Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Church is My Family--And Pie is Good

I read a really great blog post today that blessed me deeply. You see, I would say that lately my church--namely, our preaching pastor--has been embroiled in some controversy. But let's just be honest -- my church is embroiled controversy, usually related to Pastor Mark, more often than it isn't. 

So yes, some controversy is rumbling, and what's discouraging is seeing people openly bashing Mars Hill, on a personal mission to see Mark chased from the pulpit with torches and pitchforks, so finally it will be proven that God is a good god. Jason and I intentionally tend to keep mum on these topics publicly, but I decided that it's time to say something. Maybe I'll be opened up to to vile hate, like the people who said they hoped I would die of cancer when I once spoke up to defend a poor decision (that was being repented of) from some CG leaders when I was in Ballard. People legitimately wanted me to suffer and die--and the cancer was the tamest thing I can remember that I would even recall here. 

My husband asked me why I want to post this, for the motivation. He read it over and said it feels like a scolding tone, more of a, "Stop that!," than a, "Let us look at Jesus together on this." He is a wise one, that guy. Here is, as best I can see it, my heart in writing this. When I first became a Christian I thought everyone pretty much believed the same thing. Then, in college, I heard about arguments over whether we choose God or he chooses us, if we have free will, if a female elder can even be a Christian because she's so wrong--or if those who don't believe females can Biblically be elders are even Christians because they are so wrong. The list is endless, really. And not much has changed--the growth of the internet in the last 10 years of my life has made me realize the disagreements in Christianity are wide and honestly only Jesus himself knows the number though it grows every day. 

Just last night, reading this over, Jason corrected something I said, told me to quote the scripture itself and not state the inference I believe because not all Christians believe the same as me on that. I, very honestly, said, "People don't believe God turned his back on Jesus as he hung on the cross?" I really didn't know that not everyone takes Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 to mean that Jesus suffered the lack of God's approving presence as he paid the penalty for sin on the cross. That is fundamental to me and I had a hard time comprehending that others, including theologians far wiser than I, interpret that very, very differently. But these are siblings in Christ; maybe more practically like 4th cousins in the faith, but they love and follow Jesus. That's what really matters.

So how does that apply to this post? I want to make clear that I can tend to see the things I don't like, or even the parts of things I don't agree with in people with whom I generally agree, and the temptation is to take that little sliver of the pecan pie where the nuts are a little more finely chopped and wonder then if the whole pie is rotten. Do you see the fickleness of the human heart there? But I take that to Jesus, ask him what I can still learn from this person. And if it is a mincemeat pie (yuck!) then I just don't partake in that pie. It's still a pie, just not a flavor I prefer. 

Let's set up this analogy clearly; I didn't intend to but I just rolled with the pie and so we're going there. Every analogy breaks down at some point but this one serves its purpose. So, the Writer of the recipe is God, namely Jesus Christ. He has declared pie as the only true dessert--cakes and cookies and puddings seem to also be dessert, but Jesus says pie is the only dessert. Pie, then, is Christianity and the other seeming desserts are other religions and they aren't what God has declared the only true dessert. (For the record, if you don't agree with that, this post is absolutely not for you.) The recipe for pie is the Bible, and over time a whole lot of recipes for various pies have come out of those studying the recipe. So pies are various churches, denominations, theological stances. Bakers of the pies are the pastors, theologians, etc. And eaters are Christians in the church, relying on Jesus for which baker they should be serving. What makes a pie a pie is that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Writer of the recipe, and he died for sin and only in him can we eat pie. There are false pies that look like pie, say tarts, but we aren't talking about those either. An example of this is the prosperity Gospel that says it's about Jesus but in actuality it's just about gorging on something sweet for the sake of the cravings of the tongue without knowing the Writer. 

So:

Writer of recipe = Jesus.
Recipe = Bible.
Pie = only real dessert.
Different flavors of pie = different denominations, churches, theological stances.
Bakers = leaders in those different sects, namely pastors but also theologians.
Eaters = Christians feeding off of those interpreting the recipe and feeding the pie. Eaters are responsible to seek Jesus for which pie they should be partaking of, the baker to love and serve.


You with me?

Let's do this! 

I have seen growing tendencies among Christians to take entire flavors of pie and question if they're even pie. And let's just admit right now that there are a lot. of. flavors. of. pie. in. the. world. The saddest part is Christians who looooooved pumpkin pie, but then they had a rotten piece. Jesus made the recipe, but the baker thought it would be to the glory of God to add some extra ingredient and it's yucky. Maybe in their sin they used a rotten pumpkin to make the puree. Or they ran out of sugar and thought salt would be a good substitute because they were too lazy to go to the store and buy more sugar. Hey, they look the same, right? Or they really intended to use sugar and mistakenly used salt, maybe due to chaos in the kitchen. But then in all scenarios they said, "No, it tastes great. I don't have to eat it, obvs [PRIDE], but you do, and you will like it. You will tell everyone else it's amazing and they have to like it, too, and if they don't the problem is YOU, eater and sharer, not the pie and certainly not my kitchen skills." Let's just be honest and admit that happens, because no matter how perfect the recipe and the Writer of the recipe when sinners are the bakers and distributors things get messy. Sometimes the pie tastes yucky and we forget what a blessing it is to be able to eat pie.

Even so, that doesn't mean that the problem is pumpkin pie. And we don't get to declare all pumpkin pies bad, or all bakers of pumpkin pies bad, because of one awful experience. Sometimes you're called to keep buying that baker's pie, and to love them and pray that they repent of laziness and go buy sugar, or repent of carelessness and make sure the sugar isn't salt. Most importantly is to pray for them to be humble, that when they blow it they admit that was a nasty pie, that it's their fault, but keep going back to the master recipe and making more pies. Sometimes the pie made you so sick, or the baker is so wrong in the recipe, that Jesus would give you the grace to go to a different baker. 

Most importantly, though, whatever baker God calls you to is someone you need to patiently love and serve, even if you would bake the pie differently. And maybe God would use your love and patience and service to help that baker become a better baker, maybe with a more well equipped kitchen or better ingredients or whatever. That's a lot more work than saying, "I don't like this pie. I will find better pie, a baker who is completely indiscernable from the recipe writer," over and over again. You know the issue with that heart? The pie that you LOVE with the first bite will eventually become problematic.  Over time you'll swear it used to be better (why, the pie changed! Not you!) and soon enough you'll want different pie from yet another better baker.

The other big issue is people who hate pumpkin pie. If you NEVER liked pumpkin pie and looooooove apple pie why would you concern yourself with going around being a pumpkin pie inspector? You don't plan to eat it, because ew, nasty, and yet you're very concerned that others might like it and how dare they! You spend very little effort or energy on helping your local baker, whom God has called you to, make a better apple pie. But by golly you are the expert in studying the reviews of pumpkin pies around the nation, pies you've never tasted and never intend to! Surely the Writer of the recipe has appointed you to declare everything wrong with them, often questioning if pumpkin pie is really even pie. Apple pie is the real pie and anyone with any hint of tastebuds knows that. How can those who have never had pie taste pumpkin and believe pie is good? You don't help the apple pie distributors, despite your deep conviction that apple is best; nope, you focus on how to be a part of shutting down the pumpkin industry. 

And oh, how you rejoice when the bakers of the pumpkin pies you really hate are found to have any issues. You scour the pumpkin pie association websites of copying recipes or buying fake pumpkin on the black market or getting caught sans aprons with their sous chef. You despise the most famous pumpkin pie bakers, denigrate those who have found a lot of joy and satiation and desire to share that particular baker's recipe. So you search for hints of sin, join into controversy where there actually is none. But if there eventually is sin that comes into the light? Oh, how you rejoice in the downfall of that baker and tsk, tsk the people foolish enough to have eaten that baker's pie. You don't care that said eaters are now hungry, hurting, or struggling with believing the Writer of the recipe is good since their baker went out of the kitchen in flames. Had they been wise enough to eat apple pie, or at least not that baker's pie, they'd be fine so it's all their fault, suckas. 

This is all wrong. I say this not just nit picking them out there, because I see it in my own heart. Full vulnerability here: there is a very, very respected baker of pumpkin pie beloved by many. But let's say he likes to add extra cinnamon to his pie while I really prefer extra nutmeg. I became embroiled in conflict that has endured for the better part of two years with an extra cinnamon lover who adores said baker. And even though the baker bakes truly great pumpkin pie, eaten by many to their joy and the glory of God, I was hurt by the cinnamon-y loving parts of this person in my community with whom I was in conflict. 

I found myself rolling my spiritual eyes and saying, "Oh, hey-ell no! I am not picking up my fork for that cinnamon nastyfest." This looked like reading articles from said baker with a spirit of criticism, looking for specks in his blog posts friends shared on Facebook, instead of being honest about the plank in my own eye. In the meantime, the person I was in conflict with was doing the exact same thing regarding nutmeg, specifically criticizing my posts and conversations about bakers who love nutmeg. I refused to see how cinnamon pointed her to Jesus while she didn't want to rejoice that nutmeg pointed me to Jesus. Yet we both love pumpkin pie. 

How sad is that? We both desperately need Jesus, and by the grace of God, he is the one who showed us that it's to God's glory that we both even get to eat pie, let alone that he's united us in loving pumpkin pie. It is sin on our part to elevate ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg over the pie itself and to lose sight of the Writer of the recipe in the process. I am not looking down from my perch of pie-discerning-perfection to tell every other pie eater how to be just like me because I am the worst of pie critics.

Why am I writing this then? To pimp pumpkin pie, declare it as the Pie of Pies? To shame those who like apple pie? To scold and say, "Stop it," to the pie critics? No. I am writing this because I know from the depths of my soul that it grieves the Writer of the pie recipes that we spend so much time arguing about the pie, insisting which flavor is best, instead of enjoying pie, praising the Writer for his recipe, loving and serving the imperfect bakers he's called to sweat and burns in the kitchen, and sharing the pie with others who have never tasted it because they live on a steady diet of refuse and garbage and don't even know pie exists. My desire is not to deify nor demonify any baker but to, I hope by the grace of God, exhort all pie lovers to look at the Writer of the recipe. To ask him for wisdom regarding our opinions about various pies, and, more importantly, to cleave to him for wisdom in when it is appropriate to share those opinions, how to share them, and how to engage with others whose opinions are just as strong but different from ours.

Soooooo...that's my intro. Ha! 

I told you I read a blog post, so let's get to that now.

Here is the money quote from the blog post, a blog called Levi the Poet, that's making it's way around mah Facebook:

"Frankly, I'd just love to see people as devoted to their own pastors and churches as they are to dismantling mine. It's always easier to stand outside of something and criticize it than it is to put in the hard work of cultivating the changes you'd like to see."

If you walk through daily life with me you know that I love my church, that it has become my family. You also know there are parts I don't love, areas where I wrestle with bitterness and plank-speck syndrome, areas where I think I know best and am consistently called to humility, to love, to prayer, to submission to elders even on some decisions I just don't love. My church, my family, is Mars Hill Church, the Bellevue location. 

Yes, I go to Mars Hill. I am a deacon and have served faithfully and am user 626 on The City (which happens to also be my husband's place of work)--in other words, it's been awhile!

I say this because the amount of hatred and vitriol toward my church, constantly ebbing and flowing on the internet, both frustrates and saddens me. If you talked about my husband that way on Facebook--even if he was legit wrong--I would delete you as a friend, for what could we choose to unite on if the person Jesus has knit my life as one with is despised by you? If I spoke of your spouse in such ways I would expect the same of you--in fact, I'm not sure I would publicly say those things about your husband unless I wanted to get a rise out of you. 

If you had ugly things to say directly to me about my husband in real life, we'd have a talk. If you continued insisting you had the right to slander him because of how wrong he was, I would pull away from the friendship. He's simply higher on the priority list than you are, no matter who you are, unless your name is Jesus and you rose from the dead to save me from my sins. 

It's not so very different with my church family. When you denigrate Mars Hill you are talking about me, my husband, my children, and friends who are godly, sweet, genuine people with whom my soul is knitted eternally. Those of us in Mars Hill, my church family, are serving our God where he has called us to love and serve him. If you find a person in our family who says Mars Hill is perfect and Pastor Mark is short of being Jesus himself only because the Bible says only Jesus is Jesus, that person is an extreme aberration. And, for the record, obviously wrong.

If you are one of the people who despise Mars Hill, one on the outside looking in, I ask you this--have you ever considered that many people at Mars Hill have a much better idea than you what could be the areas of sin and struggle and lack of wisdom and carelessness and everything in between at our church? Far better than you and your blogs that claim to be about the Kingdom of God while tearing down anyone they don't think is right, to be certain. 

If you have been hurt by Mars Hill, have been on the receiving end of the sin of man that nailed Jesus to the cross, this deeply grieves me and truly, I am so, so, deeply sorry. I hate that it's my own family that did that to you. But are you one who has left bitterly? Do you watch and hope to see an implosion, be it of Mark himself and/or our entire church? Do you like the critical, ugly posts on Facebook, or even join into the comment fray? As you do so, have you considered that you are grieved over and ached for by Jesus followers who are still at Mars Hill, that we don't see you as an enemy though that's how you treat us? Do you believe Jesus that we're not all mindless cult members who believe a false Gospel? 

I am not saying all who have left are in this bucket; there are some, though, who say they just want Jesus to be glorified but their Facebook and conversations are more often about how much Mars Hill sucks and not about how great Jesus is. They deny bitterness, but from the overflow (ESV says abundance) of the heart the mouth speaks and the fingers type. I can say that there are people I deeply respect who either have left with good will and make following Jesus--not ripping on Mars Hill--their continued mission and still others who are hurt, are angry and bitter, but know it and are walking it out with Jesus without slandering Mark or Mars Hill publicly. That is a maturity I don't even know that I would have if we chose to leave bitterly during times of great desire to do so. 

Nonetheless, there are some who claim a spiritual superiority over Mars Hill after leaving, to know truth as we do not because we are so blind and foolish, but their efforts to share this truth comes in the form of pointing out why Mars Hill is wrong every chance they get. It's rooted in bitterness and does not glorify Jesus regardless of their claims. Maybe you land somewhere in these buckets, and it's best that you be honest about which one and let Jesus work.

The truth is, if I wanted to make a case for why I should leave Mars Hill I could. If the standard is a church must be basically perfect, then I will find every shortcoming, hunt down rumors or even first hand accounts of pain inflicted by leaders (beyond my own, and some exists even there), make a list, and then use it as a reason to go find a better church. But then, I'm pretty sure that would be true of *any* church. I know it's true of mine. And honestly, there probably are churches where I would find the things I wish Mars Hill had more of, less of the things I don't enjoy. But I'm not at one of those churches because Jesus hasn't called me there.

[Edit: Only Jesus knows why the next paragraph is formatted so weird. I tried to fix it, to no avail, so I have to let it be what it is.]

Let's be absolutely clear here: I am not saying that every single possible criticism is ever wrong. But there is a BIG difference between a Tim Challies seeking to write a balanced review of a Mark Driscoll book, or John Piper weighing in on the celebrity pastor culture (of which he is a part), or other lesser known names who are doing the same on their blogs. I'm not calling out every single post that isn't glowingly positive about Mars Hill. I'm talking about the blogs I won't name because they don't need more traffic, the ones who in name are dedicated to the Gospel but spend a lot of energy posting about every single possible negative thing so that when something that seems like more of a biggie comes up it's like throwing a propane tank into a bonfire and things explode. These are the blogs who have a Mark Driscoll category, while every Driscoll related post also gets filed under "people who don't actually represent Jesus." 

If you find yourself favoring those blogs, seeking out and salivating over the negative posts, have you considered that there are Mars Hill insiders, long time members, who know the ugly far better than you? Have maybe even been on the receiving end of the things you declare are straight from Satan? And yet they daily lay down their lives to love and serve and pray for the glory of Jesus' name even though it's through a broken vessel. Did you know they really do love and serve the same Jesus as you, even though you don't like them and even though you feel entitled to make decisions about their eternity because you don't like their leader?

Despite the sin of human leaders God still works and changes lives. He calls faithful people to remain even when it would be easier to say, "Ope, I see sin, I'm moving on,"? We don't all think we should just defend everything Mark does and be bullheaded and foolish, even if we do agree with his convictions. We don't always, or maybe even often, like how he can at times go about sharing those convictions. We remember, though, that Mark Driscoll is a man with his entire life blown up to be inspected and it's a hell of a lot easier to have a problem with him than it is to love him. This is true in my marriage--I know my husband's sin better than any other human being. Yet I see Jesus working in him, making him kinder and more humble and more repentant, and even when he makes decisions that I don't like, I am with him for the long haul because Jesus has called me to him. And for the record, you might think, "Well, ugh, I wouldn't have married that guy." Great news--you didn't, you don't have to, and you won't. I am glad I did mary Jason. You don't need to feel sorry for me, and your time is best spent focusing on who you are married to. 

You see, this marriage analogy very intentionally applies to my church. I'm not being sarcastic, either. I understand Mars Hill isn't for everyone and there's a lot about Pastor Mark that people don't like. The thing is, you don't have to be a Mars Hill member, you don't have to read Mark's books or blogs, watch his interviews, etc. If you go to that place of, "Yeah, well I'm fine because I'm smart enough not to believe the stuff he says, but those poor other people who might be influenced by him, become Christians and believe stuff he believes and not stuff I believe..." then remember, again, that many people have met Jesus through Pastor Mark. These people worship Jesus, believe the real Gospel that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. God is at work in and through those people. Even if you don't like everything, there's a big difference between Mark yelling at men in an angry tone and the Joel Osteens preaching of a false gospel in which God is your genie in a Bible. 

But even if what Mark says isn't exactly what you want said, Jesus himself did say that we need not try to stop those who do a great work in Jesus' name just because we don't perceive them to be on the same team. And Mark himself admits he doesn't like everything he's ever said and done--it just happens to be recorded and written about gobs of times over. You might think that's his fault, as he doesn't have to record his sermons or publish his books, et al, but then I remind you that God has changed lives through those things and you don't have to partake of them. By the way, though--those of us who have been at Mars Hill for awhile have seen Pastor Mark change and grow and be sanctified. And we're listening to every sermon, reading every book, watching the interviews. We have a lot more information to base our assessment of his growth on than the sound bytes picked up by people with an axe to grind. 

But--and if you've been skimming, focus in now--hear me on this. I have wrestled through these very conversations at times with my husband, how we feel about megachurches and having our preaching pastor be a guy who is a celebrity (and a divisive one at that) and who feels like an enigma more than a shepherd. We always land in the same place: Jesus has called us here. Jesus took two broken newlyweds six years ago who thought they were fine, thank you very much. Jesus then flooded us with the grace to see that we need him desperately. Jesus did this by placing us in the body of Christ that is Mars Hill Church. 

Since coming to Mars Hill, not only has he changed our hearts and lives and breathed his Spirit into our marriage, but Jesus has called us to lead here. We've been called to love others just as broken as we are as leaders of both community and Redemption Groups. We're sinners leading sinners, and we're leaders in this church that is often reviled. It's not always fun. Sometimes--truthfully, often--we wish our calling was to a small congregation no one has ever heard of except for its members and by those loved and served by said small church in the local community. That just feels more New Testament to us. Note that I said more New Testament, and not the only way to do NT church because the NT itself doesn't say that. 

Despite our regard for small churches, Mars Hill is our home, our family, and we're not quitters when things get hard. Jesus didn't say, "I liked this mission at first, but never mind, I don't like it anymore, I'm peacing out." Not when the nails went in, not when the crown was impaled into his scalp, and not when he cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Jesus knows the sin and folly of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church far better than you do. Even so, Jesus is building up the bride and not trying to crucify her on a cross from which he already came down. 

So long as we are called to this church we are here without yearning for the grass on the other side of fence. This is our family and our home. There are a lot of humble, hard working, sacrificial, and amazing people laying their lives down for the Gospel at Mars Hill Church, submitting themselves to Jesus by submitting to the sinful, imperfect elders of a church body made up of sinful, imperfect members.  

Telling you that, if you are a hater, won't change your mind. I get that. Haters gonna hate. I implore you--ask Jesus if he hates Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill the way you do. Does Jesus revile Mark with disgust? Does Jesus roll his eyes with disdain at what Mars Hill is up to now? Jesus knows the sin and folly of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church far better than you do. Even so, Jesus is building up the bride and not trying to crucify her on a cross from which he already came down. 

You would do well to funnel your Mars Hill frustrations into productivity for what Jesus has called you to as opposed to being against someone else working out their faith with fear and trembling in ways you don't think are fearful or trembly enough. And if you are one who questions if Mark is even a Christian, that is dangerous ground, my friend, because God makes clear time and time again in the Bible that there's a big difference between people we don't like and people who are actually following demons in pretense of Christ. Most importantly, though, God makes clear that the Holy Spirit is the fruit inspector, not you.

You may not like Mars Hill and you don't have to. You might say it's because people get hurt and there's doctrine you don't like and Mark is damaging Jesus' name as you know it to be! Yet Jesus is sovereign even over sin and suffering. If you claim to belong to Jesus, though, you do have to repent when you think you are a better God than Jesus. Jesus loves Pastor Mark and pours more grace on him, even when he does stuff that causes his own faithful congregants to cringe. Even when Mars Hill elders take the church in a direction that is later deemed to have been unwise and we change course. Even when some people do love Mark more than Jesus himself. Even when we do seem to care more about Mars Hill's name than Jesus' no matter what our tag line is. 

Even when we are faithless, Jesus is faithful. It actually is all about Jesus whether we're going about making that known "rightly" or not.

Would you do something? Whether you are an unabashed Mars Hill hater, or you are a wounded Mars Hill expat, or even if you're still at Mars Hill but constantly find yourself questioning ev. er. y. thing. taught and done here, or you are a Mars Hillian and you love your church and feel beat down by the sin within and negativity without, would you do this? 

Ask Jesus to help you to see every time you get critical of Mark and/or Mars Hill, for the Spirit to help you quickly recognize it. Ask the Spirit to help turn your heart to cry out to Jesus. Pray that he would love and minister to this church, that he would soften hearts to repent of sin--including your own--and shine light into darkness, guiding Mars Hill's elders in truth and grace. Pray that you would crave Jesus' glory over anything else, even if the things you don't like never change. Ask for a heart that would be quick to surrender if you are wrong. Pray for the humility to be patient and loving even if you're right. Ask Jesus that he might increase and you might decrease.

You know how I know to ask you to pray that? It's MY prayer. Jesus knows it well; the words are a well-trodden path to the feet of my savior because I have to return again and again and again. Yet with every return trip I only find more grace, and I see Jesus' face instead of my own desires. May you, too.

Finally, remember that Jesus is sovereign. He shuts down the churches he wants to shut down. Other bad churches get to stay on life-support and false teaching churches thrive all the time. Numbers do not prove faithfulness either way. Yet Jesus will do what he wants to do and he probably doesn't need your help. If the Old Testament prophets are any example, we would do well to assume that if we want to be called to shutting down the things and people we don't like then we probably aren't. 

More often than not Jesus uses those who humbly recognize that being used of such a heavy task--burying the church bodies he has determined need to be killed--is far, far beyond their station. So if--and that's a big if--Jesus' will is that he's in the process of shutting down a church then he's likely not called you to help him by reading angry discernment blogs and getting in comment wars. I am certain he hasn't given you the task of going out of your way to tell Mars Hillians how much you despise our church and our pastor, why you are right and we are wrong. His goal is that conversations lead to looking up and seeing him more clearly, not to looking at an an eye level thing and tearing it apart, especially when it's precious to the person you're in conversation with.  Jesus has called you to be humble, to pray, to rest in him, and let him be sovereign. 

Let's pursue that aim together.



[Note: I reserve the right to moderate comments at will.]

6 comments:

  1. Conviction and encouragement to a sometimes weary pie eater... you are wise beyond your years sweet friend.

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  2. You are an encouragement--thank you! I know you can relate to much said here!

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  3. Replies
    1. Thank YOU, Jerry, for your role in helping my husband see Jesus more clearly!

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  4. Thank you Tami. I read this both yesterday and today. Great words my friend.

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    1. Thank you. It's really just overflow of so much rolling around for almost 2 years now. I seriously hope eyes are on Jesus more as a result.

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