It’s All About Me — September 30, 2011


We shouldn’t judge.

This is one of those universally offered mantra/slogan/sound byte/bumper sticker sayings that infests our society with notions which generates an assenting  nod from the horde–but little actual agreement in real time.

For after all, we all judge. Most of the television shows now have panels of experts who evaluate and critique everything from songs to appearance to dancing to even how a meal is cooked. We judge. I’ve even been known to sniff a cantaloupe in a grocery store to determine whether it was worthy for my cart.

So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Don’t judge–because you’ll be judged.” To understand that statement you have to comprehend the core of everything Jesus taught, which was, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Let’s start with God.  God has grace.  God makes decisions to extend gentleness in areas that we don’t understand–simply because He decides to do so. I am not geared to do that. Bluntly, I am not capable of unconditional love, so I wouldn’t  insult you by telling you that I offer it to you. I am a human being and my love is based upon whether or not I can extend mercy.  Mercy is my imitation of God’s grace.  It is only possible for me to do this when I am able to put my face on every person and mentally place my body in every situation. If I can’t do that, I will cease to be merciful and therefore my judgment will be harsher on you than I would render on myself.

So in the religious system, we teach that God’s grace is a given; a gift to mankind.  Now, if you happen to be a fundamentalist, you think that grace is based on faith, belief and good deed–good deeds in the sense of following the laws of God.  As a fundamentalist, you feel it is your responsibility to judge others who refuse to fall under God’s scrutiny and restrictions. You believe that you’re just being true to the word of God and not really judging anyone–just trying to remain faithful, keeping yourself in the literal good graces of the Almighty.

Now, if you’re a more liberal, mainline denominational person, you perceive that God’s grace is a free offering to everyone and is the essence of His being, desiring that all of his children be happy individuals and find their own paths to salvation. You bite your lip to the point of bleeding to keep from criticizing others because you feel that judgmentalism is the ultimate sin, but deep in your heart you have just as many misgivings about the actions of your fellow-humans as the fundamentalists.  You just have different language.

Let me simplify it.  Baptist: God’s grace is everlasting if you follow the rules of the Bible.   Methodist: the rules of the Bible are best followed by believing in God’s eternal grace.

Got it? It is pretzel logic, twisted in on itself. I find both paths to be absolutely devoid of practical application.   Here’s my insight: God has His grace. I don’t know what the limits of His grace are or when or how he decides to extend or retract them. I don’t care.  Grace is not my concern. My purpose is mercy–and mercy is what I grant to others as I teach myself to see my face in their countenance and my life in their actions. 

  • If I were a black man, how would I want to be treated?  There.  I have my marching orders.
  • If I were gay, what profile would I want others to take towards me? Clear as a bell.
  • If I were a fat man, bald and not very handsome…wait a second! That one’s easy.

It’s all about ME.  And the minute I begin to believe that I am magnanimous enough to afford God’s grace to others–or righteous enough to impart His wrath on the surrounding hapless masses, I have lost all contact with reality. Mercy is my imitation of God’s grace–a  decision to make everything “about me” before I decide my verdict.

I don’t reference the scriptures on the issue because I will not stand before God holding a Bible. I will be measured at the Judgment Day based upon the yardstick I have already selected for myself. I can show mercy without condoning people’s actions. I can give mercy without having to coddle individuals in their sin. Mercy is my decision to treat people the way I would want to be treated until it all plays out.

So you may ask, “What is the purpose for the Bible warning people about sin if we’re not supposed to preach against evil?” 

Well, there is a difference between generic judgment and personal judgment.  Some things are easy for me.  For instance, I think killing is wrong.  Period. I don’t favor war, I’m against abortion and I also oppose the death penalty. These are generic evaluations on my part. But if I meet a soldier who has been called to fight for freedom, I individualize the situation by placing myself in his boots.  If I meet a young woman in her teens who has an unwanted pregnancy, I place myself both in her mind and her womb. And if I meet a family who has a child who has been murdered by some maniac, I pause and reflect on the depth of their loss.

If God is not a God of individual circumstances, then what is the point of salvation? If God can’t separate one person from another and make specific releases of grace, then what is the reason for Him being all-knowing?

“Don’t judge.” Absolutely ridiculous.  We all judge. But our judgment should be true.  It should be based upon what it would feel like to us to be in the same situation and be under scrutiny. 

Mercy is my imitation of God’s grace. Jesus said that if I am merciful, then I obtain mercy.  If I can’t put my face on every face, then I should not be expecting to receive of God’s grace.

Pep Reality — September 29, 2011



  • Thundering applause.
  • Stomping feet.
  • A marching band playing off-tune versions of Sousa‘s dream tunes.
  • And a coach, preaching the gospel of victory to raucous response.
  • A pep rally. It is a phenomenal place to be. I played football for a short season in my life and I have stood in gymnasiums and listened to the student body scream their approval as the leader of our team proclaimed the power of our punch.

Here’s the problem. No game was ever decided on the quality of the pep rally. No one ever won a championship by screaming the loudest in an auditorium. The game is won on the field.

It is the problem in this country–we are a nation of people addicted to the pep rally. We do it in politics, we do it with corporations and we do it in religion.

In politics it shows up as the obsession we have over the process of voting, campaigning and electing a leader. In corporations, it’s the sheer, brute force of clever and seductive advertising to enhance the visual presence of the product without having to deal with its actual limitations. And in religion, it’s getting everybody “saved” and on their way to heaven in a worshipful way without ever really preparing them for the rest of the life they will spend on earth.

I will tell you as a football player–after the pep rally is done there are three things that remain.  The success or failure of the campaign lies in how each player deals with these three eventualities.

1.  Can you take a hit? The biggest shock to me when I went out for the football team was the startling impact that happens in the body, soul and mind the first time you are struck by another person and thrown to the ground. It is your instinct to want to stay down there for a while, never get up–or rise quickly and run away from the pain as quickly as possible. No, you have to develop the realization that a hit is coming, often from where you least expect it–and you must condition yourself to be ready to receive the punishment. Most people fail because they can’t take a hit. They either discuss how unfair life is, how difficult things are or how they wish things were better–and in the time they take commiserating over these issues, they lose valuable moments when the game is played and won.

I could always tell whether I was going to win my campaign against an opponent. After the first play, if I dominated him and he fell back and I noticed that he was intimidated by my presence, I knew I owned him the rest of the night.

We have created a generation of Americans who are accustomed to a tradition of winning, although they, themselves, have never been part of the victory and are quite perplexed about why the nation is experiencing such defeat at this point.

We can’t take a hit. So it’s very easy to intimidate us and relegate us to a status of being a pending loser.

2. What do you do when you fumble? It’s a ball, folks. It’s shaped oddly.  You are GOING to fumble. We spend too much time worrying about why things happened the way they did instead of correcting them and moving on. The team that learns how to fumble, survives it, gets the ball back and tries not to fumble again is always the team that wins. Any team that fumbles and throws a fit, pouting about it, will not only fail to get the ball back but if they do, they will be psychologically damaged and repeat the error, fumbling again.

3.  And finally, what are you going to do when you get tired? America starts OUT its day believing it is exhausted.  How is anyone going to put in a decent day’s effort if they start out the morning acting like they’re not going to make it? Any person in sports will tell you that games are won in the fourth quarter.  The best-conditioned, most determined and mentally alert team will always wear down the opponent, create mistakes and take the day.

These are the three things that determine the outcome of any conflict. In politics, our leaders cannot take a hit, nor do they know what to do when they fumble an issue, and they spend all their time complaining about how tiresome the whole procedure is.  Losers.

Corporations can’t take a hit because they are afraid of competition and try to eliminate anyone who comes up with a better mousetrap. They cover up their errors instead of correcting them and they continue to offer boring and often useless choices to the American public instead of innovative and creative ones.

In religion, we do not prepare people for the world’s tribulation–the hit. We do not teach our congregations how to experience a set-back without wading in a pool of disappointment. And we have the religious folks so heavenly minded that they’ve grown tired of earth and have ceased to be the “more-than-conquerors” that the Bible says they were meant to be.

The Pep Reality is that advertising, preaching, shouting, exhorting and praising do not win games.  It is he who can take a hit, survive the fumble and overcome fatigue who will stand at the end of the contest, proudly holding the game ball.

Pep Reality.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can skip steps–because you may be saved by grace, but heaven doesn’t come if you’re no earthly good.

Hey, Buddy — September 28, 2011



I like to sit out in parking lots, roll down my windows, open my sun roof and work on ideas, writings, scripts or whatever is on my present platter, while enjoying the surrounding sunshine and people passing by. I don’t like offices; they sniff of officious. Desks and computers are sterile. or me, just a pad, a pen and surrounding life is a nice atmosphere for creativity.

I was doing so yesterday in Richmond, Virginia, when I was approached by a gentleman who had both a need and an agenda. “Hey, buddy!  Nice car! Is it a Mercedes? How ya’ doin’?”

I don’t know exactly what to do with a flurry of questions.  What do you address first? But I did immediately know two things: this was a guy who was trying to be very friendly because he was going through a hard trial. He wanted something from me.

Now, people in need don’t bother me. Honestly, individuals who have an agenda are pretty obvious, so they don’t particularly trouble me either. But I am not fond of people who have both a need and an agenda. I told him my car was a Korean knockoff of a Mercedes called an Amante.  

He didn’t even hear me; he was in full need and agenda.  Here was his speech:

“Listen, man. I’m a Vietnam veteran and I’m on my way to work and my truck broke down. I left my wallet at my house. I believe in God and I know God’s going to take care of me, so I was wondering if you could give me a lift back to my house so I could get my wallet, so I could get some gas for my truck, which is a big truck, so it takes a lot of gasoline, so that I could get to work, so I can take care of my family, which I love very much.”

Amazingly, he said it in one breath–yet with no real emotional inflection.

Let’s look at the story. 

  • First, he said he was a Vietnam veteran. The Vietnam war ended forty years ago–which means the youngest people who would have fought in that war would be sixty.  He wasn’t a day over forty-two.
  • Secondly, it was 10:15 in the morning, so he probably wasn’t on his way to work. 
  • And there was no truck in sight, so the story about needing gasoline for his vehicle may have been a little bit contrived.
  • “He left his wallet at his house” is pretty unlikely–although I was unsure why he wanted me to put him into my car to take him to another location. (A pretty good rule: don’t follow a potentially homeless person to his alleged home.)
  • For some reason, these individuals with the combo of “need” and “agenda” always demand that you understand that they believe in God, they’re God-fearing, or God is with them, or God is their savior, or God … whatever.  I’ve never met a person who is homeless who doesn’t have a deep, abiding, verbal faith in the Almighty.  It isn’t really a great testimony for religious participation, even though David says in the Psalms, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging for bread.”  Sorry, David.  I have.  Actually, most of the people I have encountered who are without sustenance will tell you that God is King of the Universe–as they beg you for a dollar or two to pick up some of that good stuff for themselves.
  • And adding the final feather in the cap of his spiel, he mentions “family.”  “Family” seems to be the great elixir in our country, intoxicating us into believing that we are loving and caring people. We must realize, though, that to create a family only requires that you make children, which demands a bodily function between two consenting adults. It’s not making a family that’s special. It’s whether you can make the process meaningful to not only yourselves, but to the world around you.

I am not offended by people who are poor.  As Jesus said, “the poor you have with you always.  Do what you can for them.” I am just fed up with the politics of ANYTHING. I certainly don’t like the politics of politics–where destroying your opposition is more important than opposing what destroys us.  I certainly despise the politics of religion, where placing a candle in its sacred place is more meaningful than teaching the congregation to be the light of the world. I hate the politics of corporations, which possess no sense for the common good, but only view a line that runs at the bottom of the barrel. And I don’t like the politics of poverty. I don’t like it that a man has to lie to me about his situation just to coerce a little money out of me to make it through his day. I don’t like the fact that he has to cajole me into listening to him by using buzz words instead of admitting that for whatever reason, right now his life sucks, and he needs me to squeeze off a few singles his way.

I understand the politics of poverty. I realize that most folks think that homeless people are lazy, trifling and have chosen to be impoverished. So if the unfortunate don’t come up with a good story line, they will not only go without and be disregarded, but also will be looked upon as common, meaningless and trashy.

I just think it is our responsibility to attack politics wherever we see it. I am tired of the phrase, “Well, that’s just the way the world works.” No, my friend, that’s the way someone decided the world works a long time ago, and because nobody argued with him in that moment, and many cowards have followed since, we have ended up with a system that is insufficient to our needs and irreverent to the requirements of others.

My friend closed his little spiel yesterday by saying, “If you’re going to be here for an hour, I’ll come back and give you double repayment for what you give me.”

It was at this point that I stopped him.

“Stop it,” I said. “Let’s not do the dance. You and I both know you don’t have a job, there is no truck, if you have a wallet it has the addresses of local food banks in it, and whatever family you have needs just as much help as you do. Let me tell you, friend, I’m going to give you some money, but not because you came up with a great story or because in your mind you shot Viet Cong. I’m going to give you some money because you crossed my path, and if I don’t I would never be able to explain to myself or God why I chose this moment to be so damned stingy.”

He tried to object but I just held up my hand and he realized there was no need.  He nodded his head and I pulled out some money from my pocket, which I carry at all times for just such occasions. If you don’t carry a few singles around for the lost individuals who happen your way, then you might just be tempted to pretend that there’s nothing you can do. I gave him the money and he was on his way.

As he was leaving, I proffered one final thought.

“You see, brother,” I said, “Now we can actually talk about God and it’ll mean something.”  He smiled and disppeared into the surrounding day.

Here’s the truth: politics creates the need that makes people feel they must have an agenda to get what they want.

I, for one, am tired of it. I refuse to participate. And I am not ashamed when I run across those in need–as long as they don’t try to pretend they’re somebody they really aren’t.

A Simple Moment — September 27, 2011



Papers can lie on my desk for weeks, silently screaming for my attention, but never receive one moment’s notice from me unless there is some sort of threat or intimidation to grant them their due.  (Sometimes they even lay on my desk when they’re feeling properly English…)

I, like maybe some of you, have a long list of requirements, which I have even put into an order of importance, yet relegated to the realm of “never to be thought of again.”  I do insist that I am a highly motivated human being who is caring and wants to do excellent work.  Simultaneously, I am either lazy enough or frightened enough that I will avoid labor until it comes pounding on my front door. 

Last night I woke up in the middle of a great sleep feeling a little sick–and maybe with what I thought was some tightness in my chest.  Being a fifty-nine-year-old hypochondriacal, overweight male, I considered that perhaps this was the “big one”–a pending heart attack. I had no real reason to think in that direction and the minute I shifted around, sat up in bed and belched a couple of times, I realized that what I was feeling was just some late-night overuse of peanut butter and crackers.

But in that simple moment–when I was considering my own demise–all sorts of pledges, promises, dietary considerations and reforms came rushing to my brain–a prayer to God that He grant me one more chance to overcome my obesity before exploding my chest. Here’s the funny part: the minute I was free of the notion of my looming doom, I was also relieved of any sensation of repentance.

You see, we want to live a life of our own choice, where WE motivate the world around us to our betterment and to the betterment of itself.  We want to believe that if God would just give us excellent circumstances, we would produce phenomenal results.  But the truth of the matter is, very few of us will actually move to do much of anything until we are confronted by tribulation, trial, temptation, disaster, inconvenience, frustration, red tape or just general nit-picking, aggravating duty. Candidly, we probably won’t even clean the gutters on our houses unless a tree crashes in on our roofs.

Yes, our good work shows up when we are forced to pull out our better china and place our best recipe on the plate for consideration. Until then, we are people who promise instead of a people of promise.  You do recognize the difference, right?

So just think how tough it is to be God.  You love your children but You know they are innately lazy and unmotivated without some sort of rod accompanying the guiding staff.  You don’t want to be a grouch, but You also don’t want to leave them perplexed over their lack of progress, wondering why life has passed by so quickly. 

 The source of trials and tribulations is that someone else has failed to do his job, dropping the problem on your doorstep. God doesn’t tempt anyone, nor does He hassle us. The hassle that comes into my life is because somebody else somewhere along the line passed on the responsibility–and I ended up picking #1 in line at Baskin Robbins. Yes. Someone else’s duty has become my responsibility.

It’s what happened in our society with the financial crunch; it’s what has happened with the test scores in our schools. We let an opportunity pass that could have been handled in the moment and now it is still here, refusing to go away–except it’s uglier–because now it falls in our jurisdiction.

So is there an answer? Is there any way that we can simulate problems in our lives without coming across as pessimists and being rejected by others because we always bring up the negative possibilities? Probably not.  

But I would make one suggestion: limit your load to five. 

Don’t lie to yourself and insist that you are so proficient that you can multi-task and do many, many things during a day and accomplish them well. Those people don’t really exist, and if they did we would all basically hate them. Find out five things that need to be done on any given day,write them down, and check them off when they are completed. Don’t be tempted to replace them with things that appear to be more urgent. After all, urgent things have waited a while and can wait a while longer. The only way to live a good human life is to be focused on a few things at a time and perform them to the best of your daily ability.

You will, of course, miss some opportunities and some individuals will criticize you for not being “on point.”  But don’t try to do more than five things in a day. That gives you 35 tasks in a week and 150 in a month.  That should do it, don’t you think? So you can either try to do 373 things poorly, or admit that you’re human and must focus on a simple moment and attempt 150 with a bit more style and deliberation. It’s not a perfect system.  If it were, you and I would be ill-qualified for the position. It’s just our way of admitting that until the pile of debris in front of us gets large enough, we usually don’t grab a garbage bag.

A simple moment–when we realize that the problem has become a trial and the trial is threatening disaster and we step into it, reluctantly trying to fix it, while complaining about how we wish our lives were easier. 

If you really want to take authority over your journey, choose five “fussers” a day, take them out of the status of being “trials” and just make them desirable choices in achieving your daily bread.

Will it work? I’m sorry.  I wasn’t listening.  What did you ask? (I think you get my drift…)

Like everything else in the realm of human beings, distraction makes it a “sometimes affair.”

Quietly — September 26, 2011



I watched him closely.

Truthfully, people-watching is my second-favorite thing–directly behind eating, although I have to admit that observing folks is much less injurious to my health and creates–at least usually–very little indigestion.

I only saw him for twenty-six hours and thirty-three minutes–and that wasn’t continuously.  It was in three big spurts.  Saturday night he helped me unload my equipment and place it in the sanctuary of the United Methodist Church in Martinsburg.  I try to be as unobtrusive as possible when invading the sacred temples of my brethren, but there are often obstructions in the way that make it nearly impossible for me to wiggle my “form” into their “reason.”  Usually it’s some sort of pulpit furniture that has been there longer than I have been alive–and has a will to stay.

But this fellow just went about the business of moving it to the side so that it would seem that I had purpose for my placement. He neither complained nor posed for pictures at the finish line.


 Then, during my sound check he sat still as I made sure that all the sounds and whistles and horns were doing their correct bonging and banging.  He just let the music touch his soul–even though, due to the fact that it was a testing time, it was fragmented and incomplete.

The next morning he was there to greet me, bright and early, with the same spirit of willingness. I watched him closely during the morning as a microphone failed to deliver its promised amplification. Folks were a bit stymied. He climbed the stairs to the balcony and quietly walked over, made a couple of adjustments to help out the floundering sound person, and in moments all was well and functioning again. Nobody saw him.  Nobody praised him.  Just me.

He was there for all three of the services, culminating in the evening, sitting ardently at his station, listening to my words and attempts at sanity, to hang around afterwards to once again quietly load me up in my car so I could be on my way. He didn’t notice I was watching him. He might even be a little bit embarrassed that I’m writing this essay in jonathots about him.

Because my dear brother has found a secret in life.  Many people are dissatisfied with just seeing what needs to be accomplished and doing it.  They require adequate ego massage to take away their aching need for appreciation.  Not my friend. He has discovered that the power in life is being the first one to see–and being able to perform a valuable function without blowing a trumpet and creating notice for yourself, but having the soul satisfaction and assurance that without your participation, the world might have been just a little less well-rounded.

And he does it quietly.

I’m working on the quiet part. I often humbly insist that I don’t need praise–as I hang around the extra three minutes, hoping to hear an acclaim.  How fearfully, wonderfully and humorously I am made! 

But I think if I watch people like my friend more often, I will understand that the true essence we have in life is not in being recognized for our deeds, but rather, our deeds being recognized and traced back to us by careful detectives of the spirit, who find out much later that without us, things might just not have turned out so well.

Can I wait for the payoff? Can I simply enjoy seeing and doing–without being seen and applauded for what I’ve done?

I don’t know.  I’m working on it. And I will tell you, it is well worth the effort–because to quietly know that your input is powerful without needing to be affirmed by the society around you may be the definition for both inner strength … and Godliness.

Six Words — September 25, 2011



I have written and published eleven books.  That’s a lot of ideas and stories. As of today, I have written 1,280 essays for jonathots–hundreds of thousands of words. Don’t you think, in that entire collection and body of work, there are things that I have written that I either no longer believe in the same way, or maybe wish I could edit?  Especially when you consider that I started writing when I was eighteen years of age, and now I’m … well, I’m not.  Eighteen, that is.

Just think of yourself. Do you believe different things today than you did ten years ago?  Would you say them differently? So I imagine when you look at sixty-six books that were written for the Bible–by so many different authors–it isn’t difficult to comprehend that some of the things they thought in one moment might have matured as they got a little older, a little smarter or a little closer to God.

You know, it doesn’t take away from the inspiration of a work to admit that it is evolving towards greater understanding. So as I come before you today and I realize my time on earth is short, I would like to take my eleven books, 1,280 jonathots, and, if you don’t mind, sixty-six books from the Bible and break them down into a single sentence that you can take along on your journey that sums up everything important that needs to be said.

Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s more like a short order–an abbreviation of the beauty of truth. Jesus broke down all the law and prophets into “love your neighbor as yourself.”  But now that sounds just like a good idea, or something we ask God to forgive us for–because we don’t accomplish it. Time marches on. We need new marching orders.

So taking that great summary that Jesus said of “loving your neighbor as yourself,” let me give you a new breakdown, a new simplification and a new way of saying what is closest to the heart of God. What do I believe God would say if He had one statement to make to all of us?  Here you go:

No one is better than anyone else.

The only time we really get ourselves in trouble is when we try to be superior to other people and end up just being human–and that sense of humanity makes us feel like we fail.  Isn’t that sad? It’s like a dog being ashamed because it barks or a frog apologizing for its croak–or a flower blushing over its blossom. We’re humans. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it–because God was not ashamed to either make us or save us.  But feeling superior is no way to be human.  Likewise, feeling inferior makes you sick in your body and your soul.

No, the only way to live is to know that no one is better than anyone else.

There are no chosen people because God is no respecter of persons. There isn’t a “super race” because color doesn’t matter. Gender is just pure foolishness and age just makes us older.  Here’s the message: no one is better than anyone else.  Just take one day of your life and allow yourself to believe this truth and see if the tension, pressure, stress, fear and hatred don’t just simply vanish from your existence.

If the church wants to make a difference, we cannot act like we’re better than the world.  The only way to be the light of the world is to enlighten people with the knowledge that no one is better than anyone else.

So summing up sixty-six books, let me use a mere six words to give you a truth that is much easier to live with: no one is better than anyone else.

The Difference — September 24, 2011



I am overjoyed for any one of my fellow-travelers who makes a decision to live off the land, growing his own crops, hunting animals with a shotgun for food or pleasure, wearing all black, driving a horse and buggy, refusing to watch TV and movies or even be electrically connected, while faithfully following the letter of the law of any particular book or creed of his choice–for he is a conservative and I honor him in his ways…as long as he leaves me alone and doesn’t insist I am evil or damned because I won’t join him in his hallowed fields. But if he attacks my life and degrades my character to confirm his divine mission, then he is a misfit and a hater of human-kind.

Also, if a fellow contends that Darwin had the pulse on evolution and that science and technology are supreme notions, with knowledge trumping all gods from everywhere as he recycles and fervently protests on behalf of endangered species, he is a liberal–and I honor his decisions, unless he claims that I am hopelessly ignorant and superstitious if I don’t step in line with his experimental findings and curse the beliefs he deems to be myths and Neanderthal. If he attacks my convictions and degrades my intelligence to confirm his intellectual or even social superiority, then he is a misfit and hater of human-kind.

You can feel free to choose up sides on liberal and conservative, but without the balance of the two, we might fall off the earth, be it flat OR round. But when conservatives and liberals become not only evangelistic, but gain authority to propel their will, overriding the wishes of others, then they are misfits and haters of human-kind.

And may I tell them that someday they will meet the Creator of those people that they so desperately despise…and therein will be the ultimate difference.

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