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House church report 11 aug 2013

Rondebosch United Church (RUC)
House Church –Wednesday Group
Presentation to RUC on Sunday, 11 August 2013.
A Playful Search for Wisdom
Johann Maree
Theme for service
Faith, works and playfulness; playing with ideas; being at liberty to speak one’s inner thoughts and doubts; being free to question. Bible reading for service: Proverbs 8:12-17, 22-23, 30-31. Introduction: why this talk and what I shall talk about
In essence, this is a report back to the RUC congregation on what our House Church has been doing for the past year and a half. The reason why we requested to do so is because we believe that we explored books, themes and ideas that we found rewarding and would like to share with the congregation. We like to think that we gained some wisdom and spiritual insights in the process that we would like to share with you. We view the process more as play than as work. Often we are playing with ideas, serious ideas, but occasionally we are just plain playful. In this talk I am first going to tel you something about our House Church, its history, its membership, and how we run it with some of the rituals we have developed. Then I am going to list al the topics we have dealt with over the past 18 months and explain how we arrived at these topics. The meat of my presentation is a look in some greater depth at some of the themes or readings we dealt with. They al have a spiritual dimension to them and I hope you wil find they wil enrich you in one way or another. Final y, I am going to end off by offering some advice on how to start up and run a House Church should you feel inclined to do so. House Church historical background
The RUC Wednesday House Church was started by Rob Robertson. Our first meeting took place on 11 September 2002 in Douglas Bax’s lounge. We have thus been going for exactly 10 years and 11 months today. At our first meeting we looked at Harvey Cox’s book entitled The Secular City. The book captured the theme of our House Church from that time on which is how to understand and express our Christian faith in today’s secular world in which our knowledge and understanding of science, medicine and the universe is completely different from what we find in the Bible in both the Old and the New Testament. We have engaged and played around with many topics and themes over the years including biblical hermeneutics (which deals with the different ways in which modern scholars interpret the Bible), the evolution of the universe, and the relationship between religion and psychology with regards to healing and wholeness. One of our most playful moments was when Rob and Gert’s son, Hugh Robertson, who is a professor of Entomology at an American university, addressed us one evening. At that stage we were meeting at my and Helen’s home in Rosebank. In the course of the evening Hugh told us that the one thing that has become a ritual in his undergraduate class every year is that his students insist that he makes a baboon call. Just for the sheer fun of it we persuaded him to make one for us, so he went into a corner of the room, cupped his hands together round his mouth and gave an almighty loud cal . We jumped in fright and then col apsed in laughter. The door opened and Helen came in to investigate what was going on. I then said, “See, the baboon cal works!” whereupon everyone col apsed in laughter again. Our House Church
Presently our House Church consists of 12 members 10 of whom are from Rondebosch United Church: myself, Barbara Innes, Louise Cul , Gavin and Hugh Lloyd, Margaret Grant, Alastair and Carolyn Rodger, Sue Segar and Martin Welz. The other two members are Jen Pennink and Chris van der Merwe. Jen is an Anglican sub-warden, a former school principal and retired school inspector who came to address us one evening. She liked the group so much that she decided to stay on. Chris is an emeritus professor of Afrikaans and Nederlands at the University of Cape Town and author of the book Ancient Tales for Modern Times: Reflections on Abraham and his Children. We used to meet in different members’ homes for a few months at a time, but we have now settled into a permanent home which is Louise Cul ’s cosy little house behind St Thomas’s Anglican Church. We have become a House Church family. On Wednesday evenings when we meet we first have tea and the warmth and friendship between us is palpable and real. We often have difficulty starting as we are too busy socialising and chatting. Over the years we have developed our own rituals that we find meaningful and enjoyable. We start the meeting with a Bible reading and prayer and we have a ten minute period of silent reflection when our discussion ends. We try to create a setting conducive to meditation by lighting a candle and turning off the lights. When Louise lights the candle Jen says the fol owing prayer: Light of Christ Shine on our path. Keep far from us al darkness And lead us to the heart of God. At the end of the meeting we stand in circle, hold hands, and say the grace together. We then raise our hands and proclaim “Hal elujah” in honour of Doug Bax who used to love doing it. Themes/Topics/Issues we have dealt with since February 2012
We have dealt with a remarkably wide range of themes, topics, books and issues since the beginning of last year. I shall just briefly list them all: • We have dealt with the theme of growing old and dying in which we all
contributed, one way or another. I shal say more about this later. • As part of the theme of dying we invited Sean Davison to address us one evening.
Sean Davison is a professor of biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape who assisted his terminal y il mother in New Zealand commit suicide. He was subsequently arrested in New Zealand, taken to court, and found guilty of inciting and procuring his mother’s suicide and sentenced to five months’ house arrest in New Zealand. • Louise Cul lead us through some of the religious poems by Sir Walter Raleigh
(born mid-16th century), George Herbert (1st half of 17th century), and Gerard Manly Hopkins (2nd half of 19th century). • Barbara Innes, a former high school art teacher, guided us through some art works
of the crucifixion from the early Renaissance to the 17th century. What makes the
Renaissance era so interesting is, in the words of Barbara, that
‘One of the characteristics of this period was a desire for knowledge, based on scientific observation and experimentation, rather than on philosophical deduction alone. Another was the humanist admiration of the physical beauty and mental ability of human beings, who were now considered to be the high point of God’s creation, rather than the unworthy, sinful creatures whose symbolical y distorted forms populate the artworks of the Middle Ages.’ • Alastair Rodger gave us a fascinating account of his maternal grandfather, Robert
Donald McMinn, who grew up in Scotland in the late 19th century in a very poor
family. From a very early age he wanted to do missionary work in Africa and through
sheer hard work, studying and perseverance he set sail for Africa to work at the
Livingstonia Mission in the northern part of Nyasaland, today’s Malawi. He was gifted
with languages and eventual y translated the Bible into Chibemba, a language
spoken in the Northern and North-Eastern parts of Zambia. It is a fascinating
account and I hope Alastair wil stil get a chance to share it with the Rondebosch
United congregation.
• After I had learned about the “third wave” of Pentecostalism in South Africa which
is based on a prosperity gospel, we asked Ilana van Wyk from the University of Cape Town came to speak to us about it. She had done her PhD on “The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God” in Durban and told us a disturbing tale of the naked preaching of a message that the pursuit of wealth is what religion is all about. • Martin Welz gave us an insightful account of Steve Jobs, the founder and inventor
of Apple computers, Apple Mac and much more, and Julian Assange, the CEO of
Wikeleaks. Martin pointed out the differences, but also the similarities between the
two men. They both had difficult childhoods and became rebels as a result, both with
the aim of making the world a better place, but raising the moral question whether
the end always justifies the means.
• Louise Cul arranged for us to listen to two recordings where the Franciscan monk Richard Rohr spoke about Saint Paul.
• Chris van der Merwe led us through some chapters of the book, The Meaning of
Jesus: Two Visions, written by two theologians, Marcus Borg and Tom Wright.
In the book Borg and Wright are in conversation with each other, Borg as the
“revisionist” and Wright as the “traditionalist”. The book has many insights that I
wish I could share with you, but there is not enough time here to do so.
• I shared some of the insights from the book Theology: A very short introduction
• I also shared insights on the life story of a most remarkable Dutch Jewish woman, Etty Hillesum, who had the misfortune of living in Hol and during the Nazi
occupation. Under the guidance of an unorthodox Jungian therapist she gradually
became a Christian who made it her vocation to minister to Jews held in a transit
camp in Hol and before they were shipped to concentration camps in the East. She
final y ended up, with her family, as a prisoner in the camp. They were al loaded
onto a goods train to be taken to a gas chamber in the East where they al died.
Through al this Etty Hil esum could never get it into her heart to hate the Germans.
Her tale is told in the wonderful y sensitive book by Patrick Woodhouse, Etty
Hillesum: A Life Transformed
• I also gave presentations on a secular topic on how our employment relations and col ective bargaining systems evolved to reach a stage where the Marikana
could take place.
• Chris van der Merwe took as through the narrative of dealing with post-trauma stress based on the book, Narrating our healing: Perspectives on Working through
, that he and the psychology professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela co-
• He also guided us through some of the memorable books by C S Lewis, the great
writer on Christian faith as well as a book on inter-faith relations. I shal tel you
more about both of these later.
• Selina Palm came two evenings to tell us about the great German theologian, Jurgen Moltman, and his theology of hope. Selina is doing or has done her
doctorate on Moltman
• We have been reading a few chapters of the novel Unexpected Pilgrimage of
Harold Fry
• Final y, we are just completing our reading of Henri Nouwen’s Return of the
Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. It is a remarkable book based on
Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son. Nouwen sat for days looking
at the painting and contemplating its meaning and came to many deep insights. One
insight he came up with is that it was not only the younger prodigal son who had to
return to his father, but also the elder son who was resentful of his father’s joyful
celebration of his profligate younger brother’s homecoming. A further insight is that
a son eventually becomes a father who welcomes his children home. The lesson is
clear for us, as we al have elements of the lost son and the elder brother within us
as wel as the calling to become the loving father and mother who welcome their
children home.
How we arrived at all these topics
At the beginning of the year we start off with a planning meeting. When the House Church was stil relatively new we used a “Particaplan” technique. Everybody could write down on a smal piece of paper what he or she would like the group to do: One suggestion per sheet of paper, up to 4 or so suggestions per person. We would then collectively sort the suggestions into broad themes. After that we would vote on our choices, not a straightforward vote, but one that would show the strength of our feeling as well graded from -5 to +5. If one really likes a theme one can give it +5 points, if one really does not like it -5 points, if one is neutral 0 points. We then choose the themes with the most points and start the detailed planning of who wil do which theme. We mostly draw on our own resources. We ourselves prepare presentations on the themes we choose. Occasional y we get an outsider to come and address us or lead us on a theme. Sometimes we run dry with nothing scheduled for the week or weeks ahead. Then we play around with ideas and suggestions until something comes up. That is how we came to reading a novel, for instance. Some Themes we dealt with in greater depth.
What fol ows is a more detailed account of some of our activities that have been mentioned above. (Due to a shortage of time at the church service, they could not al be presented. The presentation at the service commenced with the theme of growing old and dying proposed by Hugh Lloyd.) Louise Cull invited us to listen to two recordings where the Franciscan monk Richard
spoke about Saint Paul. Rohr made many interesting points. The ones that struck me
most in the first recording were
1) Like Jesus, Paul was a total y Jewish man trying to reform Judaism; 2) Paul was a Jew who believed he had found the Messiah; 3) Paul was a mystic. He had a mystical experience in which Christ revealed himself to 4) Paul hardly ever quotes Jesus in his epistles. He preaches Jesus. In the second recording there were some equal y remarkable insights, but this time it was broader, about humanity in general. The most striking ones are: 1) Consciousness is no longer confined to the human brain. Consciousness is much wider than that, it is universal. The universe is an explosion of divine knowing, of consciousness. 2) A high proportion of human beings live unconsciously. The original sin is to remain in 3) The little self in us has to go so that the great self, the God Self can be born in us; 4) There are people who heal you by just being in their presence. Louise also presented us with religious poetry for two evenings. She read us poems by Sir
Walter Raleigh (born mid-16th century), George Herbert (1st half of 17th century), and Gerard
Manly Hopkins (2nd half of 19th century). The poem I like best is the one by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack “A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here:” “I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare, Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Alastair Rodger gave us a fascinating account of his maternal grandfather, Robert
Donald McMinn
, who grew up in Scotland in the late 19th century in a very poor family. At
the age of 11 he had to leave school and start working in a coal mine to help support the
family. From an early age he wanted to do missionary work in Africa and continued his
schooling after hours. He also took lessons in Latin and Greek from his minister. He
achieved his goal when at the age of 23 he set sail for Africa to work at the Livingstonia
Mission in the northern part of Malawi (then cal ed Nyasaland).
Robert McMinn must have been a remarkably clever and dedicated man. In those early years at Livingstonia he became fluent in Chichewa, Chitonga and Chitumbuka and translated parts of the New Testament into two of these languages. The experiences and escapades of Robert in an Africa that was very different from what it is now, are fascinating. For instance, to travel from Cape Town to Nyasaland then, was an adventurous journey that would take weeks, if not months, to complete. It involved sailing up the east coast of Africa to Chinde at the mouth of the Zambesi River, then transferring to a smaller river steamer which would go up the Zambezi and a tributary, the Shire, as far as a series of rapids. From there the journey would continue overland on foot to Blantyre! It would take far too long to narrate Robert’s experiences now. Maybe sometime Alistair could give a talk to the Rondebosch United Congregation on the life of this remarkable man of God. Martin Welz brought us back into today’s modern world with instant communication thanks
to the information technology revolution and the internet with a review of two books he had
read, the one on Steve Jobs, the founder and inventor of Apple, Apple Mac and iPhone,
and the other by Julian Assange, the CEO and founder of Wikileaks.
The two men are very different: Jobs was driven by a vision to invent and create what everyone said was impossible – and it had to be aesthetic, simple to use and as close to perfect as possible; whereas Assange sought to free the individual from the dominant power of states and multinational corporations through the grip they hold on the collection and dissemination – or withholding - of information. Nonetheless, Martin pointed out, the two men also shared much in common: both Jobs and Assange had very difficult childhoods and were rebels in their youth, both of them were driven by a desire to make the world a better place. They both raise the question of whether the means ever justify the end. Jobs was apparently impossible to work with and Assange deliberately broke the law - and many confidences. As Martin pointed out, no one escapes the moral imperative. Hugh Lloyd persuaded us to look at the theme of growing old and dying. Although it is
a topic relevant to all of us, it is particularly pertinent for Hugh who once had a near-death
experience after he rescued his son from a sure death by diving into the Zambezi river after
a crocodile had taken his son. Hugh saved his son, but lost an arm and almost bled to death
were it not for a series of serendipitous events that got him into the care of a doctor and
flown to a hospital.
Many of us had a go at dealing with the topic. I led a session on our attitude towards old
age and dying and what our expectations are. My own approach is to lead a life that
prepares me for death. By this I mean that I strive to do the best I can with the talents I
was given, to show love and care towards my neighbour and to carry out God’s will in as far
as I can figure out what God wants me to do. With this approach I hope to accept death
with a tranquil mind. The discussion afterwards was remarkably open where people freely
voiced their doubts, hopes and fears about dying and an afterlife. Martin put the cat among
the pigeons by asking, ‘Is there an afterlife? His mother, when asked whether she believed
in an afterlife or not, answered that she was prepared for both contingencies!
At another session Alastair presented an account of how the Bible viewed life after death in
both the Old and the New Testament. Jennifer presented some poems chal enging death in
quite different ways. For instance, the first two lines of John Donne’s “Death be not Proud”
“Death be not proud, though some have cal ed thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,” The first verse ends, “nor yet canst thou kil me;” Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go Gentle in that Good Night” first verse reads: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But it was Gavin who came up with the most profound insights from a book entitled Plato
not Prozac! Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems
by Lou Marinoff (Harper
Col ins). The only way I can do justice to the insights of the book is to quote directly from it.
Marinoff writes:
“In the West, we are always shocked by death. We don’t deal wel with it. In fact, we hardly deal with it at all. We like it well enough as entertainment, gorging on violent television, movie , and video-game deaths. Take it off the screen and into real life, however, and we can’t bear to watch. So we cruise along on the good ship Denial, thinking life goes on forever, thinking death won’t happen or won’t happen to us. (p.235) . . . “But thinking death won’t happen, and then being devastated when it does, isn’t productive. The first big hurdle you face in handling the loss of a loved one, or confronting your own mortality, is to acknowledge death as a part of life.” (p.236) An insight from Marinoff is about the ‘philosphical disposition’ we need to develop about death, loss, and mourning. It is ‘to appreciate life. Living in the moment is the best way to do that. You need awareness of impermanence’ to keep you on the right path. (p.239) Another insight of Marinoff’s comes from understanding what happens to us when a loved one close to us dies. He writes: “When people we love die, whole universes die with them. Those of us stil here are not sad for them; we’re sad for us. Those people were integral to our existence. Their lives were lamps that lit ours. We loved and were loved by them; suddenly we feel love less and feel less loved. … We’re missing something that cannot be restored. What is lost is not just the person, but our relationship to that person. (p.236) … “So what we need after someone has died is to let go of that person, to comfort ourselves, and to treasure our memories.” (p.237) What Marinoff has to say about religion’s role with regards to death many believers may find very provocative. He writes, “Every religion provides answers about what death means. … Hobbes wrote that al religions are derived from fear. From Freud onward, many psychologists and psychiatrists agree: people are terrified of death and so invent happily-ever-after stories (religions) to compensate for their ultimate – but also infantile – anxieties. Whether or not you like that formulation, it helps to remember that humans are generally wary of the unknown. Death is the ultimate example of the unknown. … But beyond addressing fear of the unknown, religions also provide hope: hope for something beyond this world. Religion wil help you face the unknown, especial y if you have strong faith.” (pp. 237 and 238) Chris van der Merwe, an emeritus professor of Afrikaans and Nederlands at the University
of Cape Town, led us on a range of interesting topics based on books by noteworthy
authors. He first revisited the great writer on Christian religion and faith, C S Lewis.
The first book we encountered was his A Grief Observed. It is a remarkable book. At first
C S Lewis rages against God at the untimely and cruel way in which his wife died from
cancer with periods in which there seemed to be complete recovery, only for setbacks to
recur. At an early stage of his bereavement and height of his agony, C S Lewis wrote,
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you wil be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the other side. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more empathic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows.” (p.7) But C S Lewis does not stop there. His sense of forsakenness turns to bitterness and even suspicion of God’s goodness. He starts off with the profound insight that “You never know how much you real y believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” (p.20) “What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, ‘good’? Doesn’t all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? What have we to set against it?” (p.26) But voicing his doubts was a turning point for C S Lewis. He says, a few paragraphs later, “I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather than a thought.” (p.27) He gradual y comes to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of bereavement and the nature of God. It started with an unexpected experience he had one morning. His heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks, the sun was shining and there was a light breeze. C S Lewis, who refers to his deceased wife as H, continues: “And suddenly at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H least, I remembered her best. Indeed it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. … It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.” (p.39) “passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them.” (p.47) At the same time his insights and relationship with God changes and deepens. He writes: “I have gradual y been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. … “On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there’s also ‘To him that hath shal be given.’ After al , you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.” (p.40) And so C S Lewis comes to realise that God had shattered the idea he had of God in order to bring him closer to God. He writes, “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast.” (p.55) (iconoclast n. a person who attacks cherished beliefs or a person who destroys religious images. Concise Oxford and Collins dictionaries.) Final y, C S Lewis comes to terms with the death of H, his wife, and his relationship with God. “And now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at al . I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.” (p.59) !!! Another book that Chris introduced to us, has the puzzling title, Why did Jesus, Moses,
the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
It was written by Brian McLaren, an
Evangelical pastor in the United States of America. In 1986 he founded the Cedar Ridge
Community Church, a nondemoninational church in the Baltimore-Washington region. His
book deals with the relationship between the different faiths. A principal aim of the book is
to help us Christians develop a firm “Christian identity that is strongly benevolent toward
people of other faiths, accepting them not in spite of the religion they love, but with the
religion they love.” (p.32)
McLaren develops this theme with the following burning question posed by E Stanley Jones: “Wil the present Christian Church be big enough, responsive enough, Christlike enough to be the organ through which Christ wil come to our multi-faith world? For mind you, the Spirit of Christ is breaking out beyond the borders of the Christian Church.” (p.265) Stanley Jones (1884–1973) was a professor of theology who became a Methodist missionary in India where he struck up a friendship with Gandhi. He asked Gandhi how Christianity could become “a part of the national life of India and contribute its power to India’s uplift and redemption”. (pp.266-268) Gandhi’s reply was wise and incisive. He made four suggestions. “I would suggest, first of al , that al of you Christians, missionaries and al , begin to live more like Jesus Christ. “Second, I would suggest that you must practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down. “Third, I would suggest that you must put your emphasis on love, for love is the centre and soul of Christianity. Fourth, I would suggest that you study the non-Christian religions and culture more sympathetical y in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.” (p.268) The author of the book, Brian McLaren, seems to be a person who has been able to live up to Gandhi’s suggestions. One of the stories he tel s demonstrates this very clearly. After the 9/11 attack by al-Qaeda, the radical Islamic group,   on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in which almost 3000 people died altogether, McLaren’s congregation held a prayer service. While praying, he felt an inner voice speaking to him, saying “Your Muslim neighbours are in danger of reprisals. You must try to protect them.” (p.225) The next morning he wrote and made copies of a letter extending friendship toward Muslim communities in his area “offering solidarity and help if simmering anti-Muslim sentiments should be translated into action”. (p.225) He set out to deliver the letter himself to three mosques nearby, but found the first two locked tight for fear of reprisals. At the third mosque he managed, rather rudely, to get into the grounds and hand his letter to the imam. As the imam read the letter his eyes became moist and suddenly threw his arms around McLaren embracing him as if he were welcoming back a long lost son. (p.226) That was the start of a friendship between Brian McLaren and the imam that extended into a friendship between their congregations. The friendship grew through a series of interfaith dialogues they organised. (p.227) “Christian mission begins with friendship – not utilitarian friendship, the religious version of network marketing – but genuine friendship that translates love for neighbours in general into knowing, appreciating, liking and enjoying this or that neighbour in particular.” (p.223) Where do we go from here
We have always been an inclusive House Church. When we made short announcements on our House Church to the Rondebosch United congregations we would extend an open invitation to members of the congregation to join us. In fact, seven of our 12 members joined the House Church through these open invitations at RUC services. However, on this occasion we cannot extent an invitation to people to join us as we are full. I am afraid we cannot seat any more people in Louise’s smal lounge. So we suggest that you think of starting up your own House Church. Based on our experience, here is some advice we can share about running a House Church. The first essential requirement is that you need to have an aim and engage in topics that are meaningful to you. That is what will keep you going. A second requirement is that there needs to be a leader who takes ultimate responsibility for the group and makes sure it remains on track and keeps going. The leadership should be very open and participative, making sure that everybody’s voice is heard and need is addressed. A suggestion for running the House Church is to draw on the resources within the group. The members of the group themselves can harvest wonderful ideas, topics and themes based on their own experiences of life that they can share with the group. Final y, the group should only adopt practices and rituals with which it is comfortable. They need to develop gradually over time, organically, naturally and playfully. Above al , make it all meaningful to your faith and may God bless you in whatever you decide to do.

Source: http://www.rondeboschunited.org.za/sites/default/files/House%20Church%20Report%2011%20Aug%202013_0.pdf


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