Things the Bible doesn’t say: Seek justice where it suits, love mercy if it’s attractive and easy, self-righteously flaunt it all

Things the Bible doesn’t say: Seek justice where it suits, love mercy if it’s attractive and easy, self-righteously flaunt it all

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If the administration of social justice were applicable to only “desirable” populations — irrespective of individual case or individual character — every damned one of us would be bleeding out naked on the Jericho Road, every single one of us would be starving to death in a pig pen, every single one of us would perish in the wilderness without grace or mercy. There is absolutely no wiggle room whatsoever — Old Testament or New Testament — to condone partiality and discrimination in the administration of social justice. In-fact, often we are commanded explicitly to love and care for those we would rather not deal with and would prefer to zap off the face of the earth with lightning.

Any perspective apart from this, especially with respect to refugee populations, is squarely against God’s position as expressed in the Bible.

And as a Christian, any rhetoric or dialogue in the direction of partiality with respect to administration of compassion is just wrong. True justice, in that case, would be if God judged these individuals by a rule and a standard similar to their own.

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How it really is

How it really is

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How it really is…

I’m pretty socially networked.  I’m socially networked because the accident last December generally cut me off from being actually networked.  My one thread left has been to my church family, and that thread is precariously fragile.

I’m not particularly keen about entertaining the idea of no longer having a church family.  I ended up stranded 25 mi. from church after the accident (which might as well be the moon for lack of public transit).  I can say with absolute authority that I have visited all of the local Protestant churches within a reasonable distance to my present location (e.g., I can walk there in under an hour) except the church where my sister’s family used to go (and I support “used to”).  There isn’t a single one where the congregation “has room” for folks under 50 — in this part of the Valley.  That doesn’t stop me from attending Bible Study with 70-somethings, but it’s frustrating — few of them have room for me as a sister-in-Christ, only as a curiousity.  Is that harsh?  Maybe, but I don’t have a place to fit in their world.  Young people in this part of the Valley are not in church locally on Sundays, and unless you grew up in a certain congregation, you’re not welcomed in the sense that there exists much to support you or welcome you in congregational life; there is also little by way of Christian Education (either nothing at all, or you have to choose between  Worship OR Sunday School…which is inexcusable in any Christian church).  The closest churches that are viable options for my own denomination are 10+ mi. away, and at least an hour or two by bus (making participation in congregational life at those places pretty impossible).

At that point, what’s the point?  I’m not a “show up to show up” kind of person.  The Roman Catholic church down the street is fine, though I am not Catholic and would be partially excluded from some service opportunities there because of it.

But since I still have no idea where I will end up, what’s the point?  Contemplating the threat of falling out of church as you’re about to fall out of the rest of life isn’t the best way to go.

That would be me giving up; I’ve been close lately. Very close.

But the original purpose of this post was to rant about the recent disaster at Social Services a week ago Thursday…

Backing up, I was in a horrible accident last December that left me with a broken shoulder, no car, no job, and no possibility to work because of my profound disability.  I went to Social Services to be rejected for one type of medical coverage, but found out I qualified for food stamps (a debit card program for grocery purchases).  Really?  I’ll take it, one less thing to think about.

Except the program makes no sense.

My maximum allowable monthly income — as a single person — is $1,100/mo. to remain on the program.  For awhile my roommates’ family (a family of five) was receiving benefits from this program, but their maximum allowable income was $2,000/mo.

Given that the cost of rent for a space big enough to marginally accomodate a family of five — rent alone, not utilities — is about $1,400-$1,500/mo, don’t ask me how or where one is expected to live.  Nothing about the program makes any sense.  If you really want to know the truth about the insane mismanagement of this program, go hang out in Social Services for awhile — everyone there knows they are going to be stranded for hours, it can be a chatty place for how to work the system not to game the system, but to get your wait time under three hours at various agencies (talk to this place, fill out this form, etc.).  Ain’t nobody else watching out for the poor, the poor take care of their own.

I wish I were kidding, it’s deplorable and unacceptable.

So, I’d been getting letters in the mail that they were going to terminate my benefits if I didn’t provide my disability income information.

I’d offered them this information twice (once as a bonus to the trip I had to take when they terminated my benefits because they lost the paperwork I turned in…in-person).  That’s two trips at $5/each in bus fare (though the Social Services office is not actually served by public transit, it is four long blocks to the nearest bus).  I took a third trip out, and my worker had no idea why I was there (this is the man that made me fill out all my paperwork myself with a broken right shoulder three days after I broke it; I now have a new worker and the world is a better place).

If you’re counting, that’s three pointless trips at $5/each (plus about five hours of waiting) all because Social Services can’t get their act together.

Also, I was still getting the letters.

A few months back they took away our ability to directly communicate with our workers (this was when I had my worker changed).  There is just a toll-free number to a call center.  I called and the worker (not my worker) who answered the phone looked at my file and said that my former worker was shoddy on the data entry side and forgot to check a box in a form in their system.  Eventually, some days later, my new worker called — problem fixed, you shouldn’t be getting any more latters, but please turn in your QR7 when you get it.

What is a QR7?  A QR7 is the form required for income and employment eligibility requirements to assess if you qualify to receive continued benefits from the program or programs from which you receive assistance.

Q…stands for “Quarterly.”

R…stands for “Review.”

7…is a reference to the 7th Circle of Hell (Violence) from which the employees in the QR7 department escaped (but deserved) after getting lost in their botched escape plan from the 8th Circle of Hell (Fraud); these employees belong resolutely in the 8th Circle of Hell.  Social Services is actually one portal to the 5th Circle of Hell (Anger), which becomes abundantly clear to anyone who has ever spent any time there (it really would improve Customer Service if the security guards just handed out complementary Xanex after they screen your bags).

Right, so…”Turn in my QR7 for the reporting month of April when you receive it in the mail.” Got it. Waited for my QR7. Mailed the 30th of April, received the week of the 6th of May — late — and thus assumed it was therefore due by the 5th of the following month June, and didn’t really give it much thought. I would turn it in the next time I had to run errands in that direction.

Got a letter on Wednesday the 15th of May with a notice that my benefits were being terminated (again) because I failed to provide income information. Now all those dumb letters said they needed the disability income information they didn’t need by the 7th of May. I thought the letter was related to that, well, since I needed to make the trip out there, might as well turn in the QR7 too.

Then — filling it out — noticed that it had actually been due by the 5th of May, not June (a pretty fancy feat for me to do since I didn’t even have the form at the time).

Went to Social Services, walking nearly two miles because I also needed to stop at the Post Office on the way). Got there at 1:50 PM. Security screen, waited in line, checked in, was called by my worker within five minutes. Explained the situstion, can I turn it in, I also need to file an affidavit to document filing for a pending disabilty extension (in March, which I hope to see by June). She called the QR7 department, yes someone would come down to meet with me, please wait and they will call you.

Was okay for the first hour, but then my blood sugar dropped dangerously. At an hour and a half went back to the reception window — are they coming, do they know I’m here? They called my worker again. Getting up made me realize I was almost at a place of passing out. Had some almonds and a sugar packet (all I had in my purse). Asked the guard about vending machines — yes, a soda machine in the next building (no good, I had to wait here). Was there a problem? Yes, hypoglycemia. Ten minutes later he randomly showed up with a piece of candy (which actually, probably saved the day).

At two hours total wait time, my worker called me again.

“You’re stiil here?”

“Yup.”

“Didn’t they call you?”

“Nope. At an hour-and-a-half I went back to the reception window.”

“Let me call them… They say they already met with you.”

“If that were true, why am I holding the forms I want to turn in? I just need to fill out the affidavit for my disability status and turn it in.”

[Long pause]

“I’ll call, no…you know what, we’ll do it here. If I get you the affidavit form you can fill it out?”

“Absolutely, but I have a question about what I need to put, which is why I am here.”

Got everything straightened out, took the time to fill out a comment card to document my visit, finally left at 4:30 PM. Walked up the street and caught the bus just before 5:00 PM. Two-and-a-half hours, an hour of walking off the bus line, and $5 in bus fare because other people cannot do their jobs (for which they are paid) correctly.

It is at this point that I would note that there are probably people who game the system, but the majority of individuals in that office have a profound and legitimate need. Often the legitimate need is a short-term transitory need for a few months, maybe a year. With respect to food stamps, it’s impossible to actually eat well because you’re bound to get by on $5/day or less for food.

You can’t eat much worth eating on $5/day, but it will keep you from starving to death. Lots of “poor people” food — peanut butter sandwiches, quesadillas, protein never gets to be a mainstay. Corners are cut. Regular and herbal tea bags “count,” so often I get by with cold-brewed herbal tea instead of juice (which works out to about $1.52/two quarts compared to $3.00+/two quarts). “Juice cocktail” is also cheaper than 100% juice. Some drink mixes (Gatorade, Kool-Aid, etc., but not sure which) also seem to be covered — also cheaper than juice.

Pre-cooked food is not covered.

I have a friend whose favorite example is that when she was homeless she could buy a raw chicken (which she had no way to prepare) but couldn’t buy a pre-cooked chicken from the deli section. It’s true, the restriction to “ingredients” make life a challenge to any homeless or near-homeless or even folks living in room-for-rent situations where storing and preparing perishable food is impossible. I haven’t had a kitchen since 2005, I haven’t had access to a safe refrigerator since 2007. I live in a world of eternal breakfast — fruit, nuts, dry cereal, juice, and tea…occasionally with crackers. Life is one long preschooler snack, and has been since mid-2007 (as even though the food stamps is a recent thing, in room-for-rent situations you eat like this anyway; some would add ramen noodles to that list).

But I digress, what is on the approved list of things you can buy makes no sense. Often, it is a brand difference. Sometimes the name brand qualifies and the store brand doesn’t. Sometimes one brand qualifies but its other name brand equivalent doesn’t. I am hypoglycemic, and was stranded at the mall on a 100°F+ day needing to eat. It took three tries before I gave up trying and used a single banana as my litmus test in Target — none of the single items I tried to buy, including a box of the store brand granola bars, was approved (which meant I had to also stop at a neighborhood market for the perishable stuff on my way home). Was it because the granola bars had chocolate chips in them (with dried cherries)??? It is possible to buy a bag of chocolate chips, it is possible to buy cookies, it is possible to buy some varieties of candy (I have been told this about candy, but I have not tried it, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth). Granola bars? Hit-or-miss. Ice cream? Also hit-or-miss. Deli-prepared fresh food (e.g., those roast chickens), never.

And never, ever, ever, ever soap, toilet paper, shampoo, laundry soap, female sanitary supplies, etc.

No one would choose to live this way.

No one would choose to put up with the bureaucratic ineptitude, the total degredation of being treated like a sub-human or unintelligent by many social services employees. The world operates with a single story on aid recipients, but it was never really true, and is especially false after 2008 when entire job sectors disappeared (including mine) and will never come back.

Ever.

I wonder if people who only know my writing, who can only see my mind, “get” how far below the U.S. poverty line I live. I am very well aware how rich American poor are, but I’ve variously gone without things most people take for granted — indoor plumbing, potable water, access to a refrigerator, heat, natural light, ventilaton, access to sanitation for trash, a bed, cleanliness enough to be able to turn off the lights without being swarmed by roaches. I don’t remember the last time I regularly ate dinner, probably sometime in 2000.

On paper, I am not worthy of your consideration as a person of value given my dossier, résumé, etc. — an entry-level struggling nobody.

Is that who I really am?

This is not a rational lifestyle choice, people in my station end up here, it’s not an aspiration. It’s a hellish way to live, no one in this place stays here a moment longer than absolutely necessary. And yet I always come up against stereotypes and people with impractical/unhelpful “advice.”

I’d seriously like to give them a year of this to see if they could survive it.

This is how it really is. A girl sitting on acceptance to a prestigious university (can’t go), food insecure, marginally employable, on the cusp of homelessness again. None of it adds up, this is not the Reagan-era ideaology that if you work hard in school (I am an honors student with very nice grades and a beautiful long list of community service and ministry work), you will do well.

I got 99 problems, and 73 of them can be fixed by throwing money at them.

I don’t think the American Dream is dead, but it is unconscious and bleeding in a back alley somewhere.

This is how it really is: but for the grace of God go you.

33

33

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Highway 33, one of my favorite places in the world. That lovely photo from the top of Reyes Peak looking south to Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Ventura, Carpenteria, and Santa Barbara that is the main header for this blog? That was taken at the end of the Pine Mountain Summit turnoff from Highway 33 in the Sespe Wilderness.

33.

A fun number I suppose.  Not extraordinary.  Not a nice round number ending in a tidy “0.”  Not a number to be counted off by 5s.  A palendrome to be sure, like all its elevensy kin.  They don’t make special cards for 33rd birthdays.

Maybe they should.

I couldn’t tell you when or what sermon it was, but I remember hearing one of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, once say in a sermon something to the effect that he thought that God must love birthday parties because they are about celebrating life.

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That's a really yummy pound cake by the way, there were fresh strawberries and freshly-whipped cream to go with it. Was I really ever nineteen? So young...so innocent...so long ago.

Life is certainly worth celebrating.

The calendar of my life will turn a page this week, and I will add another candle to the proverbial cake.

If I were a tree, the 2012-2013 growth ring would be very thin, and fire scorched on one side.  This has not been the worst year of my life, but it certainly has been one of the leanest and most discouraging.  There are a lot of reasons to take pause and want to forget most of the past year…

…but there is love and beauty to be found on even the darkest days.

I haven’t had a full-time job in eleven months.  That’s not encouraging at all.  The run-up to the election did not bode well for the job market for office contract work, it just didn’t.  I eventually just gave up and decided to throw my hat in the ring for university.

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Sacred Heart Chapel...GO LIONS!

Got in…to my first choice school…one of the most prestigeous universities in Southern California…very easily…on my first try. This wasn’t a gift — I worked really hard, have what it takes…and proved it.

But I can’t go.

Then the car accident.

Then the recovery.

I’ve been sick ever since, no prospects for work, little hope for school (though, on paper, I am “going” for fall; if I can find a cosigner I can make that a reality).  No clue how I connect the dots from the ghetto to grad school (trying to finish the last two years of undergrad in Theological Studies).  No clue how or where I will find work — meaningful or not.  No car in L.A. is no asset.  Intelligence is no asset without the credentials to prove it.

My credentials prove nothing to potential employers (except, perhaps, instability).  God has a plan in this somewhere.  God?  Yeah, hi — a little direction in this would be nice.

I watched God open doors in supernatural ways — open them WIDELY — toward a bright and promising future, the way out of so much long struggle and despair.  I ended up at dinner with someone oblivious to the fact that he was the devil’s mouthpiece for temptation to the easy way through school.

Was I willing to compromise my integrity to accept help from someone with less-than-honorable motives?

No.

[Sidebar: Realizing that what started out as a business meeting has turned into a dinner date with the devil is terrifying.]

All hell broke loose at that point.  Thanks-be-to-God for protecting me from much worse harm last December.  Much was broken and destroyed, but I am mostly intact.  Life will go on.

A friend and a cousin each got married last summer (not to each other, but each to very lovely spouses) — blessed to be there.

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Annie Wigglewhiskers, 31 January 2013

Found Annie, lost Eleanor.

Lost a dear friend and mentor, got a precious baby niece.

Waiting for little Annie/Wentworth babies…any day.  A second generation of beautiful and precious — the combination of the two best-tempered guinea pigs I’ve ever had.  The kiddos of two of the most dear and precious pigs I’ve ever had.  I’ve loved these little ones since long before they were born, I only wish Eleanor could know them.

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I am waiting…waiting between now and forever.

In some ways? It’s hard to think about 33 — for in thirty-three years Jesus Christ was born, lived, accomplished his entire earthly ministry, died, rose, and ascended to heaven.

In thirty-three years…I can’t even seem to get my feet off the ground.

I was advised by a well-meaning friend back in 2000 to focus every bit of my energy and resources to getting back to school.  I didn’t, and I’m not sorry.  I was able to live a much richer life for making sure that I looked up, and out, and to the world and life beyond…not just singlely-focused on that vague thing “the future.”  There were so many people to meet, so many lives to touch, so many things to see…things to learn…days to fully live.

And life is never fully lived when one focuses only on one’s own self.  It is possible to miss all of life if too narrowly-focused (and what could be more narrow a focus than one’s own self?).

“The future” moves anyway.  It’s clear where I’m supposed to be.  God will get me there…someday.

Today is not that day; tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

There are moments when I am momentarily angry or sad for my struggle.  Is it fair that I have had to struggle so hard for so long…only to just stand still?  Some of my former professors and friends share in this frustration.  Sometimes blessings don’t seem to be distributed evenly or equatably — do little eighteen and nineteen year-old slackers with parents supporting them in everything really deserve a free ride?  No, but we don’t live in a karmic universe.  If life made sense, they would be living in the ghetto and pining for entry-level work.

Life doesn’t make sense, maybe life isn’t supposed to make sense, at least not in a karmic way anyway.  I honestly don’t think it matters.  Whether life is or isn’t fair, what does that really change about anything?  Will singing the injustices of your own world really change anything?  Not so much, but it will let you wallow in unalterable misery.  Will that really change anything?

Yes: it will keep you miserable, self-centered and miserable.

Because, really, to some degree life really is what you make of it.

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And at some point the question that needs to be asked, wrestled with, reckoned with is: what’s the point? What gets you up in the morning? Why bother getting up in the morning at all? What’s going to get you out of bed tomorrow morning?

Are you living life for yourself?

Are you living life for others?

Are you living life for God?

Are you living at all?

Are you merely alive and muddling through?

They’re honest questions, though perhaps incomfortable ones.

Living life for yourself: If you’re living life for yourself, you’ve set yourself up as the center of your own universe. Thus you get credit for the good, but when all hell breaks loose in your life, it’s on you to fix it — alone. Totally alone. You can’t give up, you can’t phone a friend, you just have to plod along. If this life is all there is, that’s it — the beginning and end of everything. Come what may, you’ve got to keep it together, because you’re all you’ve got. I know athiests who try to live good lives, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. If no one’s keeping score, what’s the point of effort? In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes at length on the idea that anything “great” one accomplishes in this world will be little noted nor long-remembered. Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, from dust you came, to dust you shall return. If we are all “dust” and no “soul,” there probably is no point. I absolutely DESPISE the writings of Eckhart Tolle, because I find him to be one preaching false ideas of “cafeteria spirituality” (take what you like of various theological and philosophical worldviews, crowd it together on a tray, and leave the rest), but one thing I think he got at least somewhat right is that most people live their lives in light of their own egos. His “what to do about that” is a view I feel to be dead wrong, but that’s another story for another post I never wish to write. But if you travel through life, perhaps driven by ego, as the center of your own universe, are you — yourself — reason enough for the universe to exist? If you are perhaps not an atheist but a vague deist trying to live a good and moral life, who sets the standard? How good is “good enough” to squeak into a benevolent afterlife? If it’s all on you — can you do it? Eternity is at stake here (no pressure). Living for yourself is empty, very empty.

Living life for others: Living life for others isn’t exactly wrong…unless you’re living life only for others. Because if you’re living life only for others, you’re setting yourself to be the center of someone else’s universe. It’s a quick trip to holding up all of the sky at that point. The pressure of living to carry the lives of others is enormous — no pressure, but you never get a day off and can never, ever, ever fail.

Not fail, not ever.

Your entire life exists for the sole purpose of only serving other humans — perhaps only one other human — with no higher purpose apart from this service. There is no glory or honor in that, you are a slave. And — no matter how much you love the person or how lovely the person might otherwise be — people are inconstant and disappointing. Eventually there will come a moment of resenting and feeling trapped under the weight of this life. “Oh, no, that sounds terrible…I’d never do that.” No? What’s first in your life? If you’re the type of person who makes idols out of relationships or the type of parent who stops at nothing to serve your children, this just might be you. Don’t tell yourself it’s love, it might not be love. If it is an all-consuming obsession and drive to serve, it’s not love. As the Bob Dylan song goes:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

So what about the Lord?

Maybe this is the first of St. Val the Eccentric’s posts you’ve found. Could be…I’m an ecclectic person, I often throw a few odd tags — fitting, but odd — into every post. I have a pretty ecclectic following. If you’re following me, I’ve read at least some of your blog — enough to get a picture of who you are and what you’re about. I love the “tag cloud” widgit — tag clouds give a beautiful picture of what we write about. The biggest words in my tag cloud are: Christ, Christianity, encouragement, guinea pigs, hope, love, and theology.

This is me.

I am about hope, love, and encouragement all rooted in Christ Jesus (and also about guinea pigs, because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and God decided I was supposed to be the Guinea Pig Whisperer, and I’m okay with that).

So…you knew it would come to this, yes?
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Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

— Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1919), former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits)

Living life for God: Some time in the past calendar year, I quietly crossed a line and have now lived longer “beyond” the day when I was so powerfully redeemed from death so many years ago than all my natural life before it. That’s something to give me real pause. I’ve lived long enough to know and experience profound loss, and to also experience profound gratitude for the precious pieces of my life that remain. I struggle, however, with a general “elevator pitch” statement for why you, too, should love Jesus. All I know is that I was powerfully redeemed from death through faith and prayer, I am not the same person I was, God always keeps his promises (“I will never leave you or forsake you” being among them), and that even though sometimes God can seem to disappoint because my life doesn’t quite go the way I think it should…God is still sovereign and comes up with answers that are (in the end) better. My life is just better for God being in charge. I’m not sure I have a better answer than that.

A friend of mine sent me a quotation she found in her studies a few days ago:

“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”

— Volf, Miroslav (2009-08-30). Free of Charge (p 44). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I think there is a whole lot of truth in that statement.
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“Men and Women for Others”: Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase “men and women for others” in a famous 1973 address on the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola when he declared:

“[O]ur primary educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God that does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.”

That was part of the prompt I picked for my university admissions essay, and it’s stuck with me ever since. “Men and women for others” — isn’t that a very large componant of Christian discipleship?

I think it is (and argued it deftly…and will someday finish editing that essay to blog format).

Because the difference between merely living for others and living for God for others is that when we live for God for others, the motive is to serve God. What is on offer from God is such a beautiful and powerful gift — life, eternal and beautiful; we do not work for the kingdom to earn salvation, we work for the kingdom to glorify God with our lives in a gratitude response of obedience to his call to love and to serve. It’s a beautiful thing. Life and love are meant to be celebrated, not kept in a box on a shelf.

Life is, in many ways, what you make it. Celebrate life this day and every day. Love and bless others. Sparkle and shine.
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