Our faith is vain and self-centered if it only brings blessing for us or to us.
It also must result in blessing that flows through us to the world.
~Brian D. McLaren


This “Politics” category will look at politics in terms of the message of Jesus and the Bible. You are encouraged to write comments, and if nothing is offensive, we will approve them for others to respond to as well.  It is definitely okay to disagree with us, just, please, don’t be offensive!

Take America Back For God? The Myth of a Christian Nation

We’ve all heard the rhetoric.  “We need to take America back for God!”

Why?  Supposedly so we can regain some bygone level of ethics or moral standards.  Supposedly, if we don’t, God will get tired of us “rebuking” God and remove God’s hand of protection from us.  Supposedly so God won’t test us or judge us or something.

Yet, as Gregory A. Boyd notes in his important book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, taking America BACK for God assumes we, at one time, really belonged to God, followed God, listened to God. Boyd goes on to ask, when was this glorious age in the history of the USA?

Let’s start way back.  We’ve been taught that many people migrated to North America for religious freedom.  So was this glorious time when some of our forebears imprisoned, tormented, and / or hanged many suspected to be witches?  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Many of our European forebears believed that God (or nature) had sanctioned “manifest destiny” for white Christians to conquer North America.  So, was this special time when white aliens made and broke treaties with the Native Americans and forced them out of their homelands? Is that what so many want to take us back to?

One of the things that helped the southern states of the USA to thrive economically early on was the inexpensive labor provided by African slaves who were seen as 3/5 of a human.  So, was our land glorifying God when it continued to allow and support the slave trade and the ownership of slaves?  Or, was this golden age when our nation decided to take up arms against itself in the Civil War?  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Maybe the golden years were when Jim Crow laws were enforced and “separate but equal” facilities were seen as okay.  Maybe it was when so many worked hard to suppress the vote of African Americans.  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Speaking of voting, for the first 144 years of our nation, women were apparently not seen as being “created equal” with “all men.”  Apparently, they, prior to 1920, had not been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” like voting.  Even today, women tend to make less than men in comparable jobs.  Is that what so many want to take us back to?

Was this age that many want to take us back to before there were child labor laws?  Was it before workers’ compensation protected people?  Was it before laws were enacted to limit the amount of hours that companies can force people to work? (I mean, who really wants to give up their weekend?). . .


It seems that many who want to take us back to whatever complain that politicians don’t use the words “God” or “Jesus” or “Christian” or whatever.  “People are just trying to take God out of everything,” I hear again and again.

Some of these same  people say that not only do we have to get back to God, we have to get back to the Constitution – and don’t you dare add anything to or take away from that near-divine document (at least in the minds of some).  Some go on to say, “The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is nowhere to be found, so don’t try to add it.”

Okay, let’s go back to the Constitution.

Never once does it use the words “God,” “Jesus,” “Christian,” “Creator,” or even “Nature.”  And yet, so many of the “take America back for God,” try to put those words there.

Notice what it does say under Article VI:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

And yet, so often we put our political candidates to religious tests.  So much for going back to the Constitution.


The Constitution does say that it seeks “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Union.  Common.  General Welfare.  Ourselves.  Our Posterity.

It seems that these word all have to do everybody, not just some, and definitely not just individuals, despite the use of the phrase, “individual rights,” that is often thrown around (in fact, “individual” is not even a word used in the Constitution).

We have a long ways to go, but in my estimation, in terms of action, we are more Christian today than in the past.  We are at a better place now of looking out for the needs of at least most.  More people are included in the experience of liberty than in the past.  Sure, we don’t use the so-called Christian words as much, but even Jesus criticized folks who said one thing and did another.  You’ll know them by their fruit.


Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. (NRSV)

Philippians 2:  3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (NRSV)

Matthew 7:20 Thus you will know them by their fruits. (NRSV)


I initially intended this post to be a book review of Gregory A. Boyd’s book noted above, but I veered in a different direction.  Simply put, I recommend that book to anyone interested in and concerned about politics in our country in relation to religion.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but for the most part, I think he hits the nail on the head.

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Heart, Mind, and Kidneys: Can We Find Balance?

Probe me, O LORD, and try me,
test my kidneys and heart;
for my eyes are on your steadfast love;
I have set my course by it.
Psalm 26:2-3 (TANAKH)


One of my favorite “styles” of worship is that of the black church.  The energy, emotion, and enthusiasm are palpable, and time flies through what would normally be seen as a “long” worship service.  As someone who often stays in his head too much, I enjoy the opportunity to feel for a change.

I vividly remember my first such experience on Palm Sunday of 1998 as I helped chaperon a group of 6th grade confirmands with Rev. Jill Jackson-Sears to St. Luke “Community” United Methodist in Dallas, Texas.   Dr. Zan Holmes was still the Senior Pastor there at the time.  I still remember a major point of his sermon from that day, it was so good. Except for only 3 years, I never failed to return with a confirmation class each year for them to experience such an important legacy within the church.

A few years ago when I took a group, they had a guest preacher.  I don’t remember his name or why he was preaching that day.  I do remember that he was not United Methodist but from a more conservative denomination.  I remember thinking that was kind of odd, but I didn’t concern myself with it other than I hoped he’d preach as well as one of the church’s “staff preachers.”

As usually happens when attending such a service, I was quickly drawn into the impassioned sermon.  As he got going, so did I.  As he got more excited, so did I.  As he got to moving around, so did I.  The guy had me in the palm of his hand, and I was a willing participant in the call and response style preaching.  About 2/3 of the way through the sermon, I finally engaged my brain for the first time.  “What did he just say?” I asked myself incredulously.  I began questioning much of what he had said up to that point, and it was so NOT Methodist nor anything related to my own personal theology.  Yet, my emotions had brought me along for a ride that my mind would have normally said, “No!” to.

For the first time, I felt like I had experienced being a part of the so-called “mob mentality,” and I didn’t like it.  No matter what my “heart” was saying in my receiving of the wacked message in the beginning, it was still WRONG.

As a person too often stuck in my head, I’m left with an uncomfortable tension of how to properly involve my emotions in my life and in my life of faith.


Although it was certainly not my favorite of the Short Term Disciple Bible Studies, studying along with the Invitation to Psalmsstudy at First United Methodist in Wichita Falls, Texas was insightful in a number of ways – especially by using The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and the TANAKH translation of the Psalms.

One such insight can be seen in Psalm 26:2-3, which opened this post.  More than likely, you’ve never seen it translated that way.  You are probably more familiar with something like this:

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.
Psalm 26:2-3 (NRSV)

Yet,the second line is literally “kidneys and heart” – in that order.  Say what?!

For ancient Hebrews, the kidneys were the seat or place of human conscience and emotions.  The heart was not; rather, the heart was the decision making organ, what we would call the mind.  Let’s consider some of the implications for this.

The Shema says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV)

What we literally have in that third line is “with all your decision making organ, and with all your very being, and with all your strength / energy.”  Yet, how often do we sentimentalize the word “heart” into our emotions when the functionality of the word is mind.  It’s fascinating to see that Jesus, in quoting the Shema, adds “mind” to the list (or does he add heart?) – see Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37 (which replaces might with mind), and Luke 10:27.  Either way, he wants both, no just one.

Consider the proclamation of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (NRSV)

What we see here, again, is that God in the New Covenant will write the law on their “decision making organs” – in functionality, their minds – the place of memory.  The law won’t be written on their conscience or emotions as the passage is often interpreted.

Consider, also, Deuteronomy 10:16:

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. (NRSV)

You guessed it, “Circumcise . . . the foreskin of  your decision making organ,” is what is really meant here.


So what am I getting at?  What is my point?

I think part of my concern is that I think that often our decisions to do this or that is based more out of emotion than rational thought – or better, a balance of the two.  So much of the rhetoric of this politically charged time of life in the USA, if you really think about it, is emotionally charged.

Recently, I had an interchange with a “friend” on Facebook.  The individual had posted a picture with text discrediting a certain political candidate.  It sounded a bit hokey, so I researched it and discovered the info was false.  So, I posted that.  In the “discussion” that followed, I discovered that the person “felt” that it was okay to spread lies about people that this person thought would make bad decisions about our country.  Really?!  Defaming someone’s character is okay so long as I feel it’s okay?!

That is decision-making based solely in emotion, not rational thought – at least in my estimation (but maybe I’m wrong).


So what can we do?

One of the best bits of pastoral care advice I ever got was from my mentor, Rev. John Mollet.  He said sometimes, when a person has had a traumatic experience, they may respond with hysterics, which are usually based in emotion.  Obviously, the person needs to deal with what has happened but sometimes this can be debilitating, so John recommended asking the person questions that engage their minds.  What actually happened?  How many people were involved?  What time did it happen?  Notice these are all seeking “factual” answers, but they take the focus off of emotion.

Some will respond on the other extreme and not “feel” anything, which is not healthy either.  John recommended asking questions that get at the persons emotions.  How did it feel when that happened?  What do you feel was taken away from you in that event?  These are seeking “emotional” answers to help someone experience needed emotion.


I’m reminded of a story told by Tex Sample of his friend Jimmy Hope Smith and his Daddy who is “unredeemed in some very serious ways.”  The thing that draws the Smith family together each day is the TV; everything they do in the house happens in front of that set.

One day, while watching TV together, Rev. Jesse Jackson came on the screen.  Jimmy Hope’s Daddy said, “Someone oughta shoot him!  They oughta just shoot him!”

He’s stuck in emotion.

Jimmy Hope responded, “Daddy, you think someone really oughta shoot Jesse Jackson?”

“Yeah, I do!  They oughta just shoot him!”

“Well, Daddy, if you think someone oughta shoot Jesse Jackson, I think you oughta go to church on Sunday and pray that someone will shoot Jesse Jackson.”

“Boy!  Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout?  You know Jesus ain’t gonna put up with that shit!”

Jimmy Hope made his Daddy really think about what he was saying, and in the end, emotion was still there along with the working of the mind.

Balance.  Something we all need.

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Was I Short-Changed?

1st Day of 1st Grade

I started kindergarten at the Howe Independent School District in Texas during the fall semester of 1978.  In May 1991, I graduated Salutatorian of the same school district.

Howe, at the time, could really be described as a small farming community in North Texas with a population of 2072.  Some of my friends were sons and daughters of farmers.  The parents of others were similar to my parents who worked in the larger town of about 30,000 to the north, Sherman.

By far the largest church in Howe was First Baptist of the Southern Baptist Convention.  There was a “conspiracy theory” going around among members of other denominations that the only way to get on the school board or city council was to be a member of that church.  I now realize (I didn’t then) that the reason that seemed to be the case was because members of that church were more well known among a larger base of the community.  No conspiracy there.

During that time period, I don’t remember our family ever formally praying at home unless Uncle John was visiting.  If he was there, we’d always say a prayer before meals, but only then.  We were, however, regular church attenders at First United Methodist where my mom taught the 4-5 year old Sunday school class for years.

I remember evolution being taught in school as a plausible theory for how the world was created; evidence for why this seemed plausible was shared.  I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning the biblical story of creation period.  It wasn’t affirmed; it wasn’t bashed.  Evolution was just a good theory.

The only time I remember the Bible being brought up in school was in world history when a student asked, “Why is it that Adam and Eve were the first people, but after they leave Eden, there are other people?”  Coach Fry (who taught the class) responded that he believed that Adam and Eve were not the first people, just the first people with souls.

I never once remember there being a single prayer said in school, though we did usually have a prayer before football games – a task shared among local clergy.  I also don’t even remember there being a set aside “moment of silence” at school in which I could take a moment to say a prayer.  If there was ever a “See Ya At the Pole” rally, I don’t recall it.

To hear many people tell it, I was somehow short-changed.  My education was somehow “less than.”  School must have been unbearable.  According to them, I should have become a heathen as all my other classmates should have.

For me, school was unbearable but only because I’d have rather been on my bike riding around my neighborhood or watching TV.  Yet, in no way do I feel like my education was somehow “less than.”  I feared, going off to college and later seminary, that I’d be behind since I came from little ol’ Howe, Texas.  What I discovered was that my education was really good.  We really had good teachers there.

Although I really don’t remember anything being formally “Christian,” I remember that for the most part the teachers were fair, caring, and supportive – even though I often wanted to look for something I didn’t like in a teacher.  They worked to make sure we tried to get along.  If one of us made fun of others (and were caught) we suffered consequences.  There were consequences if we fought, and reconciliation seemed like the goal that was being promoted in those instances.

Explicitly Christian?  NO.  Christian in practice?  In my opinion, YES.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:  “Preach the Gospel.  Use words only if necessary.”  Yet, many think that the Gospel is only about words – predominantly adjectives, occasionally nouns.  “Is that Christian?  Are you a Christian?”  Instead of taking the Gospel as something that is our own responsibility to do, we want others to make it a responsibility for us.  “You need to make sure someone prays at school, and be sure to teach the theology I have there, too.”

One of the things that I learned at my church in Howe was that I could pray anytime I wanted in the secret closet of my mind and heart (see Matthew 6:6).  I didn’t need anyone to set aside a time for me to pray.  I didn’t need anybody to pray for me.  I could take that personal responsibility for myself – and occasionally did.

In the United Methodist Church (of which I am an ordained Deacon), we have the slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”  These are typically interpreted as things we have.  Rather, I think it is something we are to do.  My experience at a school that didn’t have prayer or a designated “moment of silence” were teachers who sought to open my heart, my mind, and the door to a larger world.  They did this without explicitly being “Christian” in words they used but certainly were Christian in their actions.  They showed me their Christianity.  They didn’t tell me their Christianity.

Was I short-changed?  Was my education un-Christian?  Not in my opinion.

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Knowing Isn’t Everything – A Sermon

Here is a sermon by Rev. Troy Sims shared at First United Methodist Church of Wichita Falls on August 7, 2011.  The Scripture text that served as inspiration was 1 Corinthians 8, which is provided here from The Message translation:

1 The question keeps coming up (more…)

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Christian Nation?

For years now, I’ve sat back as I’ve gotten e-mail after e-mail after e-mail about how we are supposedly a “Christian Nation” founded on “Christian Principles” when the vast majority of the ideas professed in those e-mails could not be backed up by the actual teachings or example of Jesus.  Frankly, I’ve had enough.  I’ve had enough of the rhetoric.  I’ve had enough of the “I’m in, but you’re out if you disagree with me.”  I’ve had enough of the, “You’re not a Christian if you don’t pass this along.”  I’ve had enough.

Here, for your consideration, are questions – hot button topics – that are being spewed out without looking at what the vast majority of the New Testament says about those.  In response, I give you some passages of Scripture with a brief synopsis of those passages.  Keep in mind that I’m not giving you an exhaustive list of Scriptures – just a starting point.  I’d encourage you to read more on your own. . . .

Christian: n. One who follows or looks like Jesus; one who aspires to think, feel, and act like Jesus.
(adapted from Gregory A. Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, p. 51)

The so-called Christian principles upon which our country was founded EXCLUDED rights for:

  • Women
    (Women wouldn’t have the right to vote until 1920. Apparently, only men were created equal despite what Galatians 3:28 says and what Genesis 1 says when the text is clear that men and women were created in God’s image.)
  • Slaves
  • Children
    (why else would we need to make child-labor laws years later?)

Should we re-distribute wealth?

  • Luke 18:18-25
    – Jesus asks the rich ruler to redistribute his wealth and is saddened that he is unwilling to do so.
  • Luke 19:1-10
    – Jesus applauds Zacchaeus for redistributing his wealth.
  • Acts 2:44-47 & 4:32-37
    – The early church practiced this even up to the time of Constantine.
  • If we are a Christian nation, paying taxes is redistributing wealth.

Should the military be reduced?

  • Matthew 5:38-42
    – Turn the other cheek.
  • Matthew 5:43-48
    – Love your enemies & pray for your persecutors.
  • Matthew 26:52
    – All who take the sword perish by the sword. Put your sword away.
  • John 18:36
    – God’s kingdom (being Christian) is not of this world. If it were, we could fight. It isn’t.
  • All four gospels portray Jesus turning over tables and driving out animals (thus saving their lives), but none say he lifted a finger against any person.
  • Romans 12:14-21
    – Repay evil with good.

Should we take care of people not like us – aliens?

  • Leviticus 23:22
    – Don’t harvest all of your crop. Leave some for the poor and alien.
  • Matthew 25:35
    – We welcomed the stranger, Jesus, when we welcomed the least of these.
  • Luke 10:25-37
    – Even aliens are our neighbors.
  • Galatians 3:28
    – There is neither slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek, alien or neighbor, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • Romans 12:13
    – Extend hospitality to strangers.

Should we provide healthcare?

  • Matthew 25:36
    – We took care of the sick person, Jesus, when we took care of the least of these.
  • Luke 10:1-18 (especially vs. 9)
    – When Jesus sends the seventy out in pairs, they are told to cure the sick.
  • Luke 10:25-37
    – The Samaritan provided healthcare. We are told to do likewise.

Should we sit down with our enemies?

  • Matthew 5:21-26
    – If you realize someone doesn’t like you or has something against you, you go take the initiative to be reconciled.
  • Matthew 5:43-48
    – Love your enemies & pray for your persecutors.
  • Matthew 6:14-15
    – If you won’t forgive those who sin against you, God won’t forgive you.
  • The gospels are full of stories of Jesus sitting down with people who were perceived enemies (tax collectors, Pharisees, etc.).
  • Romans 12:14-21
    – Repay evil with good.

Is capital punishment okay?

  • Matthew 5:38-42
    – Jesus says that is what the “law” says, but he holds Christians to a higher standard – turn the other cheek.
  • Romans 12:14-21
    – Repay evil with good.
  • How can one be against abortion and for capital punishment? Remember, there is none who are righteous – no, not one (Romans 3:10).
  • So many who support capital punishment say out of the other side of their mouth that Jesus died once for all, where “all” apparently is not all, but just some. I guess God’s amazing grace can save a wretch like me but not that so-and-so in prison or around the corner or on the other side of the world or . . . .
  • By taking the life of an apparent sinner (which often isn’t the case as often people are falsely imprisoned), we are preventing that person from having an opportunity to accept a saving relationship with God.

Should the Ten Commandments be displayed?

  • Ever notice that Jesus never talks about the 10 commandments? He’s more concerned with loving God with everything and our neighbors (which includes aliens) as ourselves.

Should spoken prayer be in schools?

  • Matthew 6:5-6
    – Prayer should be in secret – at least according to Jesus, but who wants to listen to him?

Should we take care of others – even those who cannot take care of themselves?

  • Leviticus 23:22
    – Don’t harvest all of your crop. Leave some for the poor and alien.
  • Mark 2:1-5
    – The text is clear that salvation comes to the paralytic due to the faith and actions of the four friends.
  • Mark 9:36
    – Wanna be great? Be last and serve all.
  • Matthew 7:12
    – Do to others as you’d have them do to you.
  • Matthew 25:31-46
    – Even the least of these are to be fed, given something to drink, clothed, welcomed, taken care of when sick, and visited even in prison.
  • 1 Corinthians 13
    – Love does not insist on it’s own way.
  • Philippians 2:1-5
    – We should look not to our own interests but the interests of others.
  • Romans 15:1-7
    – We are to bear the burdens of the weak.

Copyright 2011.  Rev. Troy Sims


Don’t Tell Me How to Pray. . .

For quite a few years, there has been much ink, e-mails, and hot air spread about the issue of prayer in schools. Many people are all in an uproar that, “The government won’t let my child pray in school.” This, however, is actually NOT the case.

There is NOTHING, according to the law, that prevents a child from praying in school – so long as it does not disturb the necessary goings on at a school. How do I know this? Have you ever attended a “Meet You at the Pole” rally at a public school? You see, prayer DOES happen at school!

You see, the issue is that a public school employee, which is ultimately a government employee that represents the government (even teachers fall into this category), cannot lead a prayer for the students of the school. Why? It is quite simple. By doing so, the employee is implying that the government promotes a certain “type” or “brand” of religion, which goes against the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution that reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .”

Now, I find it interesting that the majority of the people that I know who get all in an uproar about this issue (all of which are Christians) would “have a cow” if their child’s teacher was a Muslim and led a Muslim prayer in class! Yet, without the current laws, this could happen!

Frankly, there are many “Christians” that I would not want to model prayer for my child. In fact, I’d prefer many Jews or Muslims to some Christians! But here’s the deal: I believe it is MY job to teach my child to pray with the help of my local church – not the public school system!

I’m reminded that many of the “Christians” that I indicted above for being sticklers for this issue often want to take Scripture very literally. I say to these people to read this passage of Scripture:

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6, NRSV)

The above words are, according to Matthew, from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus says that we should pray in secret – not in front of everybody. Yet, some people have temper tantrums saying they want their child to do EXACTLY what Jesus as explicitly said not to do. It seems even literalists / fundamentalists pick and choose what they want out of Scripture, too!

Looking at Matthew 6, I am reminded that most of the time that I pray, I do so silently – often with others present, but they never know it. Nobody, then, can prevent me from praying – especially if I do it silently! Therefore, if there is not prayer in schools, it is ONLY because WE (parents and church leaders) have not taught our children how to pray. Are we expecting the public school and government to do it?

(Originally posted at http://theology-of-t-roy.blogspot.com/2005/07/dont-tell-me-how-to-pray.html on July 2, 2005)

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