What Is the Church?


Included in the title the last two posts is “the Church Universal.” I intended to distinguish the Body of Christ from local branches and specifically from the institutions associating themselves with Christ here in North America. After all, one of the largest cults includes Jesus’ name in their official title.

Jesus Himself warned that at the judgment there will be people saying, Lord, Lord, we did this and that in Your name. His response will be, I never knew you.

We who are in the Body of Christ have a certain responsibility to recognize others in the Body of Christ. But I don’t see that God gave us the job to weed out those who are false. They will weed themselves out.

I think of the parable of the ten bridal attendants who waited late into the night for the wedding party. The foolish five did not prepare and ran out of oil for their lamps. The wise five didn’t try to rescue them, nor did they take it upon themselves to disqualify them from attending the wedding. The foolish five did that themselves because they were scrambling to prepare when they should have been marching into the banquet hall.

Here’s what God says in Revelations that pertains to this topic:

“…the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
– emphasis mine

Righteous acts? Doesn’t that sound like a works theology?

Here’s another reason, I believe, the true Church has become hard to identify here in North America. We have distanced ourselves from “the social gospel” to the point that we have nearly forgotten what it means to love our neighbor. Add to that the prosperity we enjoy and our ignorance of the rest of the world, and it hardly seems necessary that the church should be an agent of righteous acts, like feeding the hungry or clothing the poor.

There are other cultural reasons too, associated with pulling oneself up by his own bootstraps and such. But none of it justifies crossing the road to avoid looking at the poor mugging victim lying on the other side.

So the Church is …? Those who believe Jesus is Who He said He is—the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Light of the world, Living Water, the I AM. Something else, too. This belief will show itself in righteous acts, because when we become part of the vine, surely fruit will follow.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 9:46 am  Comments (2)  
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Fixing the Church Universal?


I took a quick glance at what other bloggers are saying about church. What a mixed bag. There were numerous articles about the shooting last week at the Unitarian Universalist church in Tennessee, in which two people were killed. One publication reported that, according to police, the man held for the crime “attacked the congregation because of its outspoken socially liberal and gay-friendly beliefs.”

Another dealt with the suit a woman brought against a church in Texas because she claimed she was injured in an exorcism. (That one is reportedly headed for the Supreme Court).

One interesting post answered the question, why do people go to church.

A couple others discuss whether or not the flag belongs in the church. One announced a church that was closing, another that their church would be giving away 1000 backpacks filled with school supplies.

And so it goes.

In some ways, I was relieved that there doesn’t appear to be an abundance of anti-church blog posts, but then I only looked at the first hundred out of the nearly 200,000 posts written about church in just this past week. Yet on the other hand, what these people were talking about bore little resemblance to what I know as the Church.

The closest was a post by Brian McLaughlin. However, he teeters on the edge of a precarious cliff. At one point he asks

Why is it that so many churches are faithfully teaching the Bible as the Word of God but are having absolutely no impact on the Christians or non-Christians in their community?

My first thought was, Where are these churches? I’ve not seen them, that’s for sure. But I do know of missionaries who labor for years and never see much change in the people and community they serve. So it seems possible there are some churches faithfully preaching the Word of God with no apparent impact.

But he said “so many.”

My response is, I don’t think that’s possible.

First, if those churches are faithfully preaching the Word of God, they won’t be missing the work of the Holy Spirit, as Mr. McLaughlin says.

Second, Scripture is clear that fruit is the way we can identify those in the vine. So no fruit seems to me to be an indication that these many churches are pretending. Sort of like the sorcerer who followed Peter around for a time, wanting above all the power he saw when the apostles lay hands on the new believers.

Scripture also makes it clear that false teachers will arise from within the ranks of the believers, and that we who hold to the Truth of Scripture are to examine what we hear.

So my thinking is, we have lowered the bar to the point that we want to “fix” churches that are in fact not part of the Church. Perhaps, instead, we who are part of the Church universal should loudly proclaim what we know to be true about Jesus mediating for us with the Father, then go out in the power of the Holy Spirit and let our fruit show. Seems to me the distinctions should then be clear.

Published in: on July 30, 2008 at 11:01 am  Comments (3)  
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The Church Universal


Lately my thoughts have been going in a thousand directions. One line is following an idea that seems to be cropping up more and more. I’ve seen this premise in bookstore catalogues, specifically in the advertisements for certain non-fiction titles. And now it’s raised its head in several novels as well.

The way things tend to go these days, people read about an idea a couple times and without ever challenging the concept, accept it as part of their body of “fact” which they then repeat as if it is gospel. That process in itself deserves a blog post, but not this one.

Instead, I want to take an introductory look at what’s being said recently about the Church. These books I mentioned seem to be saying, God is good, it’s the Church I can’t stand. Or to put it another way, Christianity would be fine except for Christians.

Before I get started on my reaction to this line of thinking, let me first be clear on what I am not saying. I am not saying the Church is perfect and should never change. The truth is, the Church is made up of people. Redeemed people, but all of us, to one degree or another, are struggling in the same way Paul described his own struggle(Romans 7)—doing that which he wished he wouldn’t do. Consequently, whenever Christians gather together, imperfection will raise its ugly head.

Since we Christians serve a perfect God, since we have been clothed with the robe of righteousness, since we are being shaped into the image of Jesus Himself, this imperfection is shocking and disappointing (see yesterday’s post on expectations, which applies to real life as much as it does fiction).

But does that mean we should bail on the Church as some seem to be suggesting?

Consider that the Bible says Christ is the head of the Church, then ask that question again. Consider that God uses the analogy of a bride—His bride—to describe the Church.

Consider that many of the people writing are looking at the Church as it is currently operating in North America, specifically in the US, without much knowledge or concern for what believers in Nigeria, Taiwan, Bolivia, or Ukraine are doing.

In short, I find this dismissive attitude (one person commented at Spec Faith: “I am so over church. Up to ‘here’ with christians.”) to be un-biblical and narrow. Oddly, “narrow” seems to be one of the accusations against the church in the US.

Could it be that those who are accusing the Church are really only looking at a church or several churches or even those who claim to be part of the Church but in truth are not? What do you think?

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 10:39 am  Comments (13)  
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Expectations


Recently I received a copy of a publication I had hoped to submit a story to. I wanted to check out this collection, as freelancers are told to do, so I would know the tone and tenor of the stories that made it in print. My expectations were quite high, to be honest. I supposed this particular publication to be of the literary variety, and probably my writing wouldn’t fit, but nevertheless, on that outside chance, I was willing to pay the price of the collection to find out.

When it arrived, I was a little taken aback. The cover was … a bit amateurish, but still, I looked forward to sitting down with it and diving into the stories. Except that most of the publication was not “stories,” but poetry and art work as well. OK, I could live with that, though I now also noticed the amateurish look of the entire publication.

When I finally did begin reading the stories, is it any wonder my mindset, once prepared to consider the stories on a plane above my own writing and admire them from afar, shifted? The look of the publication altered my expectations.

This is a little shocking to me, because I’ve claimed for a long time I hardly notice covers of books or the quality of the paper or the color of the font and such. Yet, undoubtedly those things and others have played a part in creating my expectations for stories.

The real lesson for me, however, is about meeting expectations. In some ways we authors create expectations. If I categorize myself as a fantasy writer, I need to create a fantasy world or some fantasy elements in this world. Otherwise, a reader coming to the work expecting to find a place that is Other would have unmet expectations.

I’m convinced unmet expectations are the greatest cause of reader dissatisfaction.

Which brings me to another point. When an author pitches a book, either to an agent or editor, or on the back cover to readers, he needs to be truthful. Because of marketing, I think we have fallen into hyperbole. But in reality, when I read “the next Tolkien” in an endorsement or a back cover blurb, I’m not sold. I sort of roll my eyes and think, One more in the crowd of NOT Tolkien.

In other words, if a book makes this comparison to the best, I’ve already written it off. Why is that? The claim creates an expectation I don’t think can be met. I’m disappointed before I ever start.

Could be no one else reacts this way. I’m interested, though, in what creates high expectations for others. Reading a review? A recommendation from a friend? The book cover? The forward matter (a cool map, for instance)? The feel of the paper? The back cover blurb? The first page? What gives you your reading experience expectations?

Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 12:53 pm  Comments (7)  
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Announcement, Announcement


Note, this is not a regular blog post, meaning that I have not changed my ways. I still blog regularly Monday through Friday, but when I have something important to put before you on a Saturday, I’m happy to do so.

I just received word that our featured author from last week’s tour, Donita Paul, has a new blog, Dragon Bloggin’. Yep, the Author Who Remained Blogless (;-) ) for so long, now has multiple blogs.

This one you’ll want to check out right away because she’s running her own contest this weekend only. The winner will be announced Monday, so I suggest you click on over, read the clues, and make your comment for a chance to win a nifty prize. 😀

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 9:47 am  Comments Off on Announcement, Announcement  
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Fantasy Friday – A Look at Reality


From time to time, I find it necessary to write an apology for fantasy or perhaps for certain aspects of fantasy. When I ran across a post criticizing CS Lewis and questioning his salvation, that served to goad me into a discussion about fantasy and what authors can accomplish in a genre centered on good versus evil.

Interestingly enough, people who disdain or criticize fantasy seem inoculated against the problems with reality fiction.

For starters, reality fiction can be written by those whose reality is not one consistent with what the Bible says is true. Take a look at some of the books with a gay agenda such as Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate. In addition, much secular contemporary literature imprisons readers in the bleak and depressing, purposefully voiding ideals, sentiments, morality, religious values.

Now more and more Christian authors are pushing for reality Christian fiction to actually depict reality. That would be the sinful, fallen world: child abuse, pornography, Internet predators, drugs abuse, serial marriage, same sex marriage, child sex slaves, gang violence, homelessness … shall I go on?

With reality being what it is, writing reality fiction should not be looked upon as some kind of safe ground while fantasy dances with danger. Instead, fantasy can act much the way the old fairy tales did. In a pretend story, a child could see a truth that applied not only to the story but to the real world.

In fairy tales dwarfs take in a needy, lost girl; a disobedient child invites trouble into her grandmother’s house; a wise pig withstands the assault of the enemy; a vain queen loses everything because of her jealousy; a misused step-sister is rewarded for her constancy; and on and on.

Does anyone really need a reality villain to enjoy the story or get the point of Little Red Riding Hood?

Especially in a society that is becoming more and more “story saturated,” fantasy brings in something fresh and fun. This is fiction, after all. It’s made to enjoy.

And reality? Since reality has become so … real, it just may not be as entertaining as a good fantasy, even as it mucks around in the very real sin all around us—without offering an answer.

I’ll give you an example. Juno. This movie, released in the spring, I believe, took a bold pro-life stand. The reality was teen pregnancy. The result was, adoption is an option. I applaud the message, though it is but a band-aid to the real issues of life. No, not teen sexuality. Teen, adult rejection of God and His love and mercy and forgiveness so we can go our own way.

Reality is so partial. It tells a little bit of the truth perhaps. Fantasy deals with the real Truth.

Published in: on July 25, 2008 at 2:16 pm  Comments (10)  
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We Have Winners


Multiple winners have emerged from the just-concluded CSFF Blog Tour for Donita Paul’s latest release, DragonLight.

Starting with the CSFF tour itself. Thirty-nine bloggers participated in the tour, with a higher number than ever posting all three days.

Fantasy won too. Of the thirty-seven individual sites participating, a whopping forty percent where run by men. For those of you who know that the audience for Christian fiction is supposedly eighty percent women, you quickly see the fantasy tour had a better 60/40 gender balance. Christian fantasy, I conclude, is drawing in the untapped male market, but not losing women readers.

DragonLight won. On the list of Popular Books on Technorati, DragonLight landed in the number one spot on Tuesday before dropping to number four (where it still remains, behind three books by James Scott Bell, CFBA’s featured author). Impossible to know what part the CSFF tour played on DragonLight‘s Amazon ranking, but it dropped from the 8000’s a week ago to 4500 today, and the seven-day ranking was another thousand points lower (the shrinking number being better).

The DragonKeeper Chronicles won. Numerous bloggers reviewed the earlier books, re-read them, recommended them, and even bought them. Three of the five had a significant dip in their Amazon ranking—again something the tour may or may not have affected.

Participant bloggers won. Good discussion went on at a number of sites. My own visitor numbers spiked. Comments from our featured author, Donita Paul spoke directly to what the bloggers commented—a plus for those regularly visiting the sites.

Of course, one particular participant won. I’m referring to the recipient of the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award for July 2008. This was another tough, tough decision because we had some excellent discussion, some posts with creative content, and views that were well thought out. But for his Four posts, including the “0 Day” recap of the earlier DragonKeeper books, the award goes to John Otte.

Which brings us to our final winner. I held a What’s Wrong with This Picture contest, and the winner who first correctly identified the fact that Donita has in fact written for children was Katie Hart, one of our CSFF Blog Tour charter members. As a prize, she will receive one of the specialty t-shirts provided by our author.

CSFF Blog Tour – DragonLight, Day 3


What’s Wrong with This Picture.

Today’s contest is part of the CSFF tour for DragonLight by Donita Paul (WaterBrook). If you’ve been visiting the other participants or if you’ve read interviews with Donita in the past or visited her web site, you probably already know quite a bit about her. So this is a chance for you to put your knowledge to work (and maybe learn one or two other tidbits along the way).

By way of reminder, your goal is to find the ONE incorrect fact in this post about Donita. The first person to email me with the correct answer at rluellam at yahoo dot com will win a t-shirt from Donita. So here we go.

Background.
Donita Kathleen Paul was born November 20, 1950, in Lawrence, Kansas, to Arthur Norman and Elnora Evelyn Foster Paul. In childhood, Donita read avidly. Her treat each week was a trip to the local discount store with her father where he bought her a book for $1.25.

She had three older brothers, David, Stephen, and Jon—one to hold her feet, one to hold her arms, and one to tickle their little sister. When she was five, one brother tried to kill her [Note: this is hyperbole] by shooting her with an archery arrow when they were playing Indians. Actually, she knows now this event was an accident and probably more her fault than his.

Her best friend was a Jewish girl. Donita was devastated to learn that Martha would not be celebrating Christmas with her and that she would not be celebrating Hanukah with Martha. However, Donita’s mother, a farm gal who furthered her education through fiction, made some adjustments on their end.

At age 13 Donita began teaching Sunday school, perhaps a hint of what the future held. She graduated from high school in 1968 and from the University of Houston in 1973 with a BS in Elementary Education.

She then became an elementary teacher, working in both public and private schools, until she retired in 1996. She also homeschooled her own two children who are now grown. Her daughter is married and has children of her own, making Donita a proud grandmother.

Currently she lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Writing.
Because of working with young people, Donita considered writing for teens but eventually abandoned the idea. She first published fiction as a romance writer in 1999 under the name Kathleen Paul. Her fantasy series, the DragonKeeper Chronicles, followed, with DragonSpell releasing in 2004.

Donita credits Robert Jordan as having the biggest influence on her move to fantasy, but her mother also challenged her to write something different. When her critique group turned thumbs down to her first fantasy effort, she accepted this as another challenge and kept at it.

When giving new writers advice, she says first to read, read, read, then to write, write, write. She also advises going to a writers’ conference and reading good how-to books.

Her personal favorite is The Key by James. M. Frey. She has also attended such conferences as the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference and in 2006 a Donald Maass writing seminar where she learned the importance of tension on every page.

Her main project at the moment is A New Tail about an emerlindian young lady who has held her home together during her father’s absence only to discover she must undo some of the measures taken to pay the mortgage.

– – –

So, did you find it? The one glaring error that can win you one of Donita’s fun t-shirts? If you spotted it, hurry on over to email your answer to rluellam at yahoo dot com. By the way, unless you say otherwise, I will take your entry in the contest as permission to pass along your email address to Donita in the event that you are the winner.

After sending your email, come on back to the web and see what the other tour participants are saying:

** Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
# Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
# Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear (note corrected link)
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
# Katie Hart
+ * Timothy Hicks Don’t miss his interview with Donita
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
** Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma Check out the unique interview with Ms. Paul discussing the DragonKeeper books and characters.
* Terri Main
Margaret Check out her contest explained in her Day 1 post
# Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
+ Nissa Don’t miss her Day 2 interview with Donita
** John W. Otte Don’t miss his “0 Day” recap of the other books in the series
Deena Peterson
** Steve Rice Don’t miss his interview with Donita posted last week
# Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
* Chawna Schroeder Be sure to read her Day 2 interview with Donita
+ Sean Slagle
James Somers
* Robert Treskillard
# Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

“#” indicates CSFF participant in the 2006 tour for DragonKnight

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 11:17 am  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – DragonLight, Day 2


The Review. Yes, you’ll need to wait one more day for The Contest. (:-D – I’m trying to sharpen my suspense skills.) And of course, I’m referring to a review of Donita Paul’s novel DragonLight, fifth in the DragonKeeper Chronicles (WaterBrook).

Because this is the last of the series, many readers coming to DragonLight will want to spend some time with the helps provided—a nice map and cast of characters in the front and a glossary of terms in the back. Understandably, DragonLight brings in many of the characters from the earlier books as part of the conclusion of the series. Without knowing these characters, much of the import of this book may be lost.

The story is enjoyable. It is another quest tale, one of Ms. Paul’s best, in my opinion. The characters set out to find the hidden meech colony and aren’t deterred from that goal, though many complications arise. More so than in other DragonKeeper books, these complications interconnect with the overarching goal and this gives a completeness to the story. I also found the antagonist to be truly menacing—a worthy opponent for the assembled forces.

The strength of DragonLight, as with the other books in the series, is the characters, in my opinion. And by “characters” I’m including the dragons. No race of the many races in the series is so well developed as the minor dragons.

When it seems Ms. Paul could not come up with another job for the little, lovable beasties, up pops the protector dragon, completely different from any of the others. These minor dragons, above all else, create the DragonKeeper world of Amara as a unique place. They add the texture that stamps these books and sets them apart from any other.

The other characters develop during this book more than in any other, too. Kale, Toopka certainly, and Gilda, are different at the end of the story. They change in significant ways that I won’t mention here because I don’t want to give spoilers.

Another thing I thought was especially strong about this book was the theme. Or more accurately, themes. There are some obvious spiritual threads running through the story. Dependence upon Wulder is key. Changed lives is another. Even for Holt, a fairly minor character. But there is the equally significant theme regarding spiritual heritage and false teaching and the steps away from the Truth that can snowball into apostasy. For a book I termed “light fantasy” in my post at Spec Faith there are some exceedingly thought-provoking ideas to consider.

Is DragonLight a perfect book? No, like most it has a few weaknesses. The end seems rushed to me. Some of the significant action happens off stage. The numerous obstacles seem to resolve in amazingly easy ways.

But in the end, these shortcomings don’t deter from the enjoyment. This book, this series, is truly one of the fun fantasies. I highly recommend DragonLight to all fantasy readers.

Now see whether my opinion differs from others on the tour:
** Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
# Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
# Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear (note corrected link)
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
# Katie Hart
+ Timothy Hicks Don’t miss his interview with Donita
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma
Terri Main
Margaret Check out her contest explained in her Day 1 post
# Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
+ Nissa
John W. Otte Don’t miss his “0 Day” recap of the other books in the series
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice Don’t miss his interview with Donita posted last week
# Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
+ Sean Slagle
James Somers
* Robert Treskillard
# Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

“#” indicates CSFF participant in the 2006 tour for DragonKnight

Published in: on July 22, 2008 at 11:07 am  Comments (1)  
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CSFF Blog Tour — DragonLight, Day 1


It’s here, it’s here, it’s here! Yes, I’m a little excited. I love CSFF Blog Tours, and I’ve been looking forward to this one for oh, so long. For the next three days we are featuring Donita Paul’s DragonLight , the final volume in the DragonKeeper Chronicles.

As I often do, I plan to give a review of the book, either Tuesday or Wednesday, but this month I’m also planning a contest: What’s Wrong with This Picture. For the prize, Donita has offered one of her famed DragonKeeper t-shirts (limited size available). It makes sense, then, for any who hope to win the prize to 1) read this heads up; and 2) to take time to study. 🙂 (Ooooh, the school teacher in me persists in showing itself from time to time!)

Here’s the heads up. The contest is simple. I will write what appears to be a normal, informative post about Ms. Paul and her books, in particular DragonLight (though not the content, since this contest is available to everyone, even those who have not yet read the book). However, I will include one inaccuracy that you must spot. The first person to email me with the correct error ( 😉 ) at the address I’ll provide will be the winner.

So now you can see why studying might help. 😀

But study what? Well, since Ms. Paul has been writing fantasy since 2004, she has given a number of interviews, one posted here (and here) at A Christian Worldview of Fiction back in 2006 during the first CSFF book blog tour. In addition, you’ll find a few interviews during this tour, too.

Of course, those of you not inclined to study might rather spend some time exploring. Donita’s Web site is full of goodies. You can learn about her other books, take a look at the related games and art work, check out her fan forum, and even participate in some fan fiction. You might also make a note of the fact that Donita participates in a regular chat.

And of course, there are also all those other CSFF participants to check in with. Enjoy!

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
# Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
# Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
+ Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma
Terri Main
Margaret
# Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
+ Nissa
John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice Don’t miss his interview with Donita posted last week
# Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
+ Sean Slagle
James Somers
* Robert Treskillard
# Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

A “+” indicates a blogger left off the original list
Bold type indicates a site I know has posted.
An “*” indicates “must read” content.
“**” indicates “must read” content, an intriguing discussion you might want to join.

“#” indicates CSFF participant in the 2006 tour for DragonKnight

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 11:06 am  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , ,
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