Monthly Archives: November 2017

MtE Update – November 30 2017

The latest MtE News

  1. There will be a congregational meeting on Sunday December 10, following worship. The agenda will include presentation of the proposed 2018 budget, an official “launch” of a new ministry of the congregation, and a report on our buildings project.
  2. The most recent Presbytery news (November 28) is here.
  3. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday December 3, see the links here.

Other things potentially of interest

Treatment of asylum seekers and refugees – can the International Criminal Court prosecute Australia’s leaders for crimes against humanity?

Organised by The RMIT Arts, Labor & Working Life Collective & The Refugee Advocacy Network, Melbourne

How has Australia ended up here? A modern and democratic country – and early signatory to the UN Refugee Convention – is now referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.  Members of the panel will talk about their submissions to the ICC and will examine why has happened and how – as civil society – we can be part of a concerted effort to end this human tragedy.


  • Julian Burnside QC and Human rights advocate and submitter to the ICC
  • Professor Gillian Triggs, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow University of Melbourne & former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Mohammad Ali Baqiri, Refugee advocate formerly detained on Nauru
  • Tracie Aylmer, Human rights advocate, and submitter to the ICC

Thursday 7 December 2017, 6.00 – 8.00pm

Building 80, Level 2, Lecture Theatre 2

445 Swanston Street

RMIT University, City Campus


This is a free event.

Antonio Castillo:

LitBit Commentary – Bruce Barber on Prayer 1

LitBits Logo - 2

LitBit: What then is the difference between any old prayer and truly Christian prayer? In a sentence it is this – the general concept of prayer is a response to human emptiness, human need, our lack of one thing or another; Christian prayer, on the other hand, is a response to fullness: the richness and abundance that is the life and being of God which waits to take expression in the world. Depressing emptiness on the one hand, anticipatory fullness on the other.


Bruce Barber


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LitBit Commentary – James K A Smith on Worship 3

LitBits Logo - 2LitBit: There is a sense in which Christians are trained by the liturgy to be a people “untimely born,” as Paul says of himself (1 Cor. 15:8). This is not because we are traditionalists who slavishly and nostalgically long for the old ways (Jer. 6:16). However, there is a deep sense in which the church is a people called to resist the presentism embedded in the tyranny of the contemporary. We are called to be a people of memory, who are shaped by a tradition that is millennia older than the last Billboard chart. And we are also called to be a people of expectation, praying for and looking forward to a coming kingdom that will break in upon our present as a thief in the night. We are a stretched people, citizens of a kingdom that is both older and newer than anything offered by “the contemporary.” The practices of Christian worship over the liturgical year form in us something of an “old soul” that is perpetually pointed to a future, longing for a coming kingdom, and seeking to be such a stretched people in the present who are a foretaste of the coming kingdom.

James K A Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (p. 159).


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26 November – Pointless love

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Reign of Christ

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95
Matthew 25:31-46

Today’s semi-parable of the coming of the Son of Man in judgement is a familiar one to most of us. Through this story we have learned to see the need of Jesus himself in the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, those imprisoned. This lesson comes at the climax of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel, which makes the point all the more point‑y. Let us hear the call to love again, today.

I want, however, to draw attention to something about the parable which is less obvious simply because the moral lesson is so obvious: those who are commended for doing the good did that good in ignorance that the needy they served were, in some sense, “Jesus”. In this the blessèd “sheep” of the parable are different from us, because we have heard the parable, which creates for us a motivation alien to the blessèd in the story. This has the potential to distort our sense for what we are called to do and to be.

Put most simply, the moral and theological problem is this: to love someone else because they are, in a sense, Jesus, is not to love them because they are themselves worthy of love; it is to love something other than what we think they manifestly are. This is where things go wrong, for in this way we try to perfume the stink of needy humanity. While the “lovers” of the parable love and serve those in need simply because they are in need, our knowledge of the parable may cause us to “add” something to those we are to love. In this we seek to make them more “lovable”: Why help the needy? Because it is really Jesus we serve, and surely we want to serve him, if not these themselves.

The problem is that to make something “more loveable” is to turn it into a means to an end. It is to turn it more into what I need. So far as our reading of the parable is concerned, the “end” here might be our own salvation: seeing Jesus in others makes us more likely to serve them in their need, putting us in a better light before God. More broadly, the end in mind might be some other seemingly laudable but ulterior motive – perhaps the growth of the church – or just something salacious.

But people not means to ends; they are, properly, an end in themselves. We might risk to say that this is the basis of divine law, and that violations of the law are instances of people – or God – being made a means to an end. What are idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery and theft other than strategies to get to something other than God or the violated person?

This kind of relating to God and to others is certainly a live option for us. But we are to deal with each other without manipulation, for this is how God deals with us, first of all in the person of Jesus. The life of Jesus himself was no means to an end. If he was truly human – truly one of us – his purpose was none other than to live a life of love, for that is our purpose, however badly we might sometimes manage it. Atonement theories which propose that the life of Jesus was strategic, that he “had” to die for a reason different from the rest of us, diminish the freedom of God and diminish Jesus’ own humanity. They diminish God’s freedom by imposing an economy of salvation which ties God’s hands, such that God “has to” do something to achieve salvation other than simply determine that we be saved. Such theories also diminish Jesus’ humanity by turning his life into a means to an end other than his own self – his own liveliness, his own enjoyment of God and neighbour.

In the same way, our love of God – if we do – is not a means to an end. Again, we look to Jesus here. Jesus does not love God “in order that” – in order that he lived a charmed life, in order to secure life after death, or for another other end we might imagine God might facilitate. Living in God, living for those around us, is the end of it all.

We could, then, overstate the matter – although only slightly – by saying that love has no “point”, no purpose, other than the life together of the lovers. The difference between the sheep and the goats in the parable is the difference between the beloved as an end in herself and the beloved as a means to an end which finally leaves her behind.

[ASIDE: For those of you who are still wondering what on earth I was talking about last week, the difference between the sheep and the goats in the parable is the difference between “We did not know God was there but loved anyway” and “We knew God could not be there, so did not bother to love”. The “sheep” lived and loved “as if God were not there”.]

And this brings us to the end – the dead end – of all love which has is aimed at anything other than the beloved. Love which is manipulative, which does not love the person him- or herself, finally renders us alone. We surpass the beloved, stepping on or over or through him to something else, some vision of what we should be or have. But is it lonely. We have left the one who thought herself loved behind. And God is not there, either; for God loves persons, not other ends achieved through persons. This is eternal punishment: life alone.

As archaic as the language is, the church speaks of Jesus as king not because this is a quality which resides in Jesus for himself, but because his is an active kingship, and active reign, which does what it commands: loves without ends, that our love might be without end. We gather around a table at which is served the signs of a life manipulated, a life turned into a means to some end, and so discarded and left behind. To what end does God say that these signs can heal? To no end but us ourselves. God’s desire for us draws us together, love opening up the possibility of love.

Being, then, drawn together in this way, let us love without ends, be this in the case of the fellowship of the community gathered here today, the work of Hotham Mission, your love for your parents or children or spouse or neighbours or colleagues or some unhappy soul sitting out his day on the footpath. In this way we do not only love Jesus but love like Jesus does. What else does the world need?

Lectionary Commentary – Reign of Christ/Christ the King A; (November 20 – November 26)

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Series I: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100

Series II: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 95.1-7a  (see Psalm 95 )

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46


January 14 – Monica Furlong

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Monica Furlong, Christian thinker

Monica Furlong was a Christian feminist who began as a journalist and went on to a prolific late-twentieth-century output of books. She published poetry, a couple of novels, stories for children, biographies of remarkable Christians, collected volumes of primary and secondary texts, works on spirituality, and especially analysis of women’s relations with Christianity in general and the Anglican Church in particular, both before and after female ordination became a reality.

But she was always on the lookout for good causes to espouse, and once she had thrown in her lot with the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and with the aims of secular feminism in general, she became to many women – and to many men as well, especially homosexuals – not just a beacon of light, more a flaming torch.

Like many intellectuals, her life was, in some ways, a protracted search for truth, accompanied by frequent disillusionment, most notably with the organised structures of society. In her book With Love To The Church (1965), she wrote, more in sorrow than in anger, of her disillusion with the apparent inability of the established Church to touch the hearts and minds of men and women of goodwill.

Born and brought up in Kenton, Middlesex, Furlong was particularly close to her father, who was a devout Roman Catholic. Monica was a second daughter, and her mother made no secret of the fact that she wanted a boy; Monica attributed the onset of a fairly disabling stammer. She was baptised as an Anglican but became, at an early age, a potential outsider; even as a child, she felt herself instinctively in sympathy with non-churchgoers. After education at Harrow county girls’ school and University College, London, she enrolled at Pitmans, and seemed destined for a dreary career as a shorthand typist.

In an attempt to break into journalism, Furlong sought a position with the Church Times but became instead secretary to a BBC talks producer, an employment for which she could not have been less well suited. In 1956, she joined Truth magazine as a feature writer and from 1958-60, she was the Spectator’s religious correspondent. Following her time with the Spectator she wrote for the Daily Mail for the next eight years.

As a freelance journalist, Furlong worked for the Guardian between 1956 and 1961, where her contributions covered a variety of emotional and socio-sexual issues – as they had done at the Mail. They dealt, too, with her preoccupation and personal commitment to the Christian faith, a vocation she had gained the self-confidence to express from her parish priest, Joost de Blank, later bishop of Stepney and Archbishop of Cape Town.

Returning to the BBC in 1974, Furlong worked as a religious programmes producer, and, by 1978, had gained the self-confidence to write a biography of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Later books included novels both for adults and children, and biographies of John Bunyan and Thérèse of Lisieux.

In the 1980s she campaigned for the ordination of women and, served as moderator of the Movement for the Ordination of Woman. Furlong’s reputation for reasoned debate and determination gave that movement considerable moral authority. When that goal was reached she called for the appointment of women to senior Church positions.

In 1987, she became a founder of the St Hilda Community (named after St Hilda of Whitby). She described it as “a body which tried to model a form of cooperation between men and women in liturgy, which used inclusive language, and which invited ordained women from other countries to come and celebrate openly, rather than, as was usual at the time, clandestinely.”

She has been called the Church of England‘s “most influential and creative layperson of the post-war period”

Monica Furlong died January 14 2003

January 13 – George Fox

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

George Fox, renewer of society


George Fox was first amongst Quakers, a weaver’s son, a revolutionary in his time, who lived in the power of the Spirit of Christ without compromise even to his personal harm. A man who suffered with gladness the often violent retribution of those who saw him as a devil intent on destroying their livelihood, the established church and by extension the state. Irascible for the truth and justice as he saw it, never loosing an argument, yet deeply empathetic to those who recognised the error of their ways. A charismatic figure, with a gift for debate and an encyclopedic knowledge of the bible much loved by his friends and followers.

Born in The small village of Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire, little is known of his early life except that he worked as a shepherd and that he was of a more serious nature amongst his siblings and contemporaries. He particularly stood out in religious matters.

At the age of 19 he went away seeking himself, wisdom and the calling God had laid out for him. He found no comfort from any he turned to, particularly priests and ministers, recognising that they did not possess what they professed. In his searching he became a man of sorrows, often alone and despairing until he realised that all his hopes in men were gone and he had nothing outwardly to help him. Then he had a revelation from his own experience “Oh then, I heard a voice which said ‘ There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy”[1]. This was the turning point of his life and also the kernel from which Quakerism would grow. He listened to his inward teacher and gained in truth and power that none could gainsay him. He lived and worked among ordinary people for several years after this gaining a small following.

In 1652 while alone in prayer on Pendle Hill in Lancashire, he had a vision of a great people gathered as sheep under the one shepherd and from this point onwards where ever he went he began to preach as the Lord commanded. Slowly but surely the ‘Friends of the Truth’, later simply Friends, began to evolve. There was however much opposition and consequently much suffering with assaults, estrangements of goods, imprisonment and even death common amongst these gathering people. George Fox was imprisoned 8 times during his life and he was beaten unconscious on more than one occasion, but he was fearless in these situations and would challenge his attackers to hit him again.

Later in 1652, while preaching in Ulverston in Cumbria, Margaret Fell, wife of the local Judge Thomas Fell became a convert and under her patronage and Thomas’s protection, the Society of Friends began to grow.

In 1661 George met with Charles II and repeated his declaration to Oliver Cromwell of 1651 that he and all Quakers ‘utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatever’[2]. He was attempting to halt the persecution of Friends and this happened eventually. This was the foundation of the Quaker peace testimony.

In 1669, 11 years after Judge Fell’s death Margaret married George though they spent little time living together as they were constantly traveling and labouring in the Ministry when they were not in prison.

William Penn said of him “He had an extraordinary gift in opening the scriptures…. But above all he excelled in prayer….. And truly it was a testimony that he knew and lived nearer to the Lord than other men”[3]

Anthony Buxton, Society of Friends


[1] Journal of George Fox. Edited John.L. Nickalls 1997 page 11.

[2] Quaker Faith  & Practice fifth edition 2013 Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 24.04

[3] Op City 2.72.

January 3 – Gladys Aylward

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Gladys Aylward, Christian pioneer

 Gladys Aylward was born in London in 1904 and through attending revival meetings dedicated her life to the service of God becoming convinced that she was called to preach the Gospel in China. At the age of 26, she travelled to China by the Trans-Siberian Railway and eventually met up a 73 year old missionary, Mrs Lawson in the inland city of Yangchen.

Yangchen was an overnight stop for mule caravans that carried coal, raw cotton, pots, and iron goods on six-week or three-month journeys. The two women decided to set up an inn and alongside caring for t heir travellers and their mules told stories about a man named Jesus. Gladys became fluent in Chinese but suffered a setback when Mrs. Lawson died after a severe fall. Gladys Aylward was left to run the mission alone, with the aid of one Chinese Christian, Yang, the cook.

A few weeks after Mrs. Lawson’s death, the Mandarin of Yangchen arrived in a sedan chair, and told her that the government had decreed an end to the practice of foot-binding. The government needed a foot-inspector, who would patrol the district enforcing the decree, and he offer Gladys the job, realizing that it would give her opportunities to spread the Gospel.

On another occasion Gladys was summoned by the Mandarin to deal with a riot in the men’s prison. The convicts were rampaging in the prison courtyard, and several of them had been killed. The warden of the prison said to Gladys, “Go into the yard and stop the rioting.” She said, “How can I do that?” The warden said, “You have been preaching that those who trust in Christ have nothing to fear.” She walked into the courtyard and shouted: “Quiet! I cannot hear when everyone is shouting at once. Choose one or two spokesmen, and let me talk with them.” The men quieted down and chose a spokesman. Gladys talked with him, and then came out and told the warden: “You have these men cooped up in crowded conditions with absolutely nothing to do. No wonder they are so edgy that a small dispute sets off a riot. You must give them work. Also, I am told that you do not supply food for them, so that they have only what their relatives send them. No wonder they fight over food. We will set up looms so that they can weave cloth and earn enough money to buy their own food.” This was done. There was no money for sweeping reforms, but a few friends of the warden donated old looms, and a grindstone so that the men could work grinding grain. The people began to call Gladys Aylward “Ai-weh-deh,” which means “Virtuous One.” It was her name from then on.

Over the course of her time in China Gladys rescued several children from poverty by adopting them and giving them a home. In 1936, she officially became a Chinese citizen. She lived frugally and dressed like the people around her and this was a major factor in making her preaching effective.

In the spring of 1938, the Japanese bombed Yangcheng, killing many. The Mandarin gathered the survivors and told them to retreat into the mountains. He also announced that he was impressed by the life of Ai-weh-deh and wished to make her faith his own. There remained the question of the convicts at the jail. The traditional policy favoured beheading them all lest they escape. The Mandarin asked Ai-weh-deh for advice, and a plan was made for relatives and friends of the convicts to post a bond guaranteeing their good behaviour. Every man was eventually released on bond.

As the war continued Gladys often found herself behind Japanese lines, and often passed on information, when she had it, to the armies of China, her adopted country.

Gladys eventually gathered up over 100 children and walked with them for twelve days to the government orphanage at Sian, eventually delivering her charges into competent hands at Sian, and then promptly collapsed with typhus fever.

As her health improved, she started a Christian church in Sian, and worked elsewhere, including a settlement for lepers in Szechuan, near the borders of Tibet. Her health was permanently impaired by injuries received during the war, and in 1947 she returned to England for a badly needed operation. She remained in England, preaching there.

Miss Gladys Aylward, died 3 January 1970.



Almighty and everlasting God,

we thank you for your servant Gladys Aylward,

whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of China.

Raise up in this and every land heralds and evangelists of your kingdom,

that your Church may make proclaim the unsearchable riches

of our Saviour Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


December 14 – John Geddie & John Paton

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

John Geddie & John Paton, Christian pioneers

John Geddie

John and Charlotte Geddie laid the foundations of Presbyterian mission work in the New Hebrides. From 1848 to 1872 they pioneered Christian missions on the small island of Aneityum where they set the patterns for evangelism, church planting and growth, education, and health. John was born in Banff, Scotland 9 April 1815. In 1816 the family moved to Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Presbyterian Church licensed him as a minister in May 1837 and ordained him in 1838.

He married Charlotte Leonora McDonald in September 1839. During his seven years of ministry on Prince Edward Island, Geddie promoted overseas missions and pressed the Church Assembly to establish an overseas missions committee. The Church chose the New Hebrides as its mission field, and in 1846 it appointed John Geddie as its first missionary.

After six months orientation in Samoa, the Geddies arrived at Anelgauhat, Aneityum on 29 July 1848 aboard the LMS mission ship John Williams. They joined several Samoan and Raratongan teachers who had worked there since 1841. They befriended the local people and learnt the language. The women warmly received Charlotte and her growing number of children. Two of their eight children later married New Hebrides missionaries. Women encouraged their men to attend worship, and to participate in literacy, numeracy, Bible, health, hygiene, agriculture and other courses. Gradually attendance at worship increased. Village schools were established and staffed by Polynesian and Aneityumese teachers. Geddie and colleague John Inglis established a teacher-catechist training institution. The teachers taught literacy and numeracy and conducted daily village prayer, worship and Bible study. Charlotte used her medical knowledge to help the sick. She and John visited the schools and prepared readers and other literature printed on their Mission Press. John encouraged the processing of copra and arrowroot to enable the local Church to become self-supporting. He worked with local Christians to translate the New Testament into Aneityumese. After John’s departure in 1872, Inglis completed the translation of the Old Testament.

For over two decades, Geddie had helped new missionaries from the Pacific Islands, Scotland, Nova Scotia and Victoria to settle in the islands and to develop their own mission programmes. After twenty-four years, on 4 June 1872, Geddie and his missionary colleagues met on Aneityum to constitute the New Hebrides Presbyterian Mission Synod. The next day Geddie suffered a stroke. He returned to Geelong where he died on 14 December 1872 aged 57. He was buried in the Eastern Cemetery. Charlotte established mission support groups in churches in Geelong and Melbourne, and later was a foundation member of the Victorian Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union. She died in Malvern, Victoria, on New Year’s Day 1916, aged 94.

During Geddie’s pioneering ministry, many communities accepted the Christian faith. Solid foundations were laid for locally led Church planting and growth, support, and leadership. John Geddie’s epitaph on the pulpit at Aneityum stated, “When he landed in 1848 there were no Christians here and when he left in 1872 there were no heathens”.


John Paton

John Gibson Paton was a passionate evangelist, Presbyterian Church leader and advocate for justice. A compelling speaker, he raised the profile of mission work in Australasia and the British Isles. Born on 24 May 1824 in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, he worked at various trades before studying theology at the Free Church Normal Seminary. For ten years he was an evangelist in the Glasgow City Mission. In spare time he studied at the University of Glasgow, the Andersonian (Medical) College and the Reformed Presbyterian Divinity Hall. He was licensed to preach on 1 December 1857 and on 23 March 1858 ordained as a minister and missionary to the southern New Hebrides.

His stay at Port Resolution on Tanna from November 1858 was brief and tragic. In March 1859 his wife Mary Ann (Robson), their infant son and a missionary colleague died of malaria and he was very ill. Tannese opposition to Christianity increased when a measles epidemic caused the deaths of a third of the population and three devastating hurricanes left many starving. In 1861 intertribal fighting broke out and the sickly Paton and colleague Matheson hastily withdrew to Aneityum.

These sad and painful experiences had positive results. An excellent propagandist and story-teller, Paton toured the Australian colonial Churches with graphic descriptions of his experiences in mission work, Over the next forty years he raised thousands of pounds and obtained the permanent support of Sabbath schools and congregations for the mission and its ship Dayspring. When he went to Scotland in 1864 to recruit more missionaries, he was inducted as moderator of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. There he married Margaret Whitecross. In 1865 he stirred up missionary enthusiasm in the newly united Presbyterian Church of Victoria and was appointed as its first missionary to the very small island of Aniwa. Between 1865 and 1872 Aniwa became almost entirely Christian. Margaret’s illness caused their withdrawal in 1872 but John continued regular visits for another thirty years and in 1899 presented them with the complete New Testament in Aniwan.

Paton rapidly became an international figure. From 1881 as Presbyterian Mission Agent, and as Moderator of the Victorian Church in 1886, he continued mission promotion and toured extensively in the Colonies and Britain. He was a political activist, making vigorous representations to Colonial premiers, British Prime Ministers and American Presidents. He opposed the “Melanesian slave trade”, and its recruiting irregularities; He opposed the expansion of French colonial interests and begged Britain to annex the New Hebrides, the Solomons and New Guinea and to ban arms and liquor for “the native races”. In 1891 Edinburgh University conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Divinity.

In 1891 the interdenominational ‘John G. Paton Fund’ was founded in Britain to support some New Hebrides missionaries including John’s son Frank H L Paton at Lenakel. John’s wife Margaret Whitecross Paton was also involved mission support and the PWMU. She died in May 1905. John died in Melbourne on 28 January 1907. Both rest in Boroondara cemetery after lifetimes of dedicated service.

Malcolm Campbell

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