It’s almost out of gas,” I said as I handed him the key.

“I haven’t driven it in a couple of months,” he said. That’s when I began to understand. I had not seen him come close to the truck. It had something to do with his son’s death.

My heart has been broken and I’ve been praying for him and his elderly mother and father and his other son ever since.

Les Avery, senior pastor of St James Presbyterian Church in Littleton, CO, where I served as a youth pastor in the 80s, used to end almost every worship service by saying, “Wrap your arm around yourself or of someone near you because, if you scratch beneath the surface of any life, you’ll find pain.”

It’s a poignant reminder. Sometimes you don’t even need to scratch. It comes gushing out.

Once again, I’ve been reminded to look at the grumpy, harried woman in the post office with kinder eyes. The waiter, the store clerk, the high school kid walking home from school alone.

They all carry pain–at least as deep as my own–if not deeper.

I’m not going to sermonize, tell you to be nice, “Co-exist,” “give peace a chance,” or “tolerate” each other. Bumper sticker philosophy and theology is such ineffective crap.

All of us know how cruel and insensitive and self-centered we are. We all know we shouldn’t be.

Maybe what we don’t as often remember is that God does not have to scratch beneath the surface of our lives to discover the pain. He sees all and knows all. And he weeps. But his tears are not empty.

By the first century AD, the Romans had tortured and crucified nearly 2000 people. Poverty, injustice, hunger, death, disease, and pain few of us know the depth of today racked the world Jesus lived in. So, what did God do? He let his Son be killed on the cruelest torture device yet known and had Jesus experience all the pain known to man.

Think of it. By having Jesus die on a device designed to induce maximum pain, God gave us a way to transform our pain into hope. God not only knows our pain. He redeems it.

The silver cross around that ex-Marine’s neck was not mere jewelry. It was his sign of hope for life, a reminder of how much God loves him and his son. Of how God had indeed wrapped his arms around us in the ultimate act of love.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He did not buy the No Fear truck, not because of the tragedy it represented, and certainly not because he was too old or not cool enough for it, but because his wife said it was not very practical.

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How Did 9.11 Impact You?

By Eugene C. Scott

Drawing of 8-year-old Kevin Wang

Vail Mountain rose behind us unmoved. I, however, was trembling. I stood at its base on the ski slope holding a microphone. Beside me stood a friend, an Episcopalian priest. I felt out of place there wearing dress shoes, a dark tie, and a suit. Not the typical dress for a ski resort, even in the fall. But this was not a normal day. It was the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Vail Resorts had arranged for the clergy of the Vail Interfaith Chapel to hold a prayer service. And word had spread. Below me in the fading grass and dying high mountain wild flowers sat hundreds of people from the world over. Many didn’t even speak English. How would what I had to say make a difference in the face of such evil, such fear and pain? I looked at their upturned faces. Many were tear-stained. All where expectant.

I’m a man of words. As a pastor, I have spoken hundreds of thousands of words preaching and teaching and praying several times a week–almost every week–for the past thirty years in the hope that words would help change the world. As a writer too, I believe words make a difference. Even a picture can’t touch a soul the way a few well spoken or written words can.

But against this? Here I was hoping my words could make a dent against the picture of two towers–filled with thousands of people–smoking and finally disintegrating into a pile of rubble and death. Good luck!

I don’t remember why I was the one chosen from among the outstanding pastors and leaders in the Interfaith Community to speak at this service. I felt empty. I had no words, besides foul, fearful ones.

Yet I knew God spoke the universe, us, into existence. Jesus was born into a broken world to heal it as the living Word. And I knew God just might speak through me. So, I let fly. I don’t remember word for word what I said. I can’t find my notes. I read a Psalm. I know I was honest, saying I had no ultimate answers; but that I believed God had not told anyone to do this; that I had no idea why God allowed such things; that if we stood arm in arm, unified in love, that that would be the more powerful act.

Still I felt as if my words were mere shadows, mountain Chick-a-dees flitting and twittering  among the near-by pines.

After I spoke, my friend led us in prayer. We poured our anguish, fear, hope, anger, silence out to God. The blue, thin airplaneless sky above us seemed to absorb our cries.

A young man from Ireland came up after and thanked us. He had grown up in a terrorist-torn country. He was sad that kind of violence had now visited the US. No one, no country deserved this, he said. Others too, from Spain, Australia, many from New York City stood and talked, listened, cried. Several had friends or family who lived and worked in downtown Manhattan. It turned out several lost loved ones. We hugged, cried some more, prayed again. Thousands of miles from Ground Zero, nestled in the pristine Rockies, an act of unspeakable evil seared us.

But God’s words also steeled us. Hope sprouted and began to grow again even on that evil day. We all went back into our corners of the universe changed. Today I see people, pain, hope, words, life differently. Today, if I look carefully, I still see that change, hear it in words–yes, like small birds–darting around me. I know better now that even small things put in the hands of God can make huge difference. God’s words spoken in truth and love are more powerful than bombs. God did not prevent the evil of 9.11. But I believe, even ten years later, God is still redeeming it, turning it in to something healing and powerful for those of us who let it and then tell the story of that redemption.

So, I will keep speaking words and writing words in the hope that God will take them and make them bigger than they seem. And maybe use them in your life.

How did 9.11 impact or change you and your world? Take a moment and a few small words and let us know.

Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. This coming Sunday–on the ten-year anniversary of 9.11–The Neighborhood Church will hold a service remembering those who died, not just that day, but also the One who died on the cross 2000 years ago, and rededicating ourselves to being different because of those deaths.

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Size Matters

By Eugene C. Scott

Size matters. Especially to 12-year-old boys. That’s the year, 1969, I began to believe bigger was better. Every Friday night my best-friend Bruce and I would walk to a mall in our neighborhood to hang out. We always hoped there would be girls there. There usually weren’t and, had there been, we would have been afraid to talk to them anyway. Bored Bruce and I would saunter over to Hodel’s Drug Store to buy a bottle of Dr Pepper each. Since we were scrawny kids, we’d buy the biggest bottle of DP available: 16 oz. Then we’d stroll around acting big and sipping our Dr Peppers.

Not my truck

To us size mattered. Bigger was better, especially where Dr Pepper was concerned. By high school, however, we needed something even bigger. Monster four-wheel drive trucks filled the bill. Most Friday nights you could find a dozen trucks with those huge tires, roll bars, and loud 8 track players parked in front of my house. My mom complained they blocked her view of the mountains.

Does size matter?

According to my high school buddies it does (not to mention the spam email industry that promises a magic pill that can enlarge a body part most high school boys value even over their trucks.).

It seems like many people in the modern world suppose bigger is better.

Though many people complain about them, mega-churches are all the rage. In the new church (church planting) world the going philosophy is, “Launch Large.”

Fast food joints offer to “super-size” already big burgers. Thus our waist lines have grown bigger.

Think too of Walmart, The Home Depot, Google, colleges, public school systems, and–please no–big government.

Since growth is usually good and a sign of life–and bigger often means cheaper prices or more services–most of us haven’t given the bigger is better mantra the scrutiny it needs.

But “big” is not a synonym for “best.”

Think of the trend in education. At one time, students learned one-on-one or in small groups led by one teacher. Then communities formed small schools that could educate all the children there. But as communities grew so did schools. As did the size of the problems. Curricula became uniform, teaching to a median rather than specific needs, leaving many kids treading water in a sea of students. Grades and over-all knowledge dropped. This, in part, developed a mind-set of information dumping rather than mentoring.

Standardized testing ignores diversity. This one-size-fits all mentality lends to a loss of individual achievement. To battle that we award students with a generic “you are special” rather than getting to know them and what they are capable of. We can’t; there are too many of them. In large schools discipline problems have exploded exponentially because there are few real, relational consequences.

Big is not synonymous with bad but is often impersonal, cumbersome, unaccountable, one-size (BIG!) fits all.

Big churches have more money for mission and programs. It’s just that they often lose touch with their people. Likewise big businesses offer better deals but few personal services.

Still big has a dangerous down side. Think of the internet. Its main flaw is its offer of anonymity and lack of accountability. But the internet is not evil. Just the aloneness and distance it fosters. Humans were created to be connected. Big strains or destroys that.

I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe so. But I remember the problems my friends in high school and I had with those huge trucks. We each owned one (you were not cool if you didn’t) and all drove alone to the same hangouts. Soon we fought over who had the biggest and coolest truck and our friendships frayed. Then OPEC declared an oil embargo and gas prices shot through the roof. After that we all walked together down to the local park and talked and hung out. Life was good.

Whatever you think, I believe the distance this focus on big creates between us as humans is insidious and dangerous. It eventually forces us to be less than human, less than we were created to be.

God faced this same problem. God was so big we could not really connect with him. So he poured himself into a tiny baby, and lived a small life where those within several hundred miles could touch him, argue with him, love him and be loved by him.

Does size matter? God thought so.

Eugene is a recovering Dr Pepper addict, could not afford a real monster truck–so was not very cool in high school–and is not very large himself, but doesn’t have small-man syndrome. He also is co-pastor of the intentionally small but really relational The Neighborhood Church.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

It’s true, like the old bumper sticker said, that “God Doesn’t Make Junk.” But after 50 plus years of watching the people around me and daily looking in the mirror, it’s plain God certainly created his share of peculiar, screwy, and eccentric people.

I think that’s one of the reasons I liked J. K Rowling’s main setting for the Harry Potter stories, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” I felt right at home. Rowling peopled and staffed her school with bizarre and broken people.

Outwardly handsome and cool but secretly unsure of himself, Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the many Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, was a fraud.

And let’s not forget half-giant game keeper and failed wizard Hagrid or the sadistic janitor Argus Filch.

Many of the students too are screwy. Luna Lovegood is loony, marching to a drum that may not even exist. Even the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are a bit odd.

These people are largely dismissed by the “main stream” wizarding community but not by their Head Master equally strange Albus Dumbledore.

In this Hogwarts reminds me of the church. After 30 some years involvement in the church, it occurs to me God too has peopled his community with peculiar, screwy, unconventional and downright broken people, myself not being the exception.

Luna Lovegood would not have been friendless in most churches I’ve served.

Dr. Bob was a retired PhD in one church I pastored who truly believed he had evidence of extraterrestrials having come to earth. During a Sunday school class I taught, a man asked to do an announcement advocating adopting orphaned baby Chinese girls. He proceeded to put on a Chinese Queue and sing the Elvis song “My Little Teddy Bear.”

I won’t name the broken, bleeding, angry, confused and disillusioned.

Rowling lends humor to her increasingly dark stories through fleshing out these eccentric characters. God, however, seems to attract them. As popular as Jesus is today, he hung out with a pretty unpopular, scraggly group back in the First Century.

I feel at home, just like when I read Harry Potter, then when I read of these early peculiar, broken students in Christ’s school of life, or look around me in today’s church. You’ve met them too–or are one.

The wonderful thing is God created such eccentrics and loves us despite our brokenness and he wants them/us to people his spiritual community called the church.

This is where I find the pervasive philosophy in the modern church focusing on bright-shiny people false. Years ago I had a college professor who taught that because we were followers of Christ, we should be the best of the best, with the whitest smiles, nicest clothes, best grades. “God,” he said quoting the bumper sticker, “doesn’t make junk.” I bought it until I looked in the Bible or in the mirror again.

Not that I equate, as he seemed to, offbeat, broken people with junk. God made no one expendable. Jesus died for every Lockhart and Lovegood among us.

But, somehow, despite the church’s ability to be filled with outcasts and Jesus’ willingness to embrace them, this is not the demographic the church focuses on nor the image we portray. To our shame.

When was the last time you saw a pastor preach or teach from a wheel chair? Or have any kind of visible disability? I recently attended a huge church planter’s conference where all of the speakers I heard were cool looking and pastored mega-churches. There was not a halting, unsure Harry Potter among them.

Or closer to home, when was the last time you shied away from the Luna Lovegood or Gilderoy Lockhart in your life or church?

You see, what I believe Rowling knows is that we’re all Lovegoods and Lockharts. We just don’t want anyone else to know it. So, we think surrounding ourselves with the cool and the smart and the successful will make it so for us too. What we often don’t see is that they too are not really bright-shiny either.

But God knows our fears and failures and forgives them. God knows too our eccentricities and revels in them.

This is where Hogwarts reminds me more of the church than the church does sometimes.

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