Issue #533 -------
May 13, 2012
I had become a new person; and those who knew the
old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved
sensibly was my tailor: he took my measure anew every
time he saw me, whilst all the rest went in with their old
measurements and expected them to fit me.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
"Man and Superman"
William Blake (1757-1827), the acclaimed English poet and painter, observed in his work Auguries of Innocence, "A Robin Red Breast in a Cage puts all Heaven in a Rage." Some might argue that caged birds sing, thus they must be happy. John Webster (1580-1625), however, an Elizabethan playwright, countered in his great tragedy The White Devil, "We think caged birds sing, when indeed they cry." The Creator has placed within the heart of His creation a fervent longing to be free, and this "liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth" [George Washington, in a letter to James Madison, dated March 2, 1788]. Once experienced, liberty is rarely easily surrendered; rather, the love of it increases with each passing day, as does the zeal for preserving it and promoting it. Indeed, to the newly freed, it is unthinkable to ever again live without it. Thus, Patrick Henry (1736-1799), in a speech delivered on March 23, 1775 in Virginia, exclaimed, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" The same sentiment is expressed in New Hampshire's state motto: "Live Free or Die."
As Christians, we "were called to be free" (Gal. 5:13), and God's Son gave His own life that we might live free and not die -- "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1). Therefore, in that same verse, Paul commands us to "stand firm, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." This freedom in Christ is so important that Paul told the Galatian brethren that when "false brothers infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus in order to make us slaves, we did not give in to them for a moment" (Gal. 2:4-5). Nor must we today! If our freedom was important enough for Jesus to die for, it is surely important enough for us to live for! As for those who allow themselves to be intimidated back into religious bondage, Paul says that such ones are "fallen from grace" and "severed from Christ" (Gal. 5:4). Thus, to the legalists among us I simply say, "Get behind me, Satan! Jesus has forever set me free." Never again will I be shackled by sectarianism, trapped by tradition, or ruled by rigid religionists. I will live free or die!
A few days ago I spent some time on the phone with a minister in another state who had struggled for years with the sectarian mindset of several of the "powers that be" within his congregation. I know this devoted brother and his family well, and he is one of the most dedicated disciples of Jesus I've ever known. This past week, however, he finally reached the limit of his patience with the petty party patternists (as one day the Lord Himself will), and he resigned. He is also very seriously considering leaving the Churches of Christ for a less legalistic fellowship (as many of our people are now doing, being equally fed up and frustrated). Although I heard the pain in his voice as we talked over the phone, there was also a deep sense of relief and release. He kept repeating, "I'm free ... I'm free!" He has shed his shackles, and he is now free to serve his Savior without being constantly lambasted and lectured by the legalists as they attempt to confine their adherents within party parameters.
Over the years I have heard from hundreds and hundreds of men, women and young people like the above brother -- disciples distressed over what they are witnessing and experiencing in churches more focused inward than upward and outward. When believers berate other believers, and disciples defame other disciples, and Christians castigate other Christians, something has gone terribly wrong. This is a cancer that literally causes the Body to begin consuming itself. When a disease has advanced to this stage, it takes some fairly radical, and most often very painful, measures to effect any degree of healing. There are times when the spiritually healthy members have to excise the diseased ones, or fight fiercely to eradicate the cause of the disease. There are other times when the "cancer" has spread throughout the local body to such an extent that the spiritually healthy members have to remove themselves for their own spiritual well-being and survival. This is painful; it hurts; it's agonizing; but sometimes it is all one can do.
For decades I have been helping those healthy cells in diseased bodies to fight the disease, and helping those healthy cells in dying bodies to get out and to find a healthier host. It is tragic to witness disciples and congregations wither and die due to the diseases of legalism, factionalism, sectarianism and traditionalism. It is eating away at the Body like a cancer out of control. It is also heart-breaking to see the toll this takes on individual disciples of Christ, some of whom have been so battered and bruised that they are literally scarred for life. Even when they find freedom, at times they have difficulty feeling free. Their past haunts them. Yet, there is great personal satisfaction in trying to be part of the solution to this problem and in helping one's fellow believers, whether they choose to stay on the front lines and fight on for reform, or whether they are war weary and simply long for a quite place of peace for themselves and their loved ones. Over the years I have sought to provide support to such persons, and they in turn have shared with me some of the intimate insights of their struggle and their journey. Their stories have touched my heart, helping me to realize anew each day the worth and power of a ministry devoted to bringing freedom and healing to those overwhelmed by their bondage. In this issue of Reflections I want to share just a few of those stories. May they challenge you and encourage you in your own spiritual journey, as they have mine, and may they motivate you to continue the good fight (or to begin the good fight) to bring freedom to those still in captivity. As the old maxim says, "Till all are free, no one is free; one bound, all bound."
Just a few days ago I received a long email from a dear disciple in Canada who spent many years preaching for a very, very legalistic Non-Institutional Church of Christ (a wing of our movement noted for its extreme religious rigidity, as well as its militancy against all who dare to differ with them). As this brother studied himself out of bondage to the pernicious patternism of this group he increasingly became the target of their attacks. The abuse heaped upon him over the years has taken its toll, and as a result he faces a daily struggle with his own doubts and fears. Intellectually, he knows the Lord has freed him; emotionally, he has yet to fully experience the reality of that liberation. Sadly, this is the condition of a great many individuals who have sought release from the confines of their legalistic brainwashing. For many it becomes a lifelong struggle within themselves to grasp the practical reality of God's grace. In part, this brother from Canada wrote:
"Last month I wrote to you when I was in a deep spiritual struggle. I don't want to sound like I am complaining, as I am not; I am thankful to be alive after all I have endured. I have survived because God has a purpose for me, even though I don't fully grasp it yet. My inner struggle, after a lifelong battle with legalism, often seems more than I can handle, however. What a shame to be like this, when I have such a forgiving, accepting Savior. But my personal reality is: while I know I am free in Christ, I just don't believe I am free!! The legalisms of the past keep resurfacing in my mind and won't give me peace. I love you, Al, and would give anything to have even a little of your confidence in Jesus that leads you safely through your battles. I want to feel the freedom that I know the Bible says is there for us, but my doubting heart will not let me enjoy the release from the bondage of my past. Al, I want you to know that any peace I have enjoyed over the last 20 years has come from you and your writings and your personal encouragement. Please stay the course with me, and perhaps some day God will help me put all this legalistic stuff out of my head and heart. Until that happens, at least I have you!!"
I get many such letters, emails and phone calls ... and they break my heart. I wish there were some magical wand I could wave over them that would forever banish the hurt from their hearts and the doubt from their minds, but there isn't. The damage has been done, and recovery may well take a lifetime (and may never be fully realized). By daily loving and encouraging them, however, and standing by them as they struggle with themselves, progress can be made. I can't help but think of the man who came to Jesus one day, and who "said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief'" (Mark 9:24). Some have been under the oppressive thumb of religious legalism for so long that even when finally set free they may struggle to feel free. The horror of their bondage will likely always be lurking just beneath the surface of their consciousness, just waiting to slip in and insert seeds of doubt and fear. We must be compassionate toward such persons, understanding their personal struggle with their past conditioning. Be patient with them; love them; hug them and weep with them; then lift them up and help them take those next tentative steps forward. I would urge you to read Reflections #250 -- Help Thou Mine Unbelief: Evolution from Doubt to Faith.
There are times when one who has found freedom in Christ, but who is still within a group that is legalistic, may need to physically remove themselves from that association in order to fully realize their freedom in their daily walk with the Lord. Yes, some do choose to stay within these groups and fight fearlessly for reform, but not all are called to this type of spiritual warfare. For those not so called by the Spirit, dissociation may be the best course to follow, painful though that may be in some ways (it is hard to leave people you love, but if it is depriving you of experiencing your freedom in Christ, which He died to secure for you, and is dragging you down, then it may be necessary). I also get letters almost weekly from those who have found freedom in Christ, but who are still in legalistic congregations, and who have decided to move somewhere else. They tell me where they're moving and ask if I know of any grace-centered, Jesus-focused groups of disciples in that area. They are now free, and they want to be with others who are also enjoying their liberty. For example, last Sunday I got the following email from an elder's wife in Tennessee:
"I'm trying hard to think for myself outside the box in which I have lived for 70 years, and am trying to decide what to do when I get to the point where I cannot in good conscience be a part of a group of believers who want to bind on others a view that I do not believe. So far my search for answers has led me to your web site, among other resources. I do not even remember what specific source led me to you, but I am truly benefiting from your writings. I have also found in a used book store three books by Cecil Hook. Last week I found 'Music of the Saints' by Francis J. Winder: a very interesting study of instruments of music in the OT and why they're still pleasing in the NT. I'm learning that worship involves my whole life, not just what I do 'in church,' and that all Ephesians 5 is about is how an individual is to live every day, with 5:19 being no exception. My understandings are changing; now what do I do?! I love the people I worship with and do not want to cause them grief, but I also need to be true to my own convictions. This is complicated by the fact that my husband is an elder here. We will probably be moving in a few months to another state. Do you know of a congregation in ---------, or nearby, where we can worship without this conflict?"
Whenever possible, I try to connect such people with either individuals or congregations that I feel confident will help them in their journey toward greater freedom in Christ. Quite a few Reflections readers around our nation, as well as in other countries, have contacted me over the years and informed me that they are willing to have their names and contact information shared with such persons, and that they are willing to do what they can to assist them. I sincerely thank these individuals for their willingness to be used by the Spirit in this way, and I have received word over the years from grateful disciples who have been greatly encouraged by their loving efforts on their behalf. This kind of support network can be a powerful force in our fight to liberate souls from their bondage to legalism, sectarianism and traditionalism. A minister in New Jersey, for example, has granted me "standing permission" to put anyone in his area in touch with him, as have ministers and elders and concerned, freedom-loving saints in many other places. A 74-year-old woman in California, who was liberated many years ago from the very, very rigid "Old Paths Advocate" One Cup faction within the Churches of Christ, wrote me just the other day, saying, "The greatest blessing my husband and I have found is being free from the shackles that bound us. I know that our disfellowship by the 'law-abiders' was meant to harm us, but God has used it for good. If anyone seeking freedom in our area needs someone to talk with -- you know where to find me!" Again, my heartfelt thanks goes out to such super saints! They are making a significant difference.
As already mentioned, there are some disciples who have come to an awareness and appreciation and acceptance of their freedom in Christ, yet who have chosen to remain within their legalistic groups in the hope that they may influence others to abandon their legalistic perspectives and practices. One such young man from Oregon wrote to me a couple of weeks ago. He stated that this decision was not easily made, but that he feels it was the right one. Nevertheless, he finds it terrifying at times -- much like a sheep dwelling among wolves. He wrote me a very lengthy email (two emails, actually), and I'll share just a few of his thoughts with you so that you may appreciate some of the inner struggles experienced by those who choose to remain among the legalists and preach grace and freedom.
"It has been a while since I last communicated with you. I was one of the young men about whom you wrote last August in Reflections #496 -- Sheep in Wolves' Clothing: Some Practical Considerations for Sheep Dwelling Among Wolves. I was riddled with fears and concerns back then. All I wanted to do at that point was cut and run; no confrontation, nothing known; I was scared to be found out. Since then, and with your help, things have begun to change. My fears have subsided, though not completely, and I desire to be an instrument for the glory of God. I find myself being pulled to stay, and I know that sounds crazy! Why stay?! Right now I just feel it is necessary, although I have decided to embrace and exercise my freedom personally, and to share my convictions with others. I understand that at a point I will be called a rebel, and that withdrawal will come. I admit that every once in a while the thought of these events scares me. But that fear is dying. I chose to stay because I really care for these brethren, and they need to see in me that there are some who simply won't settle for tradition, faulty logic, ignorance of our faith-heritage history, a faulty hermeneutic (CENI), and the tall walls of division we have promoted. I just don't see leaving as the right thing to do right now, for if I leave then nothing will change for them. If I stay, though, and fight on, there just might be a chance some may change. I realize all of this could blow up in my face. If so, then so be it. All I know is that I believe God would want me to take a bold stand, rather than flee. Bro. Maxey, I admit that I'm shaking like a leaf as I write this. I ask you to pray for me, as I just want to glorify God by helping others within our walls to become liberated. I thank you for what you are doing to help us achieve this."
Please keep this young man in your prayers. He understands the truth of what George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once said, "Liberty means responsibility. That's why most men dread it." Those who have found freedom have a moral imperative to help others find it as well. This may be done either within the walls of one's previous confinement, or outside those walls. The former, of course, exposes one to the greatest danger, and thus requires the greater courage. Not all accept this challenge, but those who do need our prayerful support. Those persons within these groups who may be in a position to be heard and to make a difference should seriously consider staying and fighting on for reform. This takes great personal sacrifice, and you will experience the vicious assaults of those who resist change, but it can be a rewarding work. Few, however, are probably in such positions. Thus, for most persons who have found freedom, especially for those who may have children at home, it might be best to get them to a place of spiritual safety away from the deadly environs of legalism. This is probably the best course for the young woman and her children who were the subject of Reflections #531 -- Unchained, But Conflicted: Concerns of a Liberated Disciple, and whose plight touched the hearts of so many of you. I have been in touch with her a number of times since that article came out, and she is slowly, but surely, moving beyond the parameters of her former bondage and into the warmth of a loving Christian fellowship outside her former faith-heritage. She has many questions about the dogmas with which she was indoctrinated, and we have discussed many of them (with discussions continuing). She wrote, in part:
"Thank you, Al. Your comments have been very helpful and I appreciate your prayers. Also, I have read many of your Reflections, and I am still trying to let this all sink into my brain. Like I said, I'm having to 'deprogram' myself. I hate to keep bothering you, but I truly thank you so much for your time. You are a very generous man, and I appreciate your concern for me and my family. I am truly interested in your responses to all these dogmas, as this stuff has been drilled into me since childhood, and so my transition away from it has been anything but easy. Maybe you could continue to provide some insight now and then to help me along in my struggle to find freedom. I will probably email you in the future to give you an update and let you know how things are going. Thank you also for letting me know about the May edition of New Wineskins, which deals with the question of staying or leaving one's church. I look forward to reading it. Have a fantastic rest of the week!!"
Alan Paton (1903-1988), one of South Africa's foremost writers, best known for his novel "Cry, The Beloved Country," which was a passionate cry against racial intolerance and injustice, made a comment in a published article that has long challenged me personally in my own life and work: "To give up the task of reforming society is to give up one's responsibility as a free man" ["The Challenge of Fear," Saturday Review, Sept. 9, 1967]. Our Lord Jesus Christ has set us free, but with this freedom came the obligation to proclaim this freedom to others; and not just proclaim it, but help others to claim it as their own. In this world we are surrounded by tyrants and their tyranny; the same is sadly true in Christendom. Yet, God continues to call us all to freedom from such tyranny, just as He calls a few to stand against the tyrants. These are the freedom fighters, the liberators, the reformers, and the more successful often pay for their success with their lives. Yet, it is a price they are willing to pay. Lord Byron (1788-1824) wrote, "I may stand alone, but I would not change my free thoughts for a throne." Our freedom is precious, it is priceless, and it was purchased by the blood of the Lamb. That's worth fighting for, and, if need be, dying for. May God give us each the courage of conviction to rise to the challenges of our individual callings. As the ancient Greek historian and author Thucydides (c. 460-400 B.C.) rightly observed, "The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage."
One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism
(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice
(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE and NOOK
2012 VACATION -- It has been a wonderful year of service to our precious Lord, to our community in association with the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ (we are now entering our fifteenth year in the high-mountain desert of the great Southwest), and to the thousands who weekly take time to reflect upon my Reflections on various biblical topics and texts. No matter how much one enjoys one's work (and I truly do), it is always good to get away for a time of physical relaxation and mental/spiritual renewal. God's Son understood only too well the necessity for those in ministry to "get away by yourselves to a secluded location and rest for a while" (Mark 6:31). That greatly needed and appreciated time of rest has now come once again for Shelly and me ... and we're ready. In just a few short days we'll be flying to several beautiful locations across our great country, and to visit kids and grandkids. Shelly and I request your prayers for a safe journey to these places and back. Since we'll be on vacation for the next several weeks, my weekly Reflections will be on hiatus. They will resume their weekly distribution, however, following our return the first week in June. Until then, check out the great articles in the May issue of New Wineskins (including my article "Right Ladder, Wrong Wall?"). They will greatly challenge and encourage you. May God richly bless each of you, and I thank you for your continued support of this ministry.
From an Author in California:
I just finished your new book on baptism (Immersed By One Spirit). Essentially, I agree with what you wrote. Those who say baptism is not a sacrament, turn right around and invalidate this assertion by what they teach about baptism. It is just like those who say we are saved by grace, yet contradict themselves by their emphasis upon works. I about fell out of my chair when I read what Bro. Hughes said near the end of his debate with you: "I do however need God's grace which is precisely why I need to do those things which God has determined that I must do to receive it" [p. 287].
From a Reader in Michigan:
Please send me an autographed copy of your book on the Lord's Supper titled One Bread, One Body (my check is enclosed). I have found your other two books very enlightening and hope this one will clarify some things for me. As a long time reader of your Reflections I find myself in agreement with the bulk of what you write, but in a recent article of yours -- "Consuming Christ" -- in the March issue of New Wineskins magazine, you made a statement with which I very much disagree. You wrote: "Is there any connection at all with this teaching of Jesus in John 6 and our present observance of the Lord's Supper: the eating of the bread and the drinking of the fruit of the vine? If there is, it is only in the most remote possible sense." It seems plain to me that the John 6 discourse and the Lord's Supper are about precisely the same thing: that Christ Jesus is necessary to spiritual/eternal life just as eating and drinking are necessary to physical life. I'm convinced that the disciples present at both places would certainly see a connection. I feel you go too far to say the connection is "only in the most remote possible sense." I do, however, appreciate your comments that making the Lord's Supper a sacrament is a serious error. I'm looking forward to reading your book. I love you, brother.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I have read on a couple of other occasions about the life of Irena Sendler. I admire and appreciate her life as a caring human being: a seemingly very unselfish person. Thank you for the good way you have written some things about her again. However, I am surprised, and somewhat disappointed, with your last sentence in the article. You seem very convicted in giving your judgment concerning her eternal salvation. I say "surprised" because of what I have read from you in the last few years of Reflections where you have opposed those who have made harsh judgments against others. Nevertheless, I am always made to think from your Reflections. Thanks!
In my final statement in that article about Irena Sendler I wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that we will one day walk with this saint in a better world where there are no more tears!" First, let me state that the key word in this reader's statement is "against." I do indeed oppose the too frequent practice of brethren passing harsh judgments against others, especially when much of this is done for no greater reason than differences of opinion over matters about which our God never uttered a single syllable. On the other end of the spectrum, however, I believe our God has made it clear in His sacred writings the type of people He is looking for to be His children. They are those who are loving, compassionate, merciful, selfless, serving, etc. When the Lord divides the sheep from the goats, His interest is not in one's "religious tradition," but in how one showed love to others. If ever a woman displayed the very qualities He seeks, it was Irena Sendler. Was she perfect? No. None are righteous, not even one. Did she engage in worship traditions consistent with our own? No. But, none of these things determine one's justification or salvation. Those things which do, she did. You are correct: I can't sit on the throne of judgment and declare her either lost or saved. That is God's right. However, based upon my knowledge of the nature of my God, and based on the fruit displayed in Irena Sendler's life, I think I can say with some degree of personal conviction that such a woman is exactly what God is looking for in a daughter. Thus, in my own heart, based upon the fruit I can observe in her life, I have no problem saying, "there is no doubt in my mind that we will one day walk with this saint in a better world where there are no more tears." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in California:
As for your article "Heroine of the Holocaust" -- WOW!! What a wonderful story. I had never heard of Irena Sendler, and so was truly blessed by reading her story. I'll be getting the movies you mentioned to learn more. Thanks for sharing it and for taking the hits you are bound to take by daring to mention that she was a Christian, especially one in the Catholic faith! But her walk of faith puts to shame the rantings of legalistic patternism. God's blessings on you.
From a Reader in Arizona:
Thank you for making us aware of this sister's faith and love in your Reflections article "Heroine of the Holocaust." May becoming aware of Irena Sendler's work and sacrifice move each of us to deeper humility and greater service.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Thanks for bringing Irena Sendler's story to the fore, Bro. Maxey. I thought I would just share a couple of my own reflections on yours. The director of The Pianist, Roman Polanski, was himself put into the Krakow Ghetto as a boy. He survived, but his parents did not. While Schindler's List is a well-done movie, it is not nearly as good as the movie it wants to be (i.e., a Polish movie that came out about two years prior called Korczak). Spielberg lists that film's director in his "thanks to..." section of the credits at the end of his film. Unfortunately, it's impossible to find Korczak on DVD. It is, hands down, the best dramatic movie made about the Holocaust, and it too takes place in the Warsaw Ghetto. Rather than dealing with a "righteous Gentile," however, it focuses instead on a very Jewish hero who ran an orphanage and was very well-known for the extent of his compassionate work with children. Also, during your discussion of Irene's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize (and Al Gore winning instead), did I detect some personal politically conservative bias?!! (LOL) Thanks again for this Reflections article. Good reading, as always!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Your latest Reflections ("Heroine of the Holocaust") reminded me of the research being done by Ted Thomas, professor at Milligan College here, who also happened to be our minister in Maryland for many years. I will send your article to him, and perhaps he will be able to send you some information about another Christian hero of the Holocaust: Hermann Maas. Ted is at Pepperdine doing a presentation about this very interesting man.
From a Reader in Texas:
I recently started reading all of your past Reflections in your Archives. When I read #76 and #78, which dealt with elders and anointing with oil, it brought to mind my own experience when I served as an elder. We had two elders who would receive people at the front of the congregation during the invitation. One Sunday morning a dear lady came forward and requested that the elders anoint her with oil and pray for her (she had bad back problems). The other elder called me over and said, "You'd better take this one!" I talked to the lady and explained that I had never done this before and didn't really understand as much about it as I should. I also told her I didn't have any oil. She said she knew we would not have any, so she brought her own! I got all the other elders to join us down front and we prayed for her and anointed her with oil. She was happy and claimed it helped. She also gave me the bottle of oil. I was never without it again, and was asked by several people over the years to anoint them. I still don't understand everything about this practice, but I accept it by faith, just as I accept other things I don't fully understand. Bro. Al, I enjoy your writings so much!! God bless you -- Numbers 6:24-26. (By the way, in light of all your work exposing legalistic patternism, I thought you might like to know about this web site -- New Testament Pattern. They started meeting in a hotel last year, and have a large billboard sign advertising their web site.)
As most of my longtime readers probably know, I have been attempting to get the legalistic patternists to provide me with a list of the particulars of their pattern for almost four decades now!! To date, not one person has ever done so. Indeed, they become furious with me for even asking. I have documented this attempt in a number of Reflections articles, which may be located under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List" on my Topical Index page. I wrote to the contact person at the above referenced "New Testament Pattern" web site, and simply said, "I notice that your web site states 'It is our goal to follow the divinely revealed New Testament pattern. ... We seek to follow that pattern in all things.' I would be interested in knowing the specific particulars of this pattern. Would you be willing to list them and send them to me? Thank you very much." The next day they wrote me back. They thanked me for my request, stated that they were indeed committed to following the pattern precisely, commended me for being a seeker of Truth, and invited me to continue reading their web site. What they didn't do was list even one particular of their pattern! Not even ONE!! No surprise there. The patternists will simply never list the specifics of their pattern; they don't dare, as it would expose the fallacy of their theology and subject them to the immediate attacks of every other patternistic group out there (who would differ with them on what constituted "the pattern") ... and they know it! How sad. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Tennessee:
I want to thank you, Bro. Maxey, for pulling me out of legalism!! I appreciate so much your weekly Reflections articles, your respect for the Scriptures, and your willingness to stay in the battle to free men from bondage. Thank You!!
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