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Worth a Look 6.25.15

Jun 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? by Mike Wittmer. $2.99.

Michael Wittmer explains how to bring your human and Christian lives together. When you grasp God’s story, you’ll understand that not only is it possible to serve Jesus and still enjoy your life, but it’s the only way you can.

Russ Moore’s “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew about Southern Baptists:”

We are a missionary people, who want to see everyone — including people who hate us — reconciled to God through the gospel. That’s why, when I have reason to write about the group, I usually do so with the Westboro Baptist (sic) Church (sic). If I lived in a place called “Westboro,” I would probably add a third sic.

This is hilarious. Peter Enns: “Listen to What the Spirit Says to My Blog Commenters”

I know your works, your enthusiasm, and your persistence. I know some of you simply can’t wait to post your next comment, and I have seen how you endure patiently as you wait for the Author to remember he has “moderate comments” turned on so he can let your comment pass. Your reward will be great.

But I have this against you.

Some of you do not realize “moderate comments” is turned on, and you send very nasty not-at-all nice emails to the Author asking him what the deal is, and why he is so afraid to let your comment pass, and what is he trying to hide, and has he stopped torturing small animals.

Chris Martin reflects on recent news, and he notes how social media has become a tool with which we build and bulldoze:

When millions of angry people get behind a single cause via social media, it’s like putting millions of people at the wheel of a bulldozer. The majority vote decides where it turns, and you can’t really do anything to stop it. Some things deserve to get bulldozed, others probably don’t; that is, unless the majority feels they do.

Good stuff from Doug Sikkema on being haunted by nature in our secular age:

As we continue to respond to the world around us, we see that the immanent frame—the disenchanted world that has severed the transcendent—is cracked here; it has no satisfactory way to explain for this. But perhaps it’s here where the light can shine in as to what this natural world might be. Could the natural world, if we trust Paul’s epistle to the Romans and John’s gospel account, actually be the expressed language of a Creator? Could it, even more, be a summons?

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Tim Cook on Values in the Workplace

Jun 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

timcookgwuniversityThis post is part of a series on several of this year’s notable Commencement speeches.

Today, we’re hearing from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who gave an address to the graduates at George Washington University.

Pursuing the Truth, Discovering Your Values

Cook begins his speech by sharing his personal journey of discovery, how he came to adopt the values that guide him in life. He mentions people who changed the world in various ways, as they engaged in pursuits drawn from deep conviction: Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan.

Next, Cook describes the dissonance of seeing heroes like King and Kennedy juxtaposed with George Wallace, the segregationist who hailed from Cook’s home state of Alabama. Wallace’s popularity in his home state led Cook to something of an intellectual crisis. When Cook saw how the textbooks in school downplayed the role of slavery in the Civil War, he decided he must look elsewhere to educate himself. This launched him on a pursuit of truth.

“So I had to figure out for myself what was right and true. It was a search. It was a process.”

I appreciate the way Cook describes this journey. His words are different than Colbert’s (“decide for yourself what is right and wrong”) in that he seems to be referring to “righteousness” and “truth” as something outside that must be discerned. It is something he is seeking, not something he is creating.

Cook goes on to mention how this process included “the moral sense that I’d learned from my parents, and in church, and in my own heart, and led me on my own journey of discovery.” In this picture, Cook is not the lone pursuer of truth, but one who is willing to listen to the people he respects.

To sum up this journey with other words, I’d say Cook’s goal was to own his values. Not content with simply inheriting values from others, Cook wanted to test them and come to be convinced of them for himself.

On What Basis Can I Judge?

Up to this point, we’ve seen Cook advocating (1) the pursuit of truth (what is right and wrong) and (2) owning your values for yourself.

What’s interesting is that in his account of meeting both Jimmy Carter and George Wallace within the space of a week, Cook can’t draw on anything other than his own values to condemn Wallace’s actions. It’s clear that he thinks Carter is the better man — Carter was right and Wallace was wrong; Carter united the country, while Wallace divided it. But then Cook makes an interesting comment:

Each had made a journey that led them to the values that they lived by, but it wasn’t just about their experiences or their circumstances, it had to come from within.

It’s fascinating to me to see Cook “take a side” so to speak, and then immediately shrug off the work of Wallace by saying, “But he was just living the values he believed in. They came from within.”

Cook has no objective basis by which to judge Wallace. He can think Wallace as wrong, but if Wallace was following his own internal compass and his own values, then Cook can’t really say much more. It’s illuminating to see how Cook has the noble desire to make a judgment call, but no external basis beyond his own values from which to do it.

The Purpose of Life as Self-Discovery

From there, Cook begins to talk about the purpose of life. We’ve seen in other speeches how often the purpose of life is summed up in discovering who you are. Cook goes in the same direction:

For you graduates, the process of discovering yourself, of inventing yourself, of reinventing yourself is about to begin in earnest. It’s about finding your values and committing to live by them. You have to find your North Star. And that means choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything.

Note how Cook describes the journey of life: figuring out who you are, making yourself who you want to be, or changing yourself if you decide it’s time to be someone different. You find your values and live by them. That’s the “North Star,” and your ability to do this well is what carries the story of your life forward.

The earlier section about pursuing truth might have led us to believe that Cook thinks there is such a thing as objective truth, right and wrong, to be discovered — a North Star that is the same for everyone. But here, it seems clear that the North Star for one person may differ from another’s.

This leads to an interesting question for society. How do people with vastly different values and North Stars coexist and thrive together? We are a country with a burgeoning immigrant population, with secularists living alongside Muslims, gay rights advocates doing business with evangelical Christians, and gentrified neighborhoods that go back and forth between peace and unrest. How can we have a common life together when our reference points for morality and values are so vastly different? That is the question that takes us beyond one’s individual North Star.

Integrating Values and Work

The most interesting part of Cook’s speech is the integration of one’s values and one’s work. Cook mentions Steve Jobs as someone who brought together the values of personal life with the values of work. No compartmentalization here. Your values in one area ought to be aligned with your values in another.

I knew who I was in my personal life, and I kept my eye on my North Star, my responsibility to do good for someone else, other than myself. But at work, well I always figured that work was work. Values had their place and, yes, there were things that I wanted to change about the world, but I thought I had to do that on my own time. Not in the office.

That dichotomy didn’t cut it for Jobs, and it’s not sufficient for Cook either. At the end of the speech, he once again encourages the graduates to live by their values and to make sure their work lines up with them:

Work takes on new meaning when you feel you are pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just a job, and life is too short for that. We need the best and brightest of your generation to lead in government and in business. In the science and in the arts. In journalism and in academia. There is honor in all of these pursuits. And there is opportunity to do work that is infused with moral purpose. You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever.

Cook may be rich, but the pursuit of riches is not the main element of his business. He sees his company as making the world a better place. What gets him up in the morning is not a job; it’s a calling.

This infusion of “moral purpose” into the workplace is something that Christians have been encouraging for a long time. It’s not just a job; it’s a living out of one’s values by what you do.

But again, the question for the future is: what happens when these values collide? When the moral purpose is expressed through a boycott? When one business owner’s values lead to supporting causes that another business owner finds morally repugnant?

These are the questions that this generation will encounter in business. And Christians will need to be filled with wisdom in how we answer the questions of a pluralist society.

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Worth a Look 6.24.15

Jun 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: The Associate Pastor: Second Chair, Not Second Best$0.99.

Like the second-chair position in an orchestra, a well-prepared associate pastor complements and harmonizes with the senior pastor’s ministry to create an exquisite symphony.

The Gospel Project Chronological will launch this fall in small groups and Sunday School classes across the country and around the world. Here are 8 things to know about the free preview you can access:

Starting in the fall of 2015, more than 750 thousand people will study God’s story throughThe Gospel Project Chronological each week in churches and communities around the world. Right now, you can get a free sneak peak of this resource but before you do, here are 8 things you should know about the preview.

I’ve written about the Swedish experiment to move beyond gender. Now, The Washington Post reports on how other countries in Europe are following a similar trajectory:

Advocates in Europe are taking increasingly aggressive action regarding “gender mainstreaming,” or the erasing of lines between the sexes. They are pressing for policies and laws ensuring that everything from bathrooms to boardrooms to street signs are gender neutral.

I appreciated these thoughts from Dan McConchie on the only path to societal renewal:

The church, having turned in to itself in so many places, no longer provides the moral yardstick by which people measure cultural norms. While we must continue to stand for truth and religious freedom, it is not enough to get us back to a path of societal renewal. We must also return to the basics of personal holiness and care for the physically, morally, and spiritually destitute.

Josh Hedger on building relationships with internationals:

The church I am planting is located in a community that is rich with international students and culture. The university that is just a few blocks from our building has over 800 international students from over 120 countries on campus. There are thousands of Iraqis, Saudis, Africans, and Indians living in our community as well. One of our desires as a church is to be used by God to share the gospel with the international community in our own backyard.

Here are 4 tips to help you build relationships with internationals.

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Book Notes: The Silencing / A Soldier of the Great War / Boys on a Boat

Jun 23, 2015 | Trevin Wax

The-Silencing-Powers-CVR-v10-PERSTHE SILENCING
How the Left is Killing Free Speech
by Kirsten Powers

Fox News contributor, Kirsten Powers, who considers herself a liberal is concerned about the rise of the “illiberal left” — people who silence opposing viewpoints by delegitimizing others and making them examples for the rest of the society. Powers calls this “repressive tolerance” that sees the curbing of freedom of expression as a necessary strategy in pursuit of ideological goals.

This is a fascinating book that documents the illiberal left’s “campaign of coercion and intimidation.” Powers makes her case by grouping these offenses under different headings: “delegitimizing dissent,” “intimidation,” intolerance on university campuses, and “illiberal feminist thought police.” The chapter on Fox News seemed superfluous to me, as if Powers wanted to defend her employer. But overall, I hope conservatives and liberals alike read this book, and that more true liberals like Powers will speak out against the illiberal left.

515grzUKT0LA SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR
by Mark Helprin

This was the novel I took with me on vacation this year, after seeing Andy Crouch speak of it highly. It is a beautifully written book that takes you on a journey from the villas of Rome to the trench warfare of World War I. Helprin crafts the story in such a way as to offer us a view into the various aspects of that awful war: from the fate of deserters, to the trials of prison camp, and the bureaucracy of government officials.

The novel assumes the later idea that WWI was an unnecessary war and that soldiers did their duty without really believing in their cause. This is surely inaccurate, as recent research by Philip Jenkins has pointed out. But the novel itself is breathtaking in its scope, vivid in its imagery, and satisfying as an account of one man’s obsession with beauty in a harsh and ugly war.

911Dwy1ho0L._SL1500_THE BOYS IN THE BOAT
9 Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Daniel James Brown

Another vacation read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the difficult childhood of Joe Rantz and his grit and determination to make it to the 1936 Olympics with eight other men on a rowing team. Brown adds drama to the account by switching back and forth between the Americans’ journey to Berlin and Germany’s strategy for using the Olympics as cover for their increasingly violent measures of silencing dissent.

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Worth a Look 6.23.15

Jun 23, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Marriage Is: How Marriage Transforms Society and Cultivates Human Flourishing by Andrew Walker & Eric Teetsel. $2.99.

It is time to restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love. It is time to recognize the time for defending the institution of marriage has passed. Sadly, for far too many, the marriages they know are not worth defending. Instead, Christians must take up the mission to renew and rebuild a culture that values marriage and family.

Good counsel from Wesley Parker on why a pastor’s exemplary life should include confession of weakness:

In 1 Peter 3:1-3 the apostle Paul exhorts fellow under-shepherds to be “examples to the flock.”  The question that needs to be asked at the end of the day is, “examples of what?” Are we to be examples of moral conquest and overcoming of sin alone? Or are we – much more so – to be examples of the reality of an imperfect life lived out before a holy righteous God who has qualified us, by His grace alone, to be a part of His family?

As a dad, I can relate to these — 6 Leadership Lessons from Being a Father:

Though I have an immense amount of growing to do as a leader, the Lord has used the experience of parenting to develop me. Here are 6 leadership lessons from being a father.

Kate Shellnutt reports on Sunday services at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church:

This included Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the site of last Wednesday’s massacre, where Gillison welcomed members, guests, and media, saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made, and we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Tucked away in the back row of the balcony, part of me wondered, “Rejoice? Right now? On this day?” I was overruled by the 500-plus crowd below, who shouted along with him.

H. B. Charles lists 5 questions to ask of the biblical text:

It is time to study the word of God. You pray for illumination (Psalm 119:18). You select a passage of scripture to study. You then… This is where many people get stumped. Every time. They come to the text with good intentions. But they do not have a clear process for properly understanding the text.

To get the right answers in your study of scripture, you must ask the right questions. This is called inductive Bible study. Here are five fundamental questions to ask as you study a passage of Scripture.

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Bill Nye and the Challenge of Inspiring Specks of Dust

Jun 22, 2015 | Trevin Wax

NR15UnivCommencement4801We’re in the middle of our series through several of this year’s notable Commencement speeches. First, we looked at Stephen Colbert’s address to Wake Forest University, and we heard from Ian McEwan, on the gift of free speech. Last week, we listened to Katie Couric’s warnings about technological distraction. Today, we hear from Bill Nye, a distinguished scientist who will probably be forever known as “The Science Guy” due to his popular children’s program on PBS. He spoke last month to the graduates of Rutgers university.

The Biggest Crisis in Human History

People tend to think of “fiery prophets” as belonging to religion, but after reading this speech, I wonder if this wouldn’t be an apt description of Nye as a scientist. In this speech, he paints a stark picture of the future (“We are now deep in the most serious environmental crisis in human history”) but then expresses hope that this generation can “avoid this looming disaster.” He writes:

The oncoming trouble is Climate Change: It is going to affect you all in the same way the Second World War consumed people of my parents’ generation. They rose to the challenge, and so will you. They came to be called The Greatest Generation. I want you all to preserve our world in the face of Climate Change and carry on as The Next Great Generation.

More than 70 million people died in World War II, a human toll that is simply staggering when placed alongside all other wars of history. Unless we are facing the imminent deaths of millions of people, I find it difficult to believe that climate change will motivate the same sort of urgency as WWII did. Ironically, according to Nye, the world’s biggest problem is human beings — there simply are too many of us.

We have almost 7.3 billion people breathing and burning an atmosphere, which is, in the planetary scheme of things, quite shallow. We all share the same air. That’s why our climate is changing.

So, the biggest threat to the vast numbers of humanity is climate change, and the biggest threat to the climate is the vast numbers of humanity.

Change the World (Literally)

What is the best way to fix the climate change problem? Nye turns to technology and is hopeful that entrepreneurs will invent whatever is necessary to save our problem. But he worries that techno-optimism (placing all our hopes in technological advance) is just another way of living in denial. According to Nye, climate change is happening so fast that we simply cannot wait. So, he urges the students to push for environmental legislation.

Now, most commencement speakers urge students to “change the world,” to the point it has become something of a joke. But when most speakers talk about “changing the world,” they are referring to society. Nye means it literally. Change this world, the very environment we inhabit. He offers several ideas for moving forward, and seeks to inspire the students to see themselves as the Next Great Generation, a label he returns to more than once.

Humanity’s Inspiring Smallness

But it’s here that the inspiration takes a strange turn. He writes:

We are one species — each of us much, much more alike than different. We all come from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a Pale Blue Dot in the vastness of space. We have to work together.

Our species is “worthy of the future,” he says, because we find joy in increasing our knowledge. “That’s what drives us.” He then describes his state of mind after hearing for the first time that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the beach.

In that long-ago moment I was paralyzed by self-doubt. I am just a little kid standing on a beach. And, that beach is a one of many beaches on a planet that turns out to be, in the cosmic scheme of things, pretty small — a speck really. Furthermore, my home speck, the Earth, is just a speck orbiting a star that really, considering all the other sand-grain-numerous stars, is just another speck in the galaxy of stars. The galaxy, in turn, being another speck, among galactic specks. I am a speck on a speck orbiting a speck in the middle of deep spacey specklelessness. I don’t matter at all.

But then I think, wait. I have a brain, albeit only this big. (My old boss’s — somewhat smaller.) And, I can imagine all of this. That is wonderful. That is remarkable. That is venerable — worthy of respect!

It is intriguing to watch a naturalist who sees the dissolution of the universe as inevitable seek to inspire graduates to save the planet. If the planet is doomed and humanity is meaningless, just why should we endeavor to save this place?

Nye is right to see human beings as worthy of respect, but it’s unclear where this respect comes from. Why is having a brain or an imagination something venerable? We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a Pale Blue Dot in the vastness of space, he writes. Just how is this inspiring?

It’s hard for believers to see how this is attractive or compelling to people. But we ought to step into the shoes of the naturalist for a moment to see it from the inside. Nye doesn’t see a contradiction between his denial of transcendence and his belief in human significance. The believer might be frightened by the idea that we are alone in the universe, but the unbeliever might find such an idea exhilarating, much like a kid who has left home for the first time and is in the middle of a busy train station without any authority or guardian looking out for him.

Nye doesn’t deny the world has meaning; he just reduces it here to our physicality, this present moment, in this small speck we call “a brain.” And because we can think and exercise our imagination, we ought to see ourselves as “worthy of the future.”

What Is Man That You Are Mindful of Him?

This isn’t the place to take Nye’s naturalism head on. Instead, I’d like to close this summary by mentioning how not one of the other speeches we’ve looked at (or will look at) ever challenges this naturalistic understanding of our world. The other speeches were not delivered by committed naturalists like Nye, but they all assume that this world is all there is, or at least they offer no hint of anything transcendent.

All the challenges to change the world, all the inspiring words delivered to student, they are all spoken from the earth’s horizon. We are all on the ground, speaking to one another. We never hear from the skies.

Ironically, Scripture also contains a trace of Nye’s wonder at humanity’s insignificance in light of the vastness of creation. The psalmist wondered: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? 

The believer and the unbeliever can stand on the same seashore, look up at the stars, and be awed by humanity’s smallness. The believer is in awe when considering the mind of God. The unbeliever is in awe when considering the mind of man.

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Worth a Look 6.22.15

Jun 22, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word by Stephen Nichols. $2.99.

Welcome to the Story teaches believers not only how to read the Bible, but how to read it in such a way that it permeates their lives—reading, loving, and living God’s Word.

Christianity Today on going deeper after the Charleston murders:

In the face of such evil, we first grieve. There is no understanding evil because it is ultimately irrational. But God has shown us what an initial response looks like: the Psalms of lament, like Psalm 74.

Speaking of Charleston, what about this monumental display of mercy?

The late Christopher Hitchens formulated (and forever repeated) a superficially clever challenge to people of faith: “Find one good or noble thing,” he said, “which cannot be accomplished without religion.” The astonshing rejoinder to Hitchens comes now from the family members of those who were gunned down Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina.

Don’t miss James K. A. Smith’s reflection on “Fatherless Days:”

Father’s Day is easy for me: I have none.  They all left.

So I don’t have to find an awkward card amidst the cloying selection on offer.  I don’t have to make the clichéd choice between necktie or power tool.  I don’t have to endure the awkwardness of a largely wordless afternoon in the presence of my progenitor, or remember to call and then try to wrangle a conversation out of the receiver.  (“I don’t have to,” of course, is it’s own sort of spin, papering over the “I don’t get to” buried beneath it.)

So Father’s Day is easy for me.

It’s the rest of the fatherless days that are difficult.

What’s Pixar’s secret to making truly great films? The Washington Post explores:

As parents and grownups still vividly in touch with their childhoods, the gifted artists at Pixar know that the most universal chords to be struck revolve around change and its companion that is loss; around innocence and experience; around the necessity of relationships and the inclines and declines of life. And around the fact that Joy leavens our lives, yet Sadness deepens the journey. In striking these chords, Pixar plays an emotional symphony of dualities.

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Bless Through Me, Lord Jesus

Jun 21, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Lord Jesus,
Take my mind and think through me,
Take my hands and bless through me,
Take my mouth and speak through me,
Above all, Lord Jesus,
Take my spirit and pray in me;
so that it is You who move and have Your being in me.

16th century prayer

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Toto, I Have a Feeling We’re Not in Athens Anymore

Jun 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Steve McAlpine, writing about cultural developments in Australia:

For all of the talk about exile, the language of Athens, and the need to find a voice in a culture of competing ideas, was far more prevalent in Exile Stage One conversation than the language of the true city of exile, Babylon. We were exploring ways to deal with the culture being uninterested in us, not despising us. I well remember myself saying “People are not walking past your church and saying, ‘If I never go to church, that’s the one I am never going to.’ No, they don’t see it at all.” That’s Athens talk, and assumes that if we can just show a point of connection to the culture then the conversation will flow and we will all get along.

I have changed my mind on this one. In the last five or six years the culture (read: elite framework that drives the culture) is increasingly interested in bringing the church back into the public square. Yes, you heard that right. But not in order to hear it, but rather, in order to flay it, expose its real and alleged abuses and to render it naked and shivering before a jeering crowd. It is Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego standing up before the statue of gold, whilst everyone else is grovelling and going, “Pssst, kneel down for goodness sake!” It is officials conspiring with the king to show that Daniel’s act of praying towards Jerusalem three times per day is not simply an archaic and foolish hope, but a very real threat to the order of the society and the new moral order that will hold it together.

If the primary characteristic of Exile Stage One was supposed to be humility, the primary characteristic of Second Stage Exiles will have to be courage. Courage does not mean bombastic pronouncements to the world, not at all. It has to be much deeper than that. It will mean, upon hearing the king’s command that no one can pray to any god save the king for thirty days, that we go into our rooms with the window open towards Jerusalem and defy that king even as our accusers hunt us down. It means looking the king in his enraged face and saying, even in our God does not rescue us from the flames, we will not serve your gods or bow down to your statue of gold. Unlike Athens, Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon. Only courage under fire will.

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My Take on Pixar’s “Inside Out” — Brilliant and Beautiful

Jun 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

inside-out-imageIn World this week, I have a review of Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out:

When a studio partnership has engendered as much success as Disney/Pixar has over the years, it’s easy to judge a film by how it measures up to previous successes. Is it as emotionally compelling as Toy Story 3? Does it delight like Finding Nemo? Does it contain the artistry of Wall-E? With each release, Pixar hopes to continue its streak of excellent and beautiful films that exceed the audience’s ever-growing expectations. With Inside Out, rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action, Pixar has delivered.

Continue Reading…

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