24 November 2015

Science and religion

I've written on this topic before, but I want to write again following a meeting last night arranged in Cambridge by the Faraday Institute. It was their annual reception and the first time I have taken part in a meeting. I plan to go to some of the public lectures as well.

The Faraday Institute Website
The Faraday Institute Website
The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion was created ten years ago to facilitate study and
discussion about science and religion.

It has an interdisciplinary, academic research program, but it also offers courses, lectures, seminars and conferences. Much of the material is online, available free of charge.

Last night's meeting began with something to eat and drink and a chance to circulate and chat. Then we heard Sir Colin John Humphreys, a physicist and Director of Research at Cambridge University, speaking on aspects of life as both a scientist and a Christian. He reminded us that it's important to read the Bible and pray.

Finally we had group discussions. Groups had been chosen so that people with similar scientific interests were gathered together. so my group was broadly biological.

The discussion was very helpful. We talked about the questions that people ask us, we discussed how to approach conversations rationally and non-confrontationally (being confrontational is a particular weakness of mine). And we considered the difficulties of a busy career in science and finding time for Christian actvities in the midst of it all. I was able to point out the dangers of dualism in our lives and how it's not about the proportion of our time that we spend on this activity or that, but whether we are kind to the person working beside us. In other words, do we reveal the fruit of the Spirit in every part of life; Christian ways of being and living should fill all that we do.

We heard about the opportunities the Faraday Institute has in British schools, answering questions that most concern young people. Our group's moderator was Lizzie Coyle who is the Institute's Youth and Schools Outreach Officer; she told us that the commonest questions she hears include  'Why is there so much suffering in the world', and the usual questions about evolution.

It was a great evening and I met some really good people. I would like to revisit the work of the Faraday Institute again on this blog; perhaps next time I can introduce some of the good thinking from lectures and seminars.

Useful link - The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

14 October 2015

Stone Ivy

What an astonishing process has brought this image to your screen. Just think of the steps involved. From ivy to carved stone to an electronic array in my camera to the internet to your screen. Here it is in a little more detail:

Ivy carved in stone
Ivy carved in stone
  • The ivy grew from an ivy seed at a time and place long lost in the past.
  • Sunlight illuminated the ivy and some of the reflected rays entered the eyes of a stone carver, living in a different age than ours.
  • The patterns of light in the mason's eyes allowed the neurons in his brain to interpret and comprehend the delicate shapes of the ivy stems, leaves and fruit.
  • The mason's brain coordinated the movements of his hands holding chisel and mallet as he worked.
  • A representation of the ivy was unmasked in the block of stone by the skillful mason.
  • Sunlight illuminated the carved stone and some of the reflected rays entered the lens of my camera.
  • The colours and intensities were recorded as patterns of data in a memory card.
  • The patterns were stored again in the memory in my laptop.
  • These same patterns were transmitted across the internet to you.
  • The patterns of light were reconstructed on your screen.
  • Some of the reconstructed light entered your eyes.
  • The patterns of light in your eyes allowed the neurons in your brain to interpret and comprehend the delicate shapes of the ivy stems, leaves and fruit.
If this is not miracle layered upon miracle - then what is it?

29 April 2015

Love and forgive, or forgive and love?

It's impossible to love someone you have not yet forgiven. Or, to put it another way, if you truly love a person you will certainly forgive them. So we cannot say which comes first, love or forgiveness. We must conclude that they arrive together, as a package. Love and forgiveness cannot be separated, if you have one you also have the other.

Reaching to touch
Reaching to touch
It's the same with the Father's love towards us. If he says he loves us - and he does - then he also forgives us. And if he forgives us, we know that we are already loved by him.

But beware, for hatred and condemnation (or judgement) go together in just the same way. Do not hate/condemn anyone.

We can't take any of this for granted. Remember that love and forgiveness must be received as well as given, and receiving requires repentance as the first step. We should be constantly grateful to Papa for his love/forgiveness and for sending his Son into this broken world to demonstrate that love/forgiveness. And we should also be grateful to our friends who show us the love/forgiveness we so badly need from them, a pale image of the love/forgiveness of the Father.

So praise you Father for everything you have done for us, praise you Jesus for coming into our world, and praise you Holy Spirit for remaining in us as a deposit of what we will inherit.

And thank you to all my friends (who are many) for everything you have done for me. Thank you for reminding me by your gifts of love, of that greater, heavenly gift of love that we all share.

And remember that this is also the root of mission. How can I receive this great gift without wanting to share it with everyone who will listen? It's just a matter of reaching out to people in ways that will touch them and cause them to search for spiritual truth and discover that Jesus loves/forgives them too.

28 March 2015

Watching the potter

Watching a potter at work can be very interesting. You will see a creator at work, a process of making, and you may see much more than that. If your eyes and ears and mind are fully open, who knows what you might see? So read on and pay attention.

Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates
Yahweh told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house and watch him at work, and that he would speak to him while he was there. Read about this in Jeremiah 18:1-6.

Sometimes, seeing something acted out makes it very much clearer than just hearing the message. For Jeremiah, seeing the pot crumple and the potter start the making process all over again spoke volumes about Israel's future.

We can (and should) also apply this to our own lives as individuals. We are jars of clay intended to hold a precious treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7). But Father will mould us and remould us as he sees fit, until we are suitable for his purpose.

In the words of an old song
Go down to the house of the potter
Watch him work the clay
Listen to what I say as you watch him

Go down to the house of the potter
Watch him turn the wheel
Know that's how I feel as I'm working.
Having said all that, I'd now like you to watch a video of Theaster Gates (a potter by trade) as he transforms more than a lump of wet clay. He takes what he's learned about making and moulding and transforms an entire city district. It's a work of redemption.

Jesus is the great Redeemer, he remoulds and remodels as necessary. We are made in his image, and we are learning to walk as he walks (we are his disciples). As you watch the video consider how it feels to be a redeemer, how it affects places and people. And ask yourself an important question:

What can I redeem? What places and people can I rescue, encourage, bring new life to? It's not likely to begin with an entire city block, but it might begin small and grow. Who knows where it will end?

It's easier than you think. Be brave, be very bold. Go and redeem something. Don't wait. Begin now, today! And as you begin, let Jesus lead you.

Here's the video...

13 March 2015

Pictures and music

I was delighted to discover some really great cards by Hannah Dunnett. I bought several of them for friends and soon found the Dunnett's website where Ben and Hannah provide more information and sell their material online. Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician.

One of Hannah Dunnett's cards
Some time ago Donna and I visited the lovely old city of Bath, and we decided to have a coffee at St Michael's Without in Broad Street. And there we found a selection of Hannah's cards again.

I want to make you aware of Ben and Hannah's beautiful work because it deserves to be much more widely seen and heard. Not only is it all available to order and in a growing number of retail outlets, but Ben and Hannah have made everything available online, pictures and music too.

You will need to buy their products for the full quality, but you can also enjoy it for free. I predict that having tasted it, most people will end up buying prints or CDs.

Hannah's cards - Hannah paints stylised designs with words from the Bible in sweeping curves. She makes these available as greetings cards, high quality art prints, and posters. The picture above is a design called 'God of all Comfort'.

Because of the carefully chosen words these cards are not just beautiful in their own right, they also bear the stamp of a loving Creator. From the picture above we read, 'I will sustain you, I will give you rest, I will carry you, [I] will be with you, I call to you'. And there is much, much more. Words of great comfort from the One who is quick and ready to bring great comfort.

Ben's music - Ben is a music teacher and examiner. He writes some delightful melodies and is clearly a gifted pianist. If the worship albums and the children's album are anything to go by he's also very talented in laying down individual tracks to build up a full backing for songs.

You will find everything here from reflective, gentle melody to robust rhythms good for dancing, and great lyrics provided by Hannah.

St Michael's Without - I simply can't close this post without saying more about this lovely Anglican church in Bath. Everything about the place is delightful. The interior has been modified to make a quiet space for coffee, cakes, books and a comfortable place to sit. The website soon makes it clear that the people are delightful too.

They are evidently active in the local community in many ways. They seem to be conscious of the need for gentleness and peacefulness in everything. They are careful and deliberately slow in making changes trying to 'avoid the rush which undermines friendship'. They pray about everything in love.

If you are visiting Bath, try to make the time to drop in to spend a little while experiencing the peace and the fragrance of this lovely place and the people who make it what it is - a little piece of heaven right here on earth. Just like Hannah's pictures and Ben's music.

Questions: 
  • Are there ways you can be a little piece of heaven for those you meet today?
  • Might there be 'difficult' people in your life you could make an extra effort to bless?
  • How does Hannah's artwork and Ben's music make you feel?
  • Does it help you find the peace you need to become a blessing to others?

See also: 

28 February 2015

We've run out of wine.

< Drawn to the light | Index | No later items >

I'd like to introduce you to Jesus, but I don't want to persuade or cajole you. In fact, I don't intend to tell you what to think at all. Instead, I want you to see for yourself what he is like and then make up your own mind what you think.

An empty bottle
An empty bottle
We're going to begin with a bar malfunction at a wedding. The drink runs out. This particular wedding was two thousand years ago in Galilee, now part of northern Israel. But the planning was not thorough. I'm sure you know the feeling. You've laid on a big event. The invitations have gone out. The day has come. People are enjoying themselves. And then you run out of something essential - like 
wine.

A wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’

That's the story straight from the Bible - John 2:1-10, New International Version (NIV). I have four questions for you. Try to get the answers out of the story you've just read, you'll need to consider all the characters. What did they say? What did they do? What did they think?

  • What does this tell you about people?
  • What does this tell you about Jesus?
  • Is there anything here for you to follow or do?
  • Who else needs to hear this?

< Drawn to the light | Index | No later items >

19 February 2015

Local groups meeting informally

This page lists simple and organic church groups meeting in and around St Neots (within a twenty mile radius). At least, it lists those I'm aware of; if you are part of a group not listed here please let me know and I will add your details. (Where there are no contact details, get in touch through me, Chris Jefferies, 07775 850783).

  • Bedford
  • Brington
  • Great Doddington
  • Northampton, Paul Veitch, 0745 109 2222
  • Oundle
  • St Neots, Chris Jefferies, 07775 850783 (3 meetings)

09 February 2015

Earth-Moon ballet

This animation of the Earth-Moon system was made available by the BBC. The animation was produced by NASA.

This has to be seen by as many people as possible; it truly puts our planet into a different perspective. While you watch, remember that the entire Earth-Moon system that you see here is itself orbiting around the sun, which in turn is orbiting the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, which in turn is heading slowly towards an interaction with the Andromeda galaxy. If that doesn't inspire awe, nothing will!

02 February 2015

Loving more fully and widely (Repost)

Here's another reposted article, this time from 26th October 2012. It was originally part of a chain blog. I've removed the material related to that, but you can read the original if you want to see it.

British currency
One another - Today we're going to see how much we can draw from a single occurrence of the phrase 'one another'. Romans 13:8 is the particular example we'll consider.

Here it is in context, verse eight is in italics...

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

Wider context - There's a wider context too, that we need to bear in mind. Paul first writes about civil government, making it clear that goverments are there because the One who is Authority puts them there. They have a function and a purpose, we must submit to them.

Then come the verses above.

And finally Paul writes that time is short, we need to act now while we still can. Jesus is returning - soon! We need to be found ready and obedient and already covered by him. Romans 13 is relevant in its entirety. We should read this chapter often and let it sink deep into our hearts and minds!

Three statements - But in verse eight, Paul makes three statements.

  • Don't let any debt remain.
  • Continue to love one another
  • This fulfils the Law

What does he mean? He is not simply saying that I should pay off any debts I owe. He is saying that I should allow no debt to stand. He is saying I should pay my own debts but I should also, if necessary, pay yours. The important thing about debt is that it is paid, the effect is the same no matter who pays.

Jesus paid my debt so if I want to be like him I will pay yours. And Paul is not writing merely about money, he has just explicitly used the words respect and honour as well. These things apply to one another as much as (or more than) they do to governments.

There are to be no debts amongst us, not only because we pay them off but because we forgive them. When I lack the means to pay I become dependent on your willingness to forgive. Jesus is our example in this. He is the ultimate debt payer and forgiver. We are called to be like him in our dealings with one another.

Will I pay my monetary debt to you? Will I forgive your debt of money to me? But also (and often harder) will I pay the respect and honour I owe to you? And will I forgive you if you disrespect and dishonour me? This is the nitty-gritty of not allowing any debt to remain.

If I continue to love you I will indeed pay and forgive in all situations where debt might remain. Love will cause me, compel me to cover every kind of debt. If not, do I have love at all?

The debt that remains - And it goes further yet! Paul writes that there is one debt that should stand, the 'continuing debt to love one another'.  Love is not just for today but also for tomorrow and for tomorrow's tomorrow. I owe you love and that is a debt I cannot pay off. Love goes forward without ceasing. 'Faith, hope and love remain', writes Paul, 'And the greatest of these is love'. Love remains, even in the kingdom of heaven, especially in the kingdom of heaven.

So, just as love is the fulfilment of Torah, so love is the fulfilment of civil law and indeed every kind of law. If I truly love I will not be able to commit any sin at all. The fact that sin remains is just a clear sign that love is not yet complete in me.

Let's go forward in our lives understanding that love remains and is greater than anything else. And let's remember who 'one another' means. It's not limited to the church.

Jesus made it pretty inclusive. What begins with brothers and sisters becomes all encompassing. Love the Father, love one another, love your neighbour, love your enemy. My love is to extend out and become fully inclusive, not in any way for club members only. 'One another' is just a starting point, the nursery slopes of loving.

    26 January 2015

    A man with a mission

    Actually, a man with a whole series of missions. Elon Musk has done some extraordinary things in his life so far. He has affected the lives of most of us; if you've used PayPal he's affected your life. Here's a summary of his major achievements. A glance through the list below will give some sense of the scale of this man's ambitions.

    Elon Musk
    Elon Musk
    Blastar - At the age of twelve, Elon Musk sold the computer code for a video game called Blastar for $500. He had already taught himself programming and created the game. Very few of us have sold software at the age of twelve. I wonder what he did with the money?

    Zip2 - When he was twenty-four, he started the company Zip2 with his brother, creating an internet guide for the newspaper industry. Four years later the company was sold to Compaq and Elon made $22 million as a result.

    PayPal - Musk started an online finance and payment company called X.com that merged with Confinity a year later. Their main product, PayPal, was the major focus and was acquired by eBay in 2002 - Musk left with $165 million in his pocket.

    SpaceX - Elon Musk put $100 million into starting his next company, SpaceX. In 2009, after several failures, the first successful private launch to Earth orbit flew and the company survived. Musk has said that one further launch failure at that point would have finished SpaceX.

    But the company is still operating - building and flying ever-better vehicles and selling the flights commercially. A NASA contract to fly cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) has helped support these developments with Dragon, and a crewed version is in the pipeline. The Falcon Heavy rocket is due to make its first test flight in 2015/16, and methane-burning engines for a much larger rocket are under development.

    SpaceX is currently valued at about $10 billion.

    Tesla - This company builds electric cars and was founded in 2003, Musk joined the venture as chairman in 2004. Following the financial crisis in 2008, he then became CEO and Product Architect and has steered Tesla into the release of three car models with more in the pipeline, he has also offered to supply power-chains to other car makers and allow them access to Tesla's patent portfolio.

    Solar City - The idea was Musk's, but the company was founded and is run by others. However, Elon Musk is the largest shareholder. Solar City installs domestic solar power systems free of charge, recouping the investment by taking a share of the proceeds from selling the power produced over a fixed time period.

    Tesla and Solar City are cooperating to use electric vehicle batteries to balance out grid power, storing spare capacity by day and drawing power back at night.

    Gigafactory - The Gigafactory, part of Tesla, is intended to turn out large numbers of cheap batteries for use in electric vehicles, for power storage for the grid and for other purposes. The initial goal is to reduce the cost of batteries for Tesla vehicles, and the plant is currently under construction.

    Hyperloop - Musk proposed the Hyperloop as a new form of transport infrastructure, initially to link Los Angeles and San Francisco. Partially evacuated tunnels and air suspension would allow pods to travel with little resistance and at higher speeds than aircraft. Third parties are designing pods, while Elon Musk plans to build a five-mile test track.

    Satellites - Recently, Elon Musk has proposed repeating SpaceX's rocketry and spacecraft success with cheap and reliable satellite design and production. He plans to create a facility for this in Seattle, and co-operate with Google and others in building large numbers of internet-providing satellites in low Earth orbit. Google has become an investor and partner as part of this process.

    Mars Colony - Musk has long-term plans to live and die on Mars. The Mars Colonial Transporter will be designed and built to carry 100 tonnes of cargo to Mars at a time. It would also be capable of carrying 100 passengers. The plans involve creating a self-sustaining colony on the surface of Mars, with a population of at least 80 000.

    19 January 2015

    The opposite of envy (Repost)

    I've decided to repost this article from August 2012. It's one of the most popular posts on the blog, so if you haven't seen it before, read on...

    A phone call sparked some thoughts about envy and its opposite. Envy is such a negative and destructive emotion. The opposite of envy is rejoicing with one another. We need to cultivate joy in our lives.

    I had a lovely telephone chat with a friend yesterday. We've only met once, and briefly at that. But we've corresponded occasionally over the years on various topics around life in general and life with Jesus in particular.

    One thing that we talked about today was the topic of envy. And as we talked I tried to work out what would be the opposite of envy. I decided it must be rejoicing with one another.

    If I envy you for your car, your wife, your wealth or good health, your education or some other blessing in your life, I am saying that I would prefer to have that thing myself, I would like to be in your place.

    But if I rejoice with you over your car, wife, wealth, good health, education, or other blessing, I'm expressing gladness that you have that thing.

    The Bible has a good deal to say about envy. Old and New Testaments agree that envy is a very bad thing. Here are a few examples.

    • 'A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.' (Proverbs 13:40)
    • For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
    • they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. (Romans 1:28-29)

    The word 'envy' appears twenty times in the UK version of the NIV.

    The value of joy - Let's think about rejoicing instead. Let's practice rejoicing with our brother or sister in the good things they have received. Even if I have little and you have much, why would I not rejoice with you, why would I be jealous instead?

    Envy is a shrivelled, mean-hearted emotion, crabby and resentful. It drives people apart. But rejoicing with one another builds bonds of peace and closeness. Envy causes a souring of relationships and blocks communication. But rejoicing with one another causes relationships to flourish like well-watered gardens and opens new depths of rich communication. Rejoicing is good for the soul, good for the mind, good for our sense of well-being.

    Rejoicing builds up where envy tears down. Rejoicing cements together where envy tears apart. So it's easy to see that rejoicing makes it easier for Jesus to build the church whereas envy makes it much harder. We are a temple built of living stones held together by bonds of peace; rejoicing and love are the two major bonding elements.

    May I urge you, if there is any bitterness or envy or jealousy in your heart, pray for it to be replaced with joy. And wherever you detect bitterness or envy or jealousy in your brother or sister, pray for them that joy might grow in their hearts instead. And where possible, pour love and good things into their lives as these may help the process along.

    Light is a good thing, darkness is disabling, but light banishes darkness. In the same way joy is a good thing, envy is disabling, but joy banishes envy. Our hearts should seek joy just as our eyes seek light. The heart that seeks joy will find it - first in Christ, then in his Spirit, then in all the good things of life, and finally even in facing hardships and difficulties and pain.

    In the world of music - You might like to listen to Beethoven's famous 'Ode to Joy' theme from his ninth symphony.

    Notice how quietly it begins as a simple melody, but then spreads eventually through the entire orchestra and grows in excitement eventually bringing in all the instruments and voices.

    It's such a great illustration, joy may begin quietly but it's lively and thoroughly infectious.

    The final word - Let's give Paul the final word on rejoicing.
    Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

    18 January 2015

    Want to join a permanent revolution?

    Perhaps you're already a revolutionary. Or maybe you'd like to be. If you are interested in church life, and want to live the revolution, then The Permanent Revolution Playbook by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim could be just what you need to help you get started.

    The new book
    The new book
    Alan wrote The Forgotten Ways in which he analyses the ingredients of powerful and disruptive movements. He finds six essential ingredients and explains how they can (and must) work together to provoke rapid church growth. My own guide, Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC) covers the same ground but in an abbreviated and introductory way.

    One of the ingredients is what Alan calls the 'apostolic environment'. Like all six ingredients (the six forgotten ways), the apostolic environment is essential but not, on its own, sufficient. But it is critically important and has to do with the gifts of service listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13 - apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST).

    Alan and Tim wrote a book about APEST, examining the five gifts in great detail, the book is excellent and is called The Permanent Revolution. Now they have brought out The Permanent Revolution Playbook to help small teams process the information to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses, to pinpoint where and how they excel, and to better understand how to work together to see the revolution take hold.

    The book is available as a paperback and in e-book form. They also provide a sample that you can read online and I highly recommend taking a look at that.

    12 January 2015

    Ecotricity is growing - fast!

    Good news for Ecotricity; bad news for the Big Six. And it's well-deserved news; people are voting with their electricity bills.

    An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
    An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
    Ecotricity is one of the smaller British electricity and gas suppliers. At the beginning of 2014 they had some 85 000 customers, at the beginning of 2015 they have... wait for it... 150 000! Will they make it 300 000 by the end of this year? It's possible.

    The Big Six (Britain's six largest suppliers) have lost 2 million customers in the same period. People are moving to Ecotricity and to the other smaller suppliers because they are fed up with poor service, high prices, complex pricing plans, and paying extra for pay-as-you-go schemes. Government regulation has levelled the playing field a bit, but Ecotricity goes well beyond the guidelines and has done better than any other supplier.

    This innovative and plucky little company ploughs its profits into building more wind and solar generating capacity. It has kept its prices unchanged for the last two years, and scores record low figures for customer complaints. Add to that the fact that the electricity is completly green and the company is founded and run by a rather cool dude, and it all adds up to the best and greenest way to buy energy in the UK. I've been with them since September 2006 - and I'm still more than happy with the quick and friendly service.

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