godisnowhere

thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

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Co-mission, Omission and Community

On Thursday night I was at a film and discussion event in Sheffield on the subject of human trafficking. I found myself profoundly shocked by some of the things discussed and shown there. It got me thinking about how we’re shocked – more often than not – not by that which we do not know that we discover, but by that which we do know that we like to pretend we do not. When we are confronted with it, almost against our will, we discover the truth really hurts.

We live in a world built on willful ignorance. Thursday night and Friday morning demonstrated this in its most democratic form. There are some who believe Conservative policy is genuinely the best thing for the country; yet there are many more who believe that Conservative policy is the best thing for their wallet. People do not want to hear about the food banks, about the incoming £12bn of welfare cuts, of the effects of the bedroom tax on real lives, and so on. People don’t want to see their factory farmed food killed, cut, diced, processed and packaged. People don’t want to know about the stories of slaves killed in the process of making garments for sale at less than £10 in our supermarkets.

We don’t want to know because we’re comfortable, and we don’t want to see our comfort disturbed. We don’t want to face what we know to be true. Yet the very fact we know it to be true betrays the selfish evil that underlies our conscious choices to take part in these very systems, processes, interactions and relationships.

Those of us that claim to be “Christians” or “follow Jesus” or whatever we want to call it have been called into a way of life that contradicts these harsh, disturbing realities. We have chosen to follow the path of fairness, social justice, equality, freedom from slavery, freedom from loneliness, freedom from poverty. There is little doubt when we look at the teachings of Jesus that he calls us into a world where we can be a part of this change.

So it is worse still for us then that we actively take part in the lifestyle of the world as it is. We do this in the name of being “culturally relevant” (at worst) or “being like those we’re trying to reach” (at best). But neither is reason for compromise. We are simply perpetuating our status as a guilty party in a system which is utterly, utterly broken.

The lifestyle that Jesus calls us into helps us to counter this reality. Granted, we are unlikely to ever be truly free from this charge. But if we follow Jesus’ teaching, if we lay down our selfish lives for the selfless Way, if we live simply, live well and love well in community and to communities, then we achieve three things: firstly we negate vast swathes of our culpability,  secondly we make some difference to the suffering and injustice of the world, and finally we find in our simplified, more worry-free lives that we have the capacity through community to care.

It is the last of these that is crucial to our new Way. Without the support of community we burn out. Without the capacity to care we simply bury the bad news and carry on as normal, willfully ignorant of the injustices of the world. And with this capacity we can find it in ourselves to resist the temptations of the world.

We find ourselves here because we have boxed our faith into Sunday mornings and into salvation. Jesus talks, time and time again (as do I, you may have noticed) about the Kingdom of Heaven. The way things are meant to be, right here, right now, if we choose to take part in that way of life. If we choose to allow our faith to extend to every area of our life; then we will find it starts to look completely different. Being “culturally relevant” will not even be possible, never mind an option.

Because it isn’t about being culturally relevant, is it? And when we enter in to dialogue with people, we find it’s actually okay to say “I don’t want to be controlled by my desire to buy clothes”, “I’d rather not fund international wars”, “Prostitution is damaging because it encourages the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people”. People are, as I have said before, inclined towards the message of Jesus. They often just don’t realise it’s Jesus who is the messenger.

Classical theology talks of “Sins of comission and omission”. Comission being the committing of a sin – such as murder, adultery, and so on. These are the sins we avoid regularly and avoid well; though we often allow the more subtle negative actions we take to slip by un-noticed.

“sins of omission” are those which are done not by doing, but by not doing. We do not feed the poor. We do not care for the widow. We do not help the needy or the oppressed. We do not consider where our clothes or our coffee have come from. We do not think about those who will suffer from the cuts when we vote to increase our savings, (that last one is probably a mixture of both co- and o-) and so forth. More than all of these, omission covers the failure to campaign, the failure to speak up, the failure to stand up and be counted against the damaging, negative ways of this world.

So in practicing the way of Jesus, we must ensure we not only remove ourselves as much as we can from the damaging, negative, anti-Kingdom practices we find the world calls us into on a daily basis. We must also stand up and make the voice of the oppressed heard. We must fight for them and with them for change. And we can do this because of the support of community.

What Jesus does, time and time again, is provide an alternative to many of the lies of our consumerist, selfish world. I hope in the coming posts to explore some of these lies/promises made to us and what we are led towards as an alternative.

God Isn’t Here

Following on from yesterday’s article about finding a way back to wanting to follow Jesus, I have been thinking this morning about the biggest stumbling block that I have in my walk at the moment: community. For reasons I won’t go into here, the ‘community house’ in which I live is disbanding at the end of this month, and I am going to live with friends a couple of streets away and I haven’t been back to the city centre mega-church I used to attend for over a year now. This puts the activities of meeting co-consiprators and doing some conspiring at an all-time low.

That said, I wouldn’t change my journey or where it is heading in the immediate future. I have immensely enjoyed my time in my current house, but it is rightly the time for things to move on from here. I do not regret moving from a city centre faith community to a suburban one and then finally to a locally-minded one; even if it has meant having to get used to the quirks and eccentricities of the Anglican church.

Enough about my immediate journey. What I wanted to talk about this morning was about how the churches that I have been a part of (a Welsh Baptist, independent Charismatic, Assemblies of God Pentecostal, and finally CofE) have all made it enormously difficult to feel as though viewing Jesus as my role model for now can be the central pillar of my faith.

The first question is, is that right?

I mean, is it right to have that as the central pillar of my faith? Well, people come to faith for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of ways. You’ve only got to read the stories of Jesus to see this; never mind the myriad of reasons people give in modern times, ranging from the overtly miraculous to the coincidental and finally the absurdly rational. My reasons are two-fold.

Firstly, I was born with it. I was taught Jesus was God and that God loved me. So it always made sense to listen to what Jesus had to say. Then when I hit around 21-22, I realised that I had been fed this by my upbringing and set about intellectually burning down every last pillar of Christianity that I could find in my life. I’ve been left with feelings of unease, discomfort and loneliness. It is only recently that I have found a way back to wanting to believe, and that’s what I talked about yesterday. This has been my conversion mechanic.

So on emotional grounds, yes, it is right. On theological grounds? That depends who you ask. The more “orthodox” Christians would argue that what I am presenting is essentially what they might call a “social justice gospel”, which is some kind of distortion of the “real” gospel.

This is (look away now if you don’t like it when I get blunt) total bollocks. The real gospel, the “good news” that comes straight from the mouth of Jesus himself is time and time and time again concerned with the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick, the lonely, the prisoner, the rich man too distracted by worldly possessions. Jesus doesn’t walk around saying “pray the prayer and believe I died for you and was resurrected and you’ll get to live forever, isn’t that good news!”. No, instead, Jesus has a focus on the here and now and the way the world is and how it can be so. much. better.

Of course, you counter, it would be absurd for Jesus to say that because they haven’t happened yet. And you would be right – except that he actively tells people they will be with him in paradise, for nothing more than recognising that it all hinges on mercy. The man acknowledges that he is not destined for eternal bliss, and upon pleading with Jesus for mercy, Jesus assures him that mercy is his. So the good news becomes two-fold: There is hope for those who lack and There is mercy for those who have done wrong.

Yes, Jesus’ death on the cross is important. It allows him to become the god of empathy and allows death to be symbolically “defeated” allowing us a future hope that one day all suffering will be rendered powerless. But for me it is not the reason for my faith and I will no longer be ashamed of that! The reason for my faith is that Jesus promises a better way of life here and now and that this is somehow linked with the not yet which I do not fully understand. And I’m fine with that. I’m sure many would disagree and take me to task on this. And you’re welcome to. But moving on…

Church and the Kingdom

I can see more clearly than ever now that the problem lies in the way that church communities are built: invariably around the “Saving power of the Cross” or some other similarly crux-centric salvation mechanic that effectively sidelines the life of Jesus. The Anglicans skip over it in their creed, the Baptists tell you to pray the prayer, and the Charismatics obsess about bringing the “not yet” spiritual wackiness into the “now” and perpetually celebrate their boyfriend status with Jesus in their singing.

I don’t find any of this satisfying. That’s not to say that in each of these churches there hasn’t been a single thing I agree with. Of course there has. But when you look at the dominant narrative it often becomes about me as an individual and my “personal relationship” with God. I find this self-absorbing and unhelpful. I want to meet with people who want to change the world. I want to scheme and dream. I want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and be a part of the coming of the Way of God on earth today. now. here.

I want to sing songs of revolution. I want to cry out to God for social change – not of opinion on marriage or abortion but social change that allows the poor to have a chance in life, that gives the widowed and the orphaned support. I want to share in communion meals – involving good food and good drink – with people from all kinds of walks of life, not have to stare helplessly at a giant statue of Jesus while I am fed a wafer by a priest, nor to stare at my feet while I consume the shot of Ribena shared out among the congregation.

Why do I want those things? Because I earnestly believe that if we come together as community intent on following Jesus we will quickly find ourselves needing to live more simply (both inside and externally), love more wholeheartedly and care more compassionately. And when we do these things we run the risk of losing our lives; only to find them in God. We won’t need to go back every week to the addictive euphoria of worship gatherings, we won’t need to satisfy our guilt with sweet, strong port. We’ll be too busy getting a sense of meaningful change in the world. Just like the kind Jesus left behind as he walked Palestine two millennia ago. And that really will be sharing the good news.

If we put social justice and compassion here and now at the centre of our faith it doesn’t have to replace the cross. The cross is the signature at the bottom of the contract:

“There is a better way. There is a new world. There is an age to come. All may know it. It is here now. It begins. Join me.”

Let’s.

 

 

God is Nowhere

So, there’s been quite a long silence. It’s because I’ve had nothing to say. I‘ve not felt as though I’ve been on any kind of journey with any kind of god. I have recognised that I want to be on some kind of journey with some kind of god (that’s a whole separate topic to deliver into one day).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about trying to build up a narrative that makes sense – but not just making it up to be how i want; nor simply accepting the way that people talk about their god as though they know their god inside out.

John, one of the biographer’s of Jesus’ life, talks about Jesus’ arrival on earth as a light among the darkness. It makes sense to me that any god worth their salt would be something like that. So the first question is, is there darkness?

The answer is a pretty obvious and resounding ‘yes’, isn’t it? It tells that possibly the number one reason that people claim they cannot believe in Yahweh – the God of Christianity – is because they cannot fathom why Yahweh would allow so much suffering in the world.

People die from horrible cancers. People get raped by soldiers committing genocides. People are acutely lonely. There is a lot of suffering, or “darkness” in the world.

We don’t like the darkness when it happens to us, and we don’t like it when it happens to our family. We also find ourselves feeling empathetic when we come across others who suffer similar plights to ourselves – just look at AA meetings or cancer support charities.

So it stands to reason that we should try to do something to fight the darkness. We cannot eradicate suffering altogether, but we can do our bit. We can stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the widowed, the orphaned, the raped, the families of the murdered.

Yet in our own individual strength we are feeble. It is community which makes us strong. We can be kind to those around us and we can do small acts of kindness. But to fight trafficking, to counter racism, to stop gang violence, to address inequality – that requires communities of people united against these things.

Some would say that every community needs inspirational leaders. People we look to to inspire us towards our goal.

According to John, Jesus is that person. Jesus arrives on the earth and proclaims good news to the poor. Jesus heals the sick, addresses injustice, and declares that there is a newer, better way of doing life. Jesus calls this, “the Kingdom of Heaven” – as opposed to the Kingdom of Caesar. Perhaps today we might call this “the way of God” – early followers called it “the way”, in fact.

Having a leader is dangerous. Leaders are fallible. Jesus counters this on two fronts: he behaves impeccably, irreproachably. And secondly, he makes the Way of God the ideal to follow, rather than himself as the object of perfection. The goal is not to be Jesus. the goal is to have the same goal as Jesus. So in a sense it becomes something to share in as a community.

Ultimately, Jesus claims to be God himself. Jesus claims to be the Messiah – a figure the ancient Jews believed would save them from oppression. In being God and in being separated from God through torture and death and abandonment (Jesus cries out at his death – “my God, why have you forsaken me?”), Jesus becomes a god who is not sympathetic to our plight but instead empathetic. Jesus knows what it means to feel pain.

Finally Jesus defeats death. I have no idea how, and it bugs me regularly. But if I choose to accept that it is true – and I am willing to take that chance, on balance, owing to the integrity and consistency of his teachings and the words written about him – if it is true, then Yahweh offers some kind of ultimate, over-arching solution to suffering.

The question becomes ‘why can’t everything be solved now?’ And that’s a question to which no-one has an answer. And I’m not sure they ever will. But I am willing to be a part of a community of people who have a way to answer the two burning questions that I recycle time and again: “is there a God” and “how can we stop all the suffering”. I’ve never found a better answer than this: Jesus.

Why I’m Voting Labour

This time it’s not an April Fool. I really am voting for Labour on 7th May, I promise! I’ve been overwhelmed / offended / confused / amazed at the volume of people who didn’t realize that my previous post was an April Fools joke. So, in case some of my arguments actually managed to sway you in any way; here’s a swift debunking of why they are all totally made up:

Ed Miliband Is Not Incompetent

The Tory press has been relentless in its criticism of Ed. There have been countless “bacon sandwich” type incidents, attacks on his family, attacks on his kitchen (by a press that supports a cabinet of millionaires) and so on. But none of this has gotten to the heart of the matter. Then one day a Conservative spoke up and talked about ruthless Ed. And he has been.

  • Ed stopped Syria from being bombed, which would have escalated the conflict in the region
  • Ed has signalled that Labour would stop the Bedroom Tax
  • Ed has pledged to increase the minimum wage, reform zero hours contracts and protect the rights of workers.
  • Ed has promised to change tack on the way the government deals with the NHS, no longer following the privatisation policies of old. No more New Labour.

Nick Clegg? An honourable man, but a footnote of history after this government is finally a thing of the past. He may have stopped Tory horrors. But why stop Tory horrors when instead you can calm down Labour zealousness?

I don’t claim to believe that Labour are either a) radical enough on economics or b) sensible enough on policies such as immigration. But I do think a Labour-led government will be better than a Tory-led one. The key here is better. Yes, we can abstain, complain, moan, and whinge about how the gap is too small; but that gap contains a whole lot of hurting people that we can help. It’s the least we can do.

The Green Party, contrary to being “Sandal wearing loonies” are economically extreme but socially very, very insightful indeed. They see a return to caring for the earth and for one another as the core principles behind their social policy, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s just a shame I don’t live in Brighton or Bristol West.

UKIP? I got that one the most wrong. They’re not so much loony as evil. Cold, calculating, racist, xenophobic evil. Benefits claimants are not statistically a problem in this country. Overseas aid is less than 1% of GDP, gays do NOT cause thunderstorms and to top it all off  they’re headed up by an investment w…sorry… banker.

As for the Tories? Well…

  • The Bedroom Tax
  • Warmongering
  • Benefit cuts
  • ATOS
  • NHS privatisation plans
  • Free schools
  • A massive increase in the need for foodbanks

And the worst of all sins, hypocrisy: an ever ballooning deficit.

As far as my previous “praise” goes? well:

  • Marriage equality would have become legislation under any party leader, given the climate. Look at how many Conservatives opposed it!
  • Creating jobs is all well and good, but only if they’re not zero hours or part time!
  • The public sector did a better job of running the rail network than any of the current lot
  • Universal Credit still isn’t fully here, is still a joke, and should still be scrapped

Locally? Charlotte Leslie works tirelessly for the people of Henleaze and Westbury. She puts a token effort in for Southmead where her government continues to screw over the primary demographics. And she defends their abhorrent record. Who cares about a railway line? Seriously? Henbury is too far away to walk to anyway, for most people.

As for the Southmead Survey? I was more than a little disgusted at the way in which she piggy backed the hard work of many volunteers in producing a Southmead Community Plan, by then sending out “Charlotte Leslies Southmead Community Plan” which was, of course, hugely politically biased. That was the nail in the coffin for me.

Darren Jones on the other hand is a pleasant local lad whose government will stand up for the many and not the few.

So, on May 7th, I’ll be voting Labour. I’d encourage you to do the same.

 

 

It’s Always Good Friday Somewhere

This Friday, as we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, we remember his abandonment. We recall that he cried out to God and asked “why have you forsaken me”? We remember his torture, loneliness, and death.

And then on Sunday we switch back to the other 364 days of the year where we proclaim Christ triumphant.

Triumphant. Because that’s what Christianity has become. To its detriment.

We’ve been too busy being the world’s biggest religion. Invading countries, fighting Muslims, telling people how to think, behave and feel. And then declaring that God has given us worldly riches as some kind of crude pre-rapture thank-you to butter us up before the big day when we get to stand in front of him and boast about all the wonderful things we have done.

It’s Good Friday. God is dead.

Jesus was abandoned.

It’s always Good Friday somewhere. There’s always pain, always suffering, always evil, always doubt, always struggle.

Today as you remember Jesus going through the worst of all kinds of pain, think of those who struggle with their faith. Those who feel as though God really has abandoned them. Those for whom Gods abandonment has been self evident in their rejection by mainstream church – either explicit for their “sins” of homosexuality, or unorthodoxy; or implicit for their flaws and failings as human beings, rejected by a subculture that no longer looks anything like the man who came to create it.

We share in this responsibility. We are a community. We are all in this totally, totally together.

Remember what happened when Israel disobeyed God? When it didn’t listen to his advice and his help, and his commandments? God abandoned Israel.

God has promised, through Jesus, not to abandon us in the same way. The least we can do is return the favour.

[APRIL FOOL] Why I’m Voting Conservative on May 7th

Just for clarity, this was a joke! There is no way in all of hell I would ever even begin to consider voting for the Conservative party in its current guise. Or, realistically, in any guise.

As many of you will know, politics is an issue dear to my heart. I happen to believe it the pursuit of noble causes far more than I perceive it to be the cynical they’re-all-the-same-and-in-it-for-themselves alternative.

I’ve spent some long evenings thinking about where my vote should lie. My natural inclination has always been to vote Labour. Yet Ed Miliband fills me with dread. The man is nothing short of utterly incompetent.

Then there’s the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg, better known for… breaking his promises – than for delivering anything  tangible in government. No thanks.

What about the Green party? sandal wearing loonies. And UKIP? Just plain loonies.

Which is why, with much caution, bemusement, regret and a heavy heart, I’ve decided to place my vote, this year, for the Conservative party.

I may not agree with David Cameron on all things but the man is at least serious about deficit reduction, equality (look at his record on gay rights, for example), creating jobs and employment, and furthering the role of business in the miserable mess that is the public sector. Yes, some of his policies unnerve me – I winced every time I heard Michael Gove on the television over the last five years – but take a look at some of the other things the government has achieved: the universal credit being a great example. While faced with a difficult rolling-out phase, brings benefits into one, manageable, sensible, understandable system that those who use it can follow.

Locally, Charlotte Leslie has been a fantastic constituency MP, working tirelessly for the people of Southmead. She has been at the forefront of work on local campaigns such as her Southmead Survey, and the re-opening of the Henbury railway line, to name just a couple of things.

So, this coming election, I will be placing my vote with the Conservatives. I’ve grown in private, to admire their approach and their attitude – that we need to work hard and contribute to society; and enable others to do the same. I implore you to do the same as I will on the 7th May – vote Conservative.

 

Leviticus

The Bible is weird. I mean, seriously weird. I think that’s one of the reasons I find it so fascinating. On the one hand, there’s some great stuff in there about loving your neighbour and the hope of the age to come and the beauty of creation. And on the other hand there’s genocide and the ritual killing of animals and rules and regulations about not mixing fabrics, avoiding bacon and chopping off body parts that just shouldn’t be touched.

Seriously. Weird.

So I thought it might be fun to take a deeper look at some of the weird, to see if it actually makes any sense at all.

Starting, of course, with Leviticus.

We all baulk at the American televangelists that we pop up on our news feeds from time to time with their message of blessing. You know the drill – give God money and he will bless you. Not getting blessed? give more. Getting blessed? give more to show your thanks.

Or maybe you’ve been a part of a church that tells you about how you need to take up your cross, to sacrifice everything, to give your all – those kinds of phrases – the ones that evoke that familiar feeling.

Guilt.

Because that’s what the money alleviates. That’s what singing “be my everything” helps us to feel. We’re giving all that we possibly can.

We don’t believe in grace.

Sure, we say we believe in grace but to borrow from Donald Miller, what we say isn’t what we believe – what we do is what we believe. And we behave as though we are still trying to appease God.

Leviticus 1 starts with some pretty gruesome instructions on making sacrifices to God to alleviate guilt. Or, possibly, those feelings of guilt.

Because that’s what the opening chapters of Leviticus are about.

Your’e an ancient near eastern person, and you’re used to the system. The system says: need blessing? give some crops to that god. Been blessed? you’d better show your thanks by giving more. Not being blessed? you need to up your giving!

Sounds awkwardly familiar, doesn’t it?

So whilst it might seem gruesome and barbaric, the Levitical system of sacrifice sets out a very precise and particular list of things which aren’t good. And it sets out a very specific, particular way of becoming guilt-free.

Instead of your entire crop, just a representative portion of grain.

Instead of all of your livestock, just a dove.

That looks and sounds a lot like compassion to me. Compassion for a worldview which is broken. And a determination to fix it. So much so that eventually God decides enough is enough and renders even his own sacrifice system useless by making the biggest sacrifice of all.

And yet we still have the guts to accuse that God of barbarism.

There Is Hope

I didn’t manage to keep up the blog stamina! Never mind. Here’s an adventy poem/prayer for you:

When it seems like life is work,
and work is life,
there is hope.

When it seems like you’re alone,
in a sea of people,
there is hope.

When it seems like money talks,
and you’re silent,
there is hope.

When it seems like there’s no answer,
just more questions,
there is hope.

When your own two feet fail you,
your arms don’t support you,
there is hope.

When your faith is gone,
and your beliefs unsettled,
there is hope.

Whether you’re feeling ill, dying,
depressed, disillusioned,
dissapointed, distressed,
disregarded, downbeat,
deteriorating, damaged,
defiled, disoriented,
disturbed or downright angry.
there is hope.

O come, O come, Immanuel:
bring hope to the hopeless,
rest to the restless,
space to the crowded,
companionship to the lonely,
and love to the rejected.

Amen.

Advent IV: In The Name of Jesus

Since the beginning of time we have fought. Over land, over resources, over love, over grudges, over family, over power, over influence, over all kinds of things we have killed one another and allowed death to be an accepted, necessary part of our footprint on this earth.

Often, we do this in the name of God.

God told me to invade that country.
God would be proud we are spreading His message.
God is on our side.

“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”

The sword kills men
The gun kills more men
The bomb kills innocent men, women and children
The hydrogen bomb kills millions of innocents.

War begets war.
Forgiveness begets peace.

We need peace,
We need forgiveness,
We need Jesus.

Advent III: A brief history of God

God made the world.
God made the plants.
God made the animals.
God made man first (obviously)
God made woman second
The woman messed up first (obviously)
The man messed up second
God killed everyone off because they were evil
God promised not to do it again
People worshipped all kinds of Gods
The Gods were angry
The God demanded sacrifices
This God spoke to Abraham
This God wasn’t angry
This God got angry (a bit)
This God demanded less sacrifices,
but still demanded them.
God took his people out of slavery.
God looked after Israel
at the expense of everyone else.
God doesn’t mind genocide.
God told everyone how to live.
No-one listened.
God got angry.
Everyone listened (A bit)
then went back to normal life.
God got angry.
God sent Israel into exile.
And brought them back,
and then into exile again.

Then God suddenly had a change of heart and
decided in advance to murder his own son
to show us all that he loves us
(because, apparently, he hates himself?)
So now if we don’t believe him
one day he’s going to get angry
again
and we’ve had it.
forever.

(but our choice was predestined anyway)
OR

God made the world
God wanted people to love him
People thought they had to please God
God showed Abraham their behaviour was excessive
God said “don’t sacrifice, everything”
God said “I don’t desire your sacrifices”
God said “Love your neighbour, it’s that simple”
But no-one listened.
So God made things clear
God made the biggest sacrifice of all
And showed the religious people there was nothing
behind the curtain.
Nothing at all.
God was in all things
through all things
he made all things
and loves all things
and all people.
He loves me,
he loves you,
he loves the one you hate.
And one day,
we’ll all get it.
And it will be beautiful.
OR
Your own story.

 
You decide.

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