13 Reasons- A gospel centered book review

29 04 2011
 

13 Reasons Why

 

 

 
 

 

“Be careful how you treat people, you never know how it will affect them

                                                          

          It’s been a long while since I read a book as quickly as I read “13 Reasons Why”, by Jay Asher. I used to be a fast reader, often digesting 300-400 pages in a couple of days, or a week when otherwise busy. As a student of the bible, this all has changed. I am learning to slowly trod through scripture in exegesis, to “chew on each verse like a dog.” as John Piper (Piper, 1998) is quoted as saying. Asher, however, wrote in a style that made me feel as though I was stuck in the tension portion of a movie from beginning to end.

          It would be easy to say that 13 Reasons is the story of a young girl, Hannah, who commits suicide and then decides to teach those who hurt her a lesson. It would be just as easy to say that this book is about a young man, Clay, whose friend has committed suicide and through a series of tapes, explaining her plight, is learning a lesson of life. Both of these descriptions are fair, I think, but neither encompasses the whole purpose of Asher’s book. I think the most fitting description of 13 Reasons is to say that all of these things are happening at once.

          Both Clay’s and Hannah’s positions and roles in the book should be considered as foundational to the approach that Asher makes, as well as every other character mentioned. Jay (Asher) has created an elaborate tale of suicide, its affect on those who love us, how we may affect those who are hurting, and generally how all of these things tie in together in such a tight little ball. We often are so limited in scope and time that we are only able to consider our own personal experiences with those who we influence, as well as those who influence us. What Asher has done with 13 Reasons is to take each microcosm of Hannah’s tragedy and deliver it to us from 20,000 feet. We are able to see each individual experience and teach the lesson as one encompassing message, “Be careful how you treat people, you never know how it will affect them.” (Asher, 2007)

          “Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.” (Asher, 2007)

          The synopsis of 13 Reasons Why is a great overture to the book. From the very beginning we are on the edges of our seats in wonder of how such a well meaning and concerned person can contribute to the suicide of someone that he cared so much for. Through each tape, Clay begins to realize the possibilities behind each encounter and how we affect people in ways that we never could imagine. There are two types of sin in our lives, both to God and others. We have sins of commission and sins of omission. (Driscoll, 2010) Both of these sins are spotlighted in Asher’s book.

          Sins of commission are the sins that we carry out by act, actually committing dishonor against someone or ourselves. Sins of omission are the sins we commit by doing nothing at all. Committing rape is a sin of commission, while standing by and not intervening is a sin of omission. It is through, what seem like, relatively random events such as this that Hannah is brought to a point where the only feasible answer to her struggle is to end her life. Clay, on the same token, is left feeling as though he did not do enough to reach Hannah. In each situations, both persons are shown to be both guilty and victims of their circumstance.

          There are many more characters in the book, most playing rather large roles in Hannah, and therefore Clay’s, situations. We meet people like Justin Foley, who seems to start a snowball effect to Hannah’s reputation; Courtney, whose self prevalence and self preservations cause damage to Hannah’s own esteem; and Mr. Porter, who seems to play a rather recurring real life role where we are given ample opportunity and information to prevent tragedy from occurring, but are too hardened or to blind to make our opportunities useful.

          Through each episode and each tape Clay is subjected to, we see deeper and deeper into everyday occurrences, as well as some distinctly more atrocious acts, and how they can cause seemingly irreparable damage to those around us. We also learn that doing something foul able to someone can be bad, but doing nothing is often more of a response than not.  

          I enjoyed the read and the story. I am not sure that the book offers us “real world” application to putting a dent in social issues such as suicide. I think it is much easier to make known to people the possibilities of their actions than it is to change the desires of a person’s heart so that they no longer care about the things that catalyze those actions. It’s almost impossible to change a person without changing their heart. Instead of focusing on micro cause and effect, I wish that Mr. Asher (and all socially conscious authors, speakers, etc.) would focus more on the why we do what we do instead of our simple actions. Behind each experience in Hannah’s life, and those people who hurt her, there is a learning opportunity. Let’s not just focus on the commission of the act, but realize what it says about the person who commits the act.

          This book is closer to reality than it may initially seem. The things that occur in 13 Reasons happen way more frequently in our children’s lives, as well as our own, than we should feel comfortable with. These are not individual occurrences; instead it is a cultural decay. Our society has turned from the greater concern of our community and realization that, in this way, we are protected and provided for, and turned to a concern solely of self and an attitude that each “I” is most important. These are two very distinct social consciouses, which create two very distinct cultures. One is displayed in America from the Civil War, in my opinion, through just after WWII.  The other is apparent today.

          Self prevalence has become a cancer in our society and its historical social effects can be seen with examples such as ancient Egypt and Rome. It never ends well. We are created to cultivate love for others in our cultures and when we stray from this calling we sin against our own natures. Where this sin occurs, death will likely follow. Personally, I know that God, in the example of Jesus, is the answer to this problem. Jesus said that the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Jesus, 50-70AD) The knowledge of the gospel of Jesus, being that we are all sinners against God, the wage for that sin is death, Jesus being the only worthy sacrifice, whose death pays the debt of our sins, and whose resurrection reconciles us to God, is what changes our hearts.

          The sins of man are wonderfully constructed by Asher. Each individual’s response to another in this book defines the rebellion of each of us to each other and ultimately to God. When we mistreat people, we mistreat God and our covenant for His protection and blessing is broken. When we sin, people are hurt. This may sound very narrow and closed minded to others who do not hold value to God’s gospel. I have resigned myself to the fact that, if there is one place I can afford to be closed minded, this is the area I can do so. I pray that those who are familiar with the types of experiences written about in 13 Reasons Why would hold greater value for God’s love of them and that they would choose to love God, and profess this by loving each other.

 

Works Cited

Asher, J. (2007). 13 Reasons Why. Razorbill.

Driscoll, M. (Composer). (2010). Sins of man. [Mark Driscoll, Performer] Seattle, WA, US: Mars Hill Church.

Jesus. (50-70AD). The Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew/Levi, Holy Bible. Jerusalem: Crossway.

Piper, J. (1998). Finding Joy in God’s Word. Desiring God Pastor’s Conference. Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.

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Spiritual Growth…

5 01 2010

If you are at all like me, you can remember the day you were saved. Not that you were at all there at Calvary, when our Christ laid His life down for us… or 3 days later when He  magnificently picked it up again. That is when we were truly saved, 2000 years ago on Jesus’ behalf. But there is a day, for each of us who believe in Christ, where we can recall making a decision to accept this gift of grace and mercy and follow the ways of Jesus. My experience was shattering and unforgettable. There were tears then and occasionally tears today. These tears and many joys have made me a completely different person than I was before meeting Jesus.

Your experience may have been equally as emotional and inspiring or a more subtle, subdued situation. You may have been 14 and felt a soft calling to your heart. You may be middle aged and finally giving in to a constant voice deep in your chest. Wherever you find yourself at that initial moment of belief (hallelujah!), no matter your life experience, you are an infant again.

Being “reborn” comes with all types of  effects. There is a joy found that is irreplaceable and completely sustaining through trials. There are also some adverse effects. Because you live in a world that is broken and separated from God. You will also be, at times, separated. You will have to find a whole new way of communicating, relating and understanding. This can be a difficult place to find yourself, and at times very lonely.

Your worldly being and conscious has had several years to adapt and become accustomed to the ways of the world. Your spirit, in faith, is a newborn, young and, without God, vulnerable. Your best defense is to stay connected, as a child would his/her earthly parent, to God and His words (your bible).

Along the way you will most likely find that the most difficult times you have are not with relating to those around you however, but with growing spiritually and the lack of comfort you’ll find in yourself. Just as teens feel some growing pains and awkward, so will you. Thus far, I am noticing great difficulty in effectively communicating true love and sympathy. I feel them, and make attempts but maybe it’s all the years of cynicism that have me at a disadvantage.

Sometimes, I attempt to reach out to someone, as directed by spirit, in order to comfort, console, or credit them or their situation. To this point, I have been hugely ineffective at my attempts and they have even come back to smack me in my face. Does this mean I should just stop trying? No, when you are a child and you are learning to read, the vowels can sometimes cause you to stumble or look foolish. B-A-T duz knot spell bait. Practice makes perfect.

Phillipians 1:6 tells us this about God’s efforts in us:

“…God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work
until it is finally finished…” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

Notice how it says work. Work is not easy. We have had so long to become worldly and a short time to reach spiritual maturity. You will still be angered, get frustrated, worry and make mistakes. A parents opinion of their child is rarely based on the results as much as they are the child’s effort. Our Father in heaven knows your effort just as you know or will know your own child’s.

Listen to your Father (read your bible), speak to your Father (pray), and love your brothers and sisters, no matter how they act, and your Father will bless you. Wisdom comes with age and experience. Do not expect Godly wisdom so soon. You, unfortunately, will find yourself in plenty of situations to build your wisdom from today forward. God bless you and be with you.





In effort to be a better man… Conversation w/ God Pt.1

23 12 2009

In an effort to be a better man I am going to start sharing more personal things. I have many changes that I need to make in my life that I am aware of. I need to be more patient. I need to be more positive, especially about leaders. I need to speak with God more frequently in a manner of conversation. I seriously could ramble about the things I need to start doing better all day. But I need to stop rambling.

I believe that the man our heavenly Father is wanting me to be is a transparent one. A man that is put on a viewing table for all to see, flaws and triumphs. Any man who is doing the Lord’s work should be on display, not just when they are doing right but when they have not. We spend so much time explaining that it’s O.K. to not be perfect, that this is why Jesus came to begin with, but when it comes to letting others see our flaws we cover ourselves in self defense.

I’m not talking about the huge mess ups we have. Those are most likely to come out anyway and we’ll have to deal with them somewhat publicly. But the small, fractional, more frequent events are so much more useful to people of God, who want to be better and need an example, when shared.

I went to God this evening about an issue I am having with someone else. I have been frustrated time and time again with the same behavior and really have had no clue as to how I should handle things. Here’s how my conversation with God went.

Me: “Father, I’m going to speak to you about this standing up because I just want to talk to you. (sometimes praying on my knees gets to be too traditional and I can’t find good words, so praying standing or pacing becomes a conversation) How am I supposed to handle this situation?

God: Be patient. Be kind

Me: But I am patient and much more kind than they are. I don’t want to be run over.

God: Be patient and be the example, no matter how long it takes. Be kind and be the example, no matter how long it takes.

Me: Well if you are ALWAYS patient and kind every time the same behavior occurs, aren’t you just enabling bad behavior?

God: Do you think I enable bad behavior?

Me: (WHACK!)… Well, what if you are patient and kind forever and they just refuse to change, and you spend your entire life taking it in the face while you get stepped on and spat at? (figuratively)

God: If you spend your entire life doing what’s right and hope that someone else betters themselves, then you have done what I have asked of you, regardless of their decisions or outcome. But if your hope is for someone to change then you must always be the example or you give them no reason to. Holiness does what is right eternally. Sometimes people see this and they decide to change themselves, to be better. Sometimes they don’t. But, as hard as it is not to, spending time working on others flaws only adds to yours. Be right, be the example.

Me: Well do you even mention it to them or just act as though they’re not doing anything at all? How do you do this? What if it’s affecting someone else?

God: You don’t have to ignore wrong behavior. But you do have to approach it wisely, if it must be approached. Politely, patiently attempt to dissolve it. You must be willing to get inside slapping distance to give a hug, same thing applies to resolution. You must be willing to accept that your intent will not be accepted the way you hope for but, to do as I ask, you must be willing… over and over and over… forever.

P.S. Although this situation has nothing to do with my children, He also said that I have to discuss with my kids what they’ve done wrong, even when they know what they’ve done wrong BEFORE punishing them.





REPOST!!! Rocks or Rock Stars…

8 12 2009

The first time I posted this I was worried that my pastor could possibly take offense to this. Thank God, not anymore… I am blessed to have one that not only can say it but spray it! I am re-posting this, however, because of a recent event with one of our major churches in play. I honestly believe that whether there is any malicious fault on the pastor himself, he could have prevented much of what occurred. Pray for your leaders, please. They are under assault, and they are not Jesus. God bless- JP

“Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat”LUKE 22: 31

When I entered the church I was a member of a very “old school” Church of God. I have a lot of great memories from that church. The pastors spoke with such humility. I was saved in that church. I became an assistant youth pastor and grew in faith rapidly through my experiences there. The problem I had was that I was a very progressive personality in a contemporary environment. I grew up punk rock and was preaching country gospel. I taught with excitement and I’m uncontained in my appreciation for God’s grace. They taught fire and brimstone and I wanted the children to focus on a life with Jesus more than a death without him… they’re kids. I visited Oak Leaf Church and immediately I felt God say to me, “You say you need a certain environment to do My work, well here it is!” I was even more suprised to find out there were more churches like this out there. There’s a rock and roll appeal to these churches. The danger in this environment is that it can also produce rock and roll attitudes.

I recently had the opportunity to go see a prominant “today” pastor speak. I had a good time and took alot of positive considerations from the experience. This pastor was a good speaker, though controversial at times. The worship was terrific. Although I took some very positive material home with me, I had kind of a disturbed feeling in my gut. Some of my dissapointment was due to a difference in leadership philosophy, which I had to resign because he was obviously a very effective leader. The majority of the discomfort I felt was due, however, to the way he carried himself. Once I was home I watched some of the resources he had online and also payed more attention to some of the pastors he was kind of mentoring. Some of these guys I already followed and appreciated their candor, but the more I payed attention, the more I noticed the similarities. The more I noticed the similarities the angrier I got. There were some bad habits being presented, and worse, I was beginning to see a trend in church leaders.

What I am seeing is a small, but present, trend of “Rockstar” pastors. I don’t have a problem with pastors having personalities, it’s refreshing. People need to know that our ministers are human beings not “Godbots”. And it’s one thing for a congregation or society to elevate a pastor to a “rock star” level. It’s borderline idolotry, but…  When the pastor starts to see this he should humble himself before these people. Saying that it’s all about Jesus and showing it’s all about Jesus are two completely different things. A church’s personality will mimic that of the pastor.

“Everybody wants to be a rock star, but no one wants to learn the chords.It’s hard work to study God’s Word.  To pray for breakthrough.  To do spiritual battle on behalf of those we lead.  To charge forward in faith for the cause of Christ.  To run a church with the highest standard of excellence.”- Quoted from one of the pastors I follow frequently. I actually found this after I started writing this. This disturbs me because it tells me he knows the comparison is being made and rather than correct it he’s going to ride it. Two other pastors even call attention to the fact that they use profanity from the stage, unapologetically before they do it.

Building disciples is best done with strong actions not strong words. It’s not ok for a pastor to use profanity while preaching, and we do not casually refer to opposition or critique as evil. (And Jesus is the main event… not you!) Church leaders are open for critique, when scripturally sound:

Matthew 18:15-17 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

2First Peter 3:10 “For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.”

James 3:9-12 “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

The personality of church leaders should take a backseat to the person they are representing, Jesus Christ. It’s ok to be an individual as a leader, but you are influencing souls, and this must stay constant in your mind. Jesus called on Peter to be the rock of his church. A rock is sturdy, strong and constant but it certainly doesn’t take attention from the mountain. I’m happy that the church has become progressive and proactive in going after souls like Satan is. I just don’t want the church to be proactive in going after souls like Satan does.





Confused christians…

3 12 2009

MARK 4:33-34 …Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with His own disciples, he explained everything.

Jesus did not mean for every person to understand Him. Mark 4 tells us openly that when Jesus spoke to crowds of men gathered that he spoke in a way that only those that made a strong effort to understand would understand. In this passage Jesus is surrounded by so many people who are interested in His teachings that He has had to get into a boat and be pushed from shore in a lake so that he can speak to all the people gathered.

He was SO ENGULFED BY THE CROWD THAT HE HAD TO GET INTO A BOAT AND PUSH HIMSELF FROM SHORE SO THAT THEY ALL COULD SEE HIM. Would your pastor have to do this on a Sunday morning? Are there so many people crowding your church that your pastor has to knock out the wall behind him and space himself so that everyone can hear his message? Jesus had to make room for every one to hear His message… And then He confused them, purposefully. He did not say anything to them without using a parable.

Pastors, no matter the size of your church, this describes your church. Your church is the crowd. Your church represents this crowd, no matter what size, so large that the Lord must board ship in order to speak, knowing that most will not understand the message. God then tells us that only to His own disciples, he explained everything. Only to those that had dropped all of their own wills and desires, only to those who had committed  their entire lives, only to the very very few who chose all that came with being a follower of Jesus did He reveal His message.

Jesus tells us in MATT 7:21-23 that not all those that call Him Lord, Lord will make it into his kingdom. There are many sitting in your church today who are being called but few will be chosen. If you are looking out into those that congregate at your church and feel comfortable with the thought that those people are going to heaven, you are mistaken. Many in your church will be gnashing teeth. It takes a personal interest on an individual basis to make a notch on God’s belt. The “very few”, or disciples of your church understand your message each week. The crowd came for a miracle, or to say that they had been there.

For those that want to understand Jesus’ message it takes following. If  you think hearing or seeing Jesus’ words gives you understanding, you are wrong. You will not simply read the bible and understand what those that truly choose to follow Christ understand. If you want understanding you must follow first. If you want your church members to understand, your job is to make disciples; meaning those that believe… and follow Jesus. Those in turn, that truly are disciples, will go out and make disciples.

Jesus did not explain himself so that those that understood Him would follow. Those that followed Jesus were shown while those who showed up were confused through equivalence.

He did not say anything to them without using parable. Jesus’ true message is personal, it’s not meant for the masses. The masses may receive the message but they will all accept it through a personal relationship. We must take interest in the individuals of the church and not find a percentage acceptable. We are the shepherds who are more interested in the 99 than the 1. Who are your disciples to which all is explained?… and who are theirs?





Christian Politics PT2.

7 10 2009

I don’t normally post in this manner but I received a response from a man that I respect the opinion of very much in the subject of my last post, Christian Politics. I felt the need to debate this matter a little further because it is so important. The vast majority of the Old Testament, from Judges on, and much of the New Testament are directly related to the subject of God’s politics.

Leaders that make the choices of God’s heart bring blessings and virtue to their countries, leaders that don’t bring disaster.

This is a response to a message I wrote earlier, and further thoughts. I will keep you updated on the conversation. Please feel free to express yourself…

READER:

People’s political views like their upbringing in many cases define what they believe as a person. It’s natural for this to influence what political party they choose based on their stated beliefs.

The two can co-exist and actually be mutually beneficial to one another. Most of this countries founders were devout Christians and reference the providence of God constantly as they worked to create this country.

I would agree that Jesus was not a politician but he did not separate himself from the political or religious establishment either.

RESPONSE:

_____, thanks for the response…. sorry I took sooooo long to get back to you… I would state though, before all else, when you say devout Christians… that generally means expressing devotion to… can mean a mode of behavior. To be honest with you, I have not noticed much difference in behavior between most unchurched, or “heathen”, and most “devout” Christians. Neither has most of the non-Christian world.

Jesus came at a particular time in history where the rift between the “holy” and “unholy” was most recognizable, only to side with those who were seen as the unholy. I would suggest that if Christ were to return today, it would be a very similar case.

I am not suggesting that people should be without political opinion or views. I will tell you, though, that 99.9% of those who are “devout”, or self proclaimed, Republicans or Dems are simply not any closer to Christ’s politics than the other.

Republicans tend to ignore the needs of the underprivileged and call it Capitalism and the Dems tend to lean towards idolatry and sexual ambiguity and call it freedom.

At the end of the day, I understand your points and consider you, honestly, part of the .1% in this matter. But let’s not draw truth at a party line. I know many of the same Grand Ol’ Crusaders as you and many of the Underdog Dem’s as well. There are a COUPLE… of them that honestly consider Christ at the poll. Most of them are simply looking out their own back doors. If the problem doesn’t effect them, they think someone else is responsible to fix it. Jesus donated without a tax write off.

It seems that the only time a Righty will discuss Jesus in politics it’s when he’s slamming a Dem for supporting abortion. The Left is generally worse because they seem to ignore that Jesus’ political views gained most of them something for free or cheap… food, clothing, shelter, medicine… err etc.

I respect your devotion, not your party. You are a good man. I pray that more men like you find their ways to the polls, whichever way they choose to vote.

Conscious men and women with Jesus’ ultimate goals in mind really could change this world. God would get behind them. But if you believe that there are enough of them with the integrity to break party lines for Christ’s true values to make that change… I’d challenge you to prove it.





Christian Politics…

20 08 2009

If you consider yourself a Christian and a Republican… or if you consider yourself a Christian and a Democrat… well to be honest I’m having to refrain from using the term “idiot” right now. I am really tired of people using their faith to defend their politics in America. God’s love and (get this conservatives) grace is way bigger than your political lines. As a matter of fact I’m pretty sure that if you defend your politics strictly by your faith you are either doing a great job of playing the gullible role or you are an outright liar.

Do you think God would align Himself as a Republican? I can tell you these things that do not agree with your belief. God was not concerned with a capitalist economy (Matt 21:12) . God’s message was not a message of earnings. God gave freely and expected us to do the same (Matthew 10:8). Jesus asked for ALL of your goods and each would be given unto their own need (Acts 4:32). Jesus believed in free medical. Jesus believed in feeding the poor (Matt10:8). Jesus believed that, if their were in fact a tax, you pay it (Matthew 22:21). Jesus believed that rich should give more than the poor (Mark 12:41). And Jesus certainly didn’t believe in judging others’ sin (Luke 6:37).

Do you think Jesus would vote Democrat? God speaks decisively against homosexuality (Corinthians 6:9). Jesus tells us that with our gifts we are expected to work in order to produce (Luke 19:11). God is the creator and any destruction of His creation is sin (abortion). These issues are enough to separate God from the Democratic party.

Some will be quick to defend their party here by saying that these issues don’t necessarily define their organization. I’d say pull your head out of your own ascot. In theory, you may be right. But by those that you not only allow to, but support in, representing your views you have defeated your own argument. Bill O’Reilly has an agenda, Bill Maher has an agenda, CNN has an agenda, and by all means Fox News has an agenda. None of these groups represent Christ. They represent capitalism.

Too often, we associate views that only effect our comfort on Earth with God’s intent. Jesus was not a politician, He was a savior that, quite honestly, came to deliver us from politicians. He was not concerned with social agendas and ran special interest groups right out of the church. Why are we so purposefully inviting those groups back into His house?

You can throw as many punches as you want at any political groups in America and vomit as many facts as you’d like about your opposition, but none of this makes you or your affiliation holy. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that either Republicans or Democrats represent Christ any closer than the other. Both parties maintain some Christ like views, both have more that separate them  from God’s message than place them closer to it. At the end of the day, if you value yourself a Christ follower, you are well advised to placing yourself far from either parties’ affiliation and paying more attention to each issue individually.

The disturbing part of this is that the views that build a strong, self-sufficient country are the same ones that alienate the weak within that country, and the views that build a supportive, socially conscious country are the same ones that alienate the biblical moral. The truth is you can’t have either of these realities without the support of God, and you can’t have the support of God without supporting each other.

Feed those that need feeding. Clothe those that need clothing. Heal the sick. If you have, give. You were given freely, give freely (Matt 21:12). Anything you worry about beyond this is only you concerned with your comfort. With food and clothing we will be content (1 Timothy 6:8). God says this definitively, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Which party is running that platform?








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