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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Truck Is Gone (A Guest Post)


My writing, in recent days, has slipped somewhat. I've been busy finishing out one job, applying and interviewing for another, cleaning one house, attempting to buy another, taking care of surly teenagers, calming an anxious wife... You know: busy.

But my friend A. shared something with me, and has given me permission to share it with you here.

***



The Truck Is Gone

Well God, the truck is gone. I suppose all the hopes and dreams associated with it were gone a long time ago. Gone before we already knew they were gone. Gone when he rejected who we are, months, maybe even years ago. The hopes and dreams died silently before we even knew that they were dead. The truck was just the last symbol of education, of honor, of marriage, of all we might have wished for our son.

I'm getting used to this new stranger. He looks like my son, sometimes I'm even fooled into believing that he can be anything like the person I had hoped he would be. On days like today when the truck drove away, it all seems so raw and close to the surface, but I keep reminding myself that the man I wanted him to be died a long time ago and I was too busy, too preoccupied with the future to notice. I wish there was some sort of memorial for the dreams of parents. Instead I have boxes of photographs and pictures I've taken off the walls. Yes, hope is a living thing. It breathes and reproduces and moves in jolts and kicks and foolish ambitions. But when it dies, there's no funeral or wake, just a broken down old red truck and the bitter tears of resignation.

 Lord help us all.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 25 - 2017


I am attempting to keep a few things normal - while everything else in my life is up in the air. I'm changing jobs after 18 years, buying a house, moving (into the new house)... and trying keep up with the free, weekly background images.

Here is this week's image - free to you or someone like you, free for you to use *at work, or school, or diving in your car. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others you found it here.





*at work, or school, or driving in your car....


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Biblical Limericks: How Many Seahs to a Gallon?


God came to Abe in the noon-time heat;
Abe said, “I’ll get you something to eat.”
He instructed Sarah
to cook up three seah
of flour – five gallons! Quite a treat.

Genesis 18: 1 - 6

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Asshole of God


I went in search of the glory of the LORD. I went up the mountain to find the presence of the Creator of the Universe, the Father of Lights, the Holy and Eternal One. I climbed the hill, staggered up the steep and treacherous path. I sweated and I bled because I wanted to see my lord.

And there, at the top of that high, lonely mountain, sheltered in the cleft of a shattered, broken rock, I cried into to the cloudless sky: “If I have found favor with you, show me your presence. Let me see your glory.”

But I saw only God’s asshole, smug and superior in his suit, his hair and teeth gleaming in perfection. He farted in my face and told me that his words were pure, direct from God himself.

I suppose I should feel blessed.


(Exodus 33: 12 – 23)

Background Images for Everyone - Week 24 - 2017


Here it is, just for you (or someone like you) - another free background image for you to use at work, or school or driving in your car.*  Use it freely as your very own - I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

























You can also see this image is yesterday's post: It All Evens Out in the End

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Some Doubted


On Galilee’s mountain they shouted,
the disciples had seen death routed.
The eleven were true
followers of Jesu;
they worshipped, but some of them doubted.

Matthew 28: 16 – 17



Background Images for Everyone - Weeks 22 & 23 - 2017


I got a little behind with the free, weekly background images - sorry. Here for you are two images for you to use at work, school, or driving in your car. I only ask that you share them with others and that you tell them that you found the images here.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Black Hills Landscape


The mountains of the Black Hills in South Dakota are overwhelming.

Black Hills Landscape by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Monday, June 5, 2017

Black Hills Camping


I returned late last night from four days of camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota. (I know: totally the wrong time for me to go away, but the trip was already part of the church calendar, and I had a group of guys that wanted to go, so I went.) We had a good time, a great time. And, for those in our group who were nervous about leaving home, and going out of town (and going SO FAR out of town) it was quite an experience.

We went to Mount Rushmore (of course) we hiked on mountain paths, we saw bears, and wolves, and big horn sheep (safely within thier pens...), we toured the Air and Space Museum at the Ellsworth Air Force Base, we walked around the Badlands, we ate good food, and had, as I said, a great time.












Thursday, June 1, 2017

Biblioblog Carnival - May 2017

Welcome, welcome welcome to the Biblioblog Carnival for May 2017, a round up of, if not the best of biblical studies on the world wide web of information, then at least the stuff I thought was interesting. Here at the carnival there are rides and games of chance, performers and daredevils (and regular devils, too). The bearded woman's here (she's Calvanist, obviously). There are thrills and spills and delights around every new corner. Take your time. Stroll down the midway and enjoy the sights.

OT

Four Completely Different Versions of the Story of Moses – by Mark Oliver at Ancient Origins: 

The story of Moses doesn’t just show up in the Bible. In the ancient world, nearly every culture had their own version of what happened. The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans all had their own way of explaining why thousands of people left Egypt to live in Jerusalem. The Moses you know, who performed miracles and freed the Jewish slaves from Egypt, is just one version of the story. There are others – and they paint a completely different picture from the one you’ve heard



Our discussion is all about the mystery of Israel’s origins. And it is a mystery. The exodus and conquest of Canaan (Exodus through Joshua) are central to Israel’s identity, and are certainly informed by old traditions and authentic historical memory—but they not historical accounts in the modern sense. How and when, historically speaking, Israel stepped out onto the world stage is a huge mystery, though we have some clues to piece together a compelling picture.







Why 1st and 2nd Kings? By Lester Grabbe:

…the first story in 1 Kings has many incredible elements. This did not incline me to reject the existence of Solomon as a historical person (as it did some), but it suggested that much of what we find in the Bible about Solomon is not history.





On the Characteristics of Hebrew Poetry -  by Bob MacDonald at Dust 


Saying this in non-musical language is nearly impossible. My overall thesis is that the use of the accents defines poetic structure (and prose also) beyond the scope of the line and beyond the scope of the verse. As I have noted elsewhere, this thesis contradicts claims made over the past 1000 years in the literature on the accents, notably from Wickes in his treatises from the 19th century. Two excellent examples are Psalm 96, where the accents define the scope of the stanzas so clearly, and from the prose books, the lament of David over the death of Saul and Jonathan. I can only illustrate these with the music, which to a musician is so much clearer than any list of accents would tell us.



Thus, Jewish priestly education inherited from the Babylonian lexical lists some numerical schemes based on the sexagesimal counting system (i.e., a numerical system with sixty as its base), and the Levitical author presented it as part of priestly knowledge. Once Levi learns how to prepare the holocaust offering and accompanying meal offering together with the fraction notations (14–61), then in his wisdom poem (82–98) he instructs his children/students not to neglect the study of scribal craft (88, 90, 98). The priestly education system is characterized as belonging to the scribal type of knowledge, which indicates a strong Babylonian background and a clear link with the pseudepigraphic book of 1 Enoch




The Scope and Shape of the Watchers Myth in Antiquity by Daniel Machiela at Ancient Jew Review



In this volume of collected articles—most of them published previously in a variety of scholarly venues, though updated here—Loren Stuckenbruck of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, takes the reader on a detailed exploration of the birth and early history of this legend as attested in ancient Judaism and earliest Christianity. There are few, if any, as capable of guiding this tour, and though these individual studies were not originally intended to be read as part of a comprehensive account, readers of this book will come away with a rich understanding of the myth of the fallen, rebellious angels and their offspring as understood in ancient Judaism and Christianity.



NT
Jesus Never Said by Scott Fritzsche  at Unsettled Christianity:

An argument from silence is a rhetorical device designed to be a convincing argument in a simple and straight forward way. It often, on the surface, is. There are numerous inherent flaws in an argument form silence however. This becomes important in theology as arguments from silence are, and have been, used to try and form persuasive arguments as well as having become part of the basis for theological stances.

“E.P. Sanders on Paul’s Life, Letters, and Thought” by Michael F. Bird – at Euangelion:

I love this line on Galatians: “The best way to comprehend Galatians is to read it out aloud, shouting in an angry voice at the appropriate points” (475).

Review: Sacrificial Giving in Philippians – by Ken Schneck at Common Denominator:

The chapter begins with a very brief run through the rhetorical structure of Philippians with a view to possible sacrificial metaphors. Patterson's claim is that these sacrificial metaphors are more than "rhetorical flourishes" but are "a tool of active thought" (113). She wishes to show that "the shelamim sacrifices (sacrifices of thanksgiving) constitute a pattern of offering that Paul applies metaphorically and imaginatively as a guide for the actions of the Philippians" (86).


And the Sea Will Be No More – at Jesus Creed  


In some discussions of a Christian view of creation much has been made of the phrase “it was good” in Genesis 1 repeated in verses 3,9,12,18,21. In verse 31 we have the summary: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. One can, of course, take the position that the image of the sea as chaos and the denizens of the deep as creatures of terror are a result of the fall. Prior to Genesis 3 they were “good” in an idyllic sense. If there had been no fall, they’d be good and tame yet. But we still have a problem in scripture – at least if we take a literal approach as preferred and assume a motif of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Revelation does not really depict a restoration of an idyllic primeval garden or the reestablished perfect creation of Genesis 1.

Kevin McKissick, M.Div student at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, reviews The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica.


Wait. What? … We don’t need to blacken Simon’s character, but it’s totally cool to call the woman a whore even if there’s no evidence of it in the text? We can construct an entire narrative around her life as a prostitute, and her expensive oil that could only have been purchased through her elicit [sic] activity, but let’s make sure we don’t disparage the man in the room — the one who is totally missing the message of Jesus, who is over there looking down on this woman in his heart, playing at the pretense of hospitality with no real love behind it, withholding the lavishness of his love and worship while this woman lets it all out?


EARLY CHURCH / TALMUD
How Did the Early Church Read the Bible? -  Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed:

Here’s the big picture: Those educated today in typical schools learn to think in what is called the historical-critical method. That is, students in theology and Bible are taught to think like a historian, to think critically over against the received traditions, and to base their theology on the evidence (the Bible). The goal, then, is to determine the intent of the author. They are taught not so much to say What does God say in Matthew 5:17-20 but instead, What does the author of Matthew intend to communicate with this text in his historical (Jewish) context?

That form of interpretation is not 1st Century and derives from developments following the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and, ironically enough, the interplay of tradition and history in the orthodox-fundamentalist vs. the who-cares-about-the-orthodox and modernist stream of thinking.
Jesus, the apostles and the early church did not read the Bible in the historical-critical method.

The Date of Thomas – by Jonathan Bernier at Critical Realism and the New Testament:

Now, let me be clear: I'm not arguing that Thomas' Gospel should be dated c. 60. The above is a hypothesis, one which at this point I neither affirm nor reject. I have not yet thought through the issue sufficiently to reach a final judgment. But one who would undertake to argue that many of the texts of the New Testament canon are notably earlier than typically supposed cannot in principle exclude the possibility that the same is the case for some of the New Testament apocrypha. It is thus incumbent upon me to explore such possibilities, considering and vetting hypotheses for such earlier dates. Any other procedure would run the risk of special pleading.

The Talmud’s Hot Tub Time Machine by Adam Kirsch at Tabletmag 

What the Gemara does not point out, but struck me as remarkable, is that the Torah portion that lays out the rule for levirate marriage comes in Deuteronomy, while the story of Zelophehad’s daughters is in Numbers, which of course precedes Deuteronomy in the Five Books of Moses. In other words, the rabbis envision Moses possessing a complete Torah while the events the Torah recounts are still taking place. While he is wandering the wilderness, in Numbers, he can consult the law code he will not actually deliver to the Israelites until years later, in Deuteronomy.


The Days of Tribulation in the Apocalypse of Elijah – by Phil Long at Reading Acts 


The Apocalypse of Elijah is not strictly speaking an apocalypse. It is strongly influenced by the book of Revelation, especially 11:1-12 (the appearance of two witnesses in Jerusalem). There are dozens of possible ways to interpret the two witnesses, from literal people (Elijah and Moses, Elijah and Enoch) to figurative (the Old and New Testament, two volcanoes, etc.) The book does not contain any of the sorts of things we expect in a true apocalypse: heavenly journeys, thinly veiled reviews of history, revelation of mysterious secret knowledge, or angelic guides. Coptic translations of a Greek original of the Apocalypse date to the fourth century. The book is clearly dependent on Revelation and appears to quote 1 John 2:18. A date of the mid-second century seems probable (OTP 1:730). If the book was a Christian re-working of a Jewish original, then some material may be still older (There is a Hebrew Apocalypse of Elijah which may stand in the background of the book, but no one has systematically studied the possibility of a Hebrew to Greek to Coptic translation). The book may reflect an Egyptian Christianity, but this is far from clear.



ARCHAEOLOGY

Reports came last week that President Donald Trump would avoid visiting the ancient site of Masada in the Judaean desert during his trip to the Middle East because his helicopter was not allowed to land on the sacred ground there. Here is why the site is important and why President Trump should have walked or taken the cable car to the top--just like everyone else.

Numismatic Report – by David Hendin – at The Ancient Near East Today:

Readers of Israeli newspapers and archaeology blogs for the last few years have seen a notable uptick in the number of coin finds reported by “good Samaritans” (both Israelis and tourists) and turned into the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), as well as some newsworthy numismatic finds at licensed excavations. This led The Ancient Near East Today to ask me to look into the finds and their importance, as well as other numismatic discoveries in or related to Israel. I recently returned from Israel, where I talked with numismatic scholars, officials of the Israel Antiquities Authority, licensed antiquity dealers, and collectors. Here is my report.

Two Recent Books on Coins – Larry Hurdato:

In light of the recent day-session on “Coins and the Bible” here, I want to note two recent books.  Coins were a regular medium for kings and administrators to promote themselves and their regimes.  Coins were also sometimes minted to celebrate military victories.  Coinage is one important part of the “material culture” of the ancient world.  The metals used, the use of images and writing, the places where coins were minted, all these things and more contribute to historical understanding of the period in which they were minted.


Thousands of artifacts are being stolen every year and making their way into Jewish hands, yet the Israeli division responsible for theft prevention has just one inspector to cover 2,600 sites

Behaviour is deeply embedded within individual cultural psyches, reinforced by the social groups. As children we are taught to say please and thank you, or to refer to our elders with special terminology to infer respect. In British society, certain behaviour is encouraged and considered polite - eating with a knife and fork, keeping your elbows off the table - standard parental ways to help children understand what is expected of them socially.


CHURCH & THEOLOGIANS & BIBLE
Farewelling Well  - Scott McKnight: 
We Evangelicals have a 500-year history of dividing over all sorts of issues ranging from modes of baptism to the color of the carpets in our sanctuary – even (maybe even especially!) with our fellow Protestants. While there is a pastoral responsibility to inquire with love about a leaver’s spiritual health, what happens if you discover that the one moving to another faith tradition is doing so because their faith is growing, and that growth has shifted their faith out of your particular stream?

Was George MacDonald an Open Theist? – Chuck McKnight at Hippie Heretic:

… his progressive views have garnered no shortage of controversy. Conservative pastor Tim Keller has gone so far as to say that he’s not sure whether George MacDonald was even a Christian. However, despite all the accusations brought against him, I’ve never heard anyone call George MacDonald an open theist. Of course that would technically be anachronistic, as the term open theism didn’t come into use until the late twentieth century, but my point is that I’ve not heard his beliefs compared to what open theists believe about God and the settledness of the future.


It is rare that archival research makes the national news.  Jeffrey Alan Miller’s identification of a draft of a portion of the King James Bible hit the headlines in October 2015: not only was it the earliest known draft, but was uniquely a draft written by the hand of one of the translators, who was known by name.  The notebook in which Miller found this work – Sidney Sussex College, MS Ward B – had belonged to Samuel Ward (1572-1643), Master of the College from 1610 until his death.  Eighteen months after the discovery, the notebook has been digitised in full and published on the Cambridge Digital Library, in the latest instance of an ongoing collaboration between the University Library and the Cambridge Colleges to make archival and manuscript material available online.


Augustine’s reading is what many Christians believe Paul actually said, and which is why Augustine’s notion of “original sin” is defended with such uncompromising vehemence as the “biblical” teaching. But neither Romans nor Genesis or the Old Testament supports the idea.


Matthew Bates’ book Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King is just one straw in a strong wind blowing out of biblical studies, driving us away from theological towards narrative constructions of Christian identity and purpose. In my view, this is an exhilarating and necessary development, but Matthew’s book, for all its merits, has highlighted a fundamental shortcoming. Because evangelicals naturally want to retain the direct practical application of the “gospel”, evangelical narrative theologies exhibit a consistent tendency to leapfrog history.




Why Wesley Removed the 26th Article – by Joel Watts at Unsettled Christianity: 

How odd then, that the man who believed in spiritual perfection of the saints as one full of grace would remove this article? Odd or completely in line with Wesley’s thinking? I think Wesley got tired of the elevation of bishops clearly undeserving of blessing the sacrament. It was a new world, with no episcopal jurisdictions, yet, Wesley was laying the ground for a kingdom of priests, without sin.

Karl Barth: Believing in Demons Makes Us Demonic – by Wyatt Houtz at Post Barthian: 

"It has never been good for anyone—including (and particularly) Martin Luther—to look too frequently or lengthily or seriously or systematically at demons (who for Luther were usually compressed into the single figure of the Devil.) It does not make the slightest impression on the demons if we do so, and there is the imminent danger that in so doing we ourselves might become just a little or more than a little demonic."

Inerrancy and Textual Criticism by P.J. Williams at Evangelical Textual Criticism  


My basic thesis is that inerrancy may only be used as a secondary criterion for the original reading. It cannot be used to overturn strong external support or to support conjecture.

15 Reasons Open Theism Is True by Dan Kent at ReKnew

Recently, Andrew Wilson shared an impressive critique of open theism called: “Responding To Open Theism In Fourteen Words.” Andrew’s article didn’t persuade me, but it did challenge me (seriously!). Below I will respond to each of the words Andrew presents. But first I will add one word of my own (if Andrew gets 14 words, I should get at least 1, right?). The word I want to add to the discussion is “Holy.” 


HUMOR & WEIRD
The Life of Francis at Existential Comics: Francis Bacon Meets Jesus by way of Brian.






Taking inspiration from grim Hollywood reboots like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, B&H Kids announced Tuesday that it would be relaunching the Bibleman series of superhero stories in a dark and gritty resurrection of the purple-and-gold caped crusader.

Jim Bakker says Colbert Is Provoking Anti Trump Violence -



KimKierkegaard:



Dr. Demonology:





Trump in Bible Prophecy  by William Tapley, the Third Eagle of the Apocalypse and Co-Prophet of the End Times







OTHER STUFF
Mormon Scholars Debate Joseph Smith’s Role in Translation – Jana Reiss at Religion News Service:

At the end of the day, no one had come up with a Grand Unified Theory about how Joseph Smith translated, but we had raised some important issues that show the inadequacies of the old model (Smith translating from one language to another without any of his own input, or what Skousen called the “tight control” model).

The Book of Mormon Gets the Literary Treatment By Grant Shreve at Religion and Politics


The Book of Mormon is a wholly American Scripture. It is the sacred text for the 15 million-strong Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s the calling card for thousands of missionaries, and part of the inspiration for a Tony award-winning Broadway musical. But rarely has the book, on its own merits, been considered a genuine work of art. That’s changing, as American literary scholars embrace it as worthy of attention. In 2012, during the waning days of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the nation’s so-called “Mormon moment,” literature professors were on the cusp of their own “Book of Mormon moment.” For the first time, studies of the Book of Mormon’s literary qualities were appearing in major journals of American literary studies. Literature courses that prominently featured the Book of Mormon started to appear with more frequency in secular university course catalogues. Now the text, first published in 1830 and once derided as “a fiction of hob-goblins and bugbears,” is being parsed by non-Mormon students across the country, with literature scholars breaking more than a century of professional silence on the book.


St. Athanasius:



Stephan Huller spent hours compiling all the bad things that scholars have observed about Epiphanius's reliability as a historical witness.  








Oh, and by-the-by, Jim West is hosting his own so-called "Avignonian Carnival." You can visit there if you like, but don't feel like you have to, or anything. I mean, if you do you're likely to see him wearing plaids - two different plaids.  How uncouth.

FUTURE CARNIVALS

If you would like to host the Biblioblog Carnival in the near future (and I recommend that you do) contact Phil Long:

June 2017 (Due July 1) -  VOLUNTEER NEEDED
July 2017 (Due August 1) - Reuben Rus, Ayuda Ministerial/Resourcesfor Ministry 
August 2017 (Due September 1) - Jason Gardner,  eis doxan, 
October 2017 (November 1) - VOLUNTEER NEEDED
November 2017 (December 1) - Jim West, Zwingli Redivivus
December 2017 (January 1) - Jennifer Guo,  jenniferguo










Monday, May 29, 2017

My Memorial Day


Despite my frequent and repeated criticisms of Memorial Day, I did, in fact spend part of this morning at the cemetery with one of the members of our church, helping him find the headstones of his relations that served in the military. We cleared away the weeds and tall grass and broken branches and twigs and picked up the little bit of litter that was there. I've done this with him for the past several years. My criticism of Memorial Day is not with the dead soldiers, but with the conflation of Nationalism / Patriotism and the Christian faith. My criticism is for those who say war is necessary, not for those who have died in those unnecessary wars.

I know that several of my critics (and I have a few) may not believe that. The nuance is usually lost in the shouting.

I came home from the cemetery and worked in my garden and the yard for a while - pulling weeds, and etc. I few weeks ago I shared a photo of the newly tilled garden plot. The plot now has plants and vegetables of various kinds growing in it, including: mustard greens (which have already graced our dinner table a couple of times), radishes, squash (which, until yesterday I had thought were a failure this year), potatoes, and sunflowers - along with wildflowers of many kinds for the birds and the bees.

One of my neighbors stopped by to help me identify a plant that's growing in the garden. We both agreed that it could be a weed or it could be foxglove. Or not. We're pretty sure of that much.

After lunch I spent some time reading (a book from the library as most of my books are packed away in preparation for our upcoming move) and playing in the yard with the dog and the cat.

So - yeah, we're packing to move and I'm still working in my garden as if that's going to matter. I'm trying to figure out what and how I can transplant to our new place at the end of next month.

This evening I'm going to take the dog for a walk with my wife - we'll talk about the house that we're trying to buy, the jobs that are and are not yet quite lined up, about our daughter who'll be going away to college at the end of the summer, about our son, about this that and the other.

All in all, it's been / will be a pleasant Memorial Day (even if I have been and will be critical of it as a holiday.)




Sunday, May 28, 2017

Let God Arise – Psalm 68


Psalm 68 is fascinating. I’m dubious of those people who say that they love the psalms because they are soooo comforting or soooo uplifting. I’m never quite sure which psalms those people are reading. The psalms are gritty, earthy, and dark; the psalms, even the ‘nice’ ones are often unpolished and unrefined. But, as I said, Psalm 68 is fascinating to me because it remains almost completely unintelligible.

Now this isn’t something that we’re supposed to say – especially from the pulpit. But if we read Psalm 68 carefully and honestly, without a filter of pious sentimentality, we will have to admit that it is difficult. Go ahead and read it in a couple of different translations and compare them. Most translations present their finished work without any indication of the difficulty, ambiguity, and oddity that rests just beneath the surface of their words.

But Psalm 68, as refined and polished as we might like it to be, resists our attempts to understand it. It is an “anarchic poem” (Dahood 133). It is “textually and exegetically, the most difficult and obscure of all the psalms” (Dahood 133). There is little agreement among scholars about the author, source, date of composition, or purpose of this melody (Poteat 354). Or perhaps of this medley. It is sometimes suggested that Psalm 68 should not be read a single unified work, but as a collection of songs and fragments of songs from various periods and authors arranged for us now as a haphazard hymnal (Taylor 353).

The meter of the stanzas of Psalm 68 shifts almost as frequently as the imagery, which is to say constantly. The psalm is a long sequence of non-sequiturs. Take for example verses 12 – 14: the kings of enemy armies flee from the presence of God, the women at home divide the spoil and booty of war – while they sit in the sheep pen. Then there’s something about doves with wings of silver and pinions of green-gold, and snow falling on Mount Zalmon - which might be something clever about white snow on a black mountain as “Zalmon” means “Dark One.” (Dahood 142).

But what does that mean? What’s going on here?

There are images of God in psalm 68 that will seem cruel and strange in our modern ears. In verses 21 – 22 he is seen smashing the skulls of his enemies, crushing their “hairy crowns.” The people of God are comforted and told that they will bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies and that their dogs will lap up the blood of their foes (23). And yet this violent, vindictive, warrior God is balanced in verse 31 where God is called upon to “scatter the peoples who delight in wars!” (JPS)

Now - as strange as Psalm 68 is (and it must be maintained that it is strange – at least to us so far removed from its composition) we can make some sense of it, at least a little. There are a few themes that reappear again and again amongst its ever shifting panoply of non-sequiturs and mixed metaphors.

The Psalm, over and over again, remembers the dramatic events of the Israelite exodus from slavery in Egypt.  The Egyptians are the stubborn rebels forever entombed in the barren wastelands (6). They are the “Beasts of the Reeds” (30) – think of them as vicious crocodiles lurking in the marshlands of Egypt waiting to snap at the passing Israelites.  And from Egypt (and her southern allies in Ethiopia) will come nobles stretching out their hands full of tribute for God (31).

As unwieldy and foreign as Psalm 68 is to us, we can understand it (somewhat) as a melodic celebration of the way God rescued the people of Israel from the hands and chains of their Egyptian oppressors. It is a jubilant expression of praise for a powerful and frightening God. (A God who is so frightening, by the way, that the sky itself breaks out in nervous sweat at the sight of him (8).)

It is a celebration of a God who is concerned for the poor and the lowly, a God who looks after the prisoners and gives the lonely a home (6), a God who is a father to the orphan and a defender of the widow (5). This is not a God of rich and powerful. This is not the God of the great and mighty. Those were gods of Egypt. The Egyptians were the people with wealth and power and prestige and honor. But the God celebrated in this psalm is not impressed or threatened by the greatness of Egypt or the strength of the Egyptian army or the number of Egyptian chariots. The Rider of the Heavens (32), the Rider of the Clouds (4) celebrated in Psalm 68 concerns himself with the poor and downtrodden; he is the God of losers and rejects, the God of the forgotten and the overlooked. 

Psalm 68 is fascinating - not because it is a polished piece of poetry to be read by the pious and sentimental, but because it is an outrageous, over the top, wild and exuberant expression of praise for a powerful and extravagant God. If Psalm 68 remains somewhat incomprehensible to us, perhaps that should be a reminder to us that the God of our faith is not one to be completely reduced, systematized, pragmatized; the God we follow is shocking, dangerous, untamed. Perhaps we should never become comfortable in our faith.

Let God arise. Let God lead us out of oppression. Let God lead us through deserts and wild places. Let the enemies of God (who may not be our enemies…) flee before him. Let them melt like wax, drift like smoke. Let the kingdoms of the earth bring their praise and their tribute to him. He is awesome in his holy place. He gives strength to his people. He gives victory and valor to his people (Dahood 132). Let God arise, and though we don't completely understand it, let us arise and say, “Blessed be God.”




Dahood, Mitchell. Psalm II 51 – 100.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1968. Print.

Hebrew – English Tanakh. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society. 1999. Print.

Poteat, Edwin McNeil “Psalms: Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume IV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1955. Print.


Taylor, William R “Psalms: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume IV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1955. Print. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Sweaty Sky


To see the Lord is awesome, you bet,
even nature by fear is beset.
The wind stops its bluster,
the heavens get flustered -
the sky sees God and breaks out in sweat.

Psalm 68: 8

Working from Mitchell Dahood's  translation:

The earth quaked and the heavens sprinkled
at the sight of God...

"Just as a person breaks out into a sweat at the sight of an unexpected caller, so the heavens drip with rain when God appears in a theophany " (138)

Dahood, Mitchell. Psalms II 51 - 100: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1968. Print.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The First Shall Be Last


Mr. President, please re-read (or read for the first time, perhaps) Luke 13: 22 - 30. You need it.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 21 - 2017

Here ya' go - this week's free, background image. It's yours to use at home, at work, at school, at church, wherever you like. I only ask that you share it freely, and that you tell others you found it here.

If you're interested in knowing the details, these irises are growing along the fence between my backyard and my neighbor's yard.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rocket One to Triangulum!


It took thirteen years for Voyager 2 to travel from earth to the outer reaches of our little solar system. We learned about Voyager 2 back in George Hale Jr High. Thirteen years, the entire span of my life. It took what would have been the entirety of my life to that point for that unmanned interstellar record player to travel the smallest fraction of what ROCKET TEAM ONE crossed in six short weeks. But I really don’t mean to disparage that noble craft. It was brave to set out into such huge distances even at such a slow speed. Especially at such slow speed. It was an action of hope to launch that probe into the void.

And Voyager 2 carried Blind Willie Johnson into space. Imagine that: Blind Willie Johnson out among the stars. Blind Willie Johnson, who couldn’t see the stars, was being carried (or at least his music was) into the ethereal silence of interstellar space. Glorious.

The Triangulum Galaxy is approximately 3 Million Light Years from Earth within the constellation Triangulum. It is one of the most distant objects that can be seen from Earth by the naked human eye. It was discovered in the 1600s by an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Battista Hodierna. He described it as “a cloud-like nebulosity near the Triangle on either side.” It’s a pinwheel shaped galaxy, smaller than the Milky Way.

The constellation Triangulum was mentioned in an ancient Babylonian star compendium, the MUL.APIN. The Babylonian astrologers called it the “Plough Star.” They said that the angry goddess Ishtar, spurned in her romantic and sexual advances, went to her father, Anu, to demand that he create a Bull of Heaven (Taurus) to kill the hero Gilgamesh. Anu obliged her vengeful notions and created this bull for her, and it is this bull that pulls the Plough Star across the heavens.

Why did the generals at NASA choose Triangulum as the destination? Why not something closer? Why not another solar system within our own galaxy?

According to some conspiratists on the net, that galaxy was chosen based on designs found in the hieroglyphics on the walls of the great pyramids of Giza. Triangulum – pyramids are made of triangles – the connection is obvious, right? According to these tinfoil-hatters, the central star-shaft of the great pyramid points toward the Triangulum galaxy, and that this was the home of the alien race that visited Egypt in 10,500 BC.

Crazy, right? Those shafts point towards Orion, not Triangulum. The fact that the three major pyramids at Giza replicate the position of the three stars in Orion’s Belt should have been an obvious clue that the shaft is oriented towards Orion, not Triangulum. The Great Pyramid at Giza is interesting – but not for the reasons those nutters suggest.

A similar proposition was made for the arrangement of the megaliths at Stonehenge, but there’s even less support for this crackpot theory. Still another conspiracism suggests that Triangulum was marked in top-secret star charts found in the wreckage of a crashed alien vehicle as a strategic location, both rich in resources and important in controlling interstellar movement.

Perhaps their choice of Triangulum was predicated on the fact that the largest observed black hole is found in the Triangulum galaxy. Discovered in 2007 and known as M33 X-7, this black hole has 15.7 times the mass of our sun. The military value of that black star is incalculable.

So why did they pick Triangulum? Why not something closer? Why not, perhaps, the system of seven planets found orbiting the star Trappist-1, three of which were in that “Goldilocks” habitable zone around that Red Dwarf star having the potential for liquid water – and was only 40 short light years from earth? (And 40 light years is still over 235 trillion miles…) Or any of the other hundreds of exo-planets discovered by long range telescopes? Why did they pick Triangulum as their destination of choice? Who can say? Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time? 

Dark was the night, and cold the ground
on which the Lord was laid;
His sweat like drops of blood ran down;
in agony He prayed.

“Father, remove this bitter cup,
if such Thy sacred will;
if not, content to drink it up
Thy pleasure I fulfill."

Dark and cold is the space through which the Voyager probes and ROCKET TEAM ONE traveled. Why do we venture out into such cold, dark distances? Why do we risk mortal agony and death to travel into the void? Who can say? It just seems like a good idea. We are restless wanderers, always wondering if the next stop will be better than the one before.

And we’re being told (by some of those same egghead scientists who objected to the impossibility of ROCKET TEAM ONE’s trip) that the universe is nothing more than an elaborate hologram projected into sentient consciousness by some unknown agency. If this is true then we are brains in a vat and life is but a dream, a dream within a dream. But maybe that’s why we can travel the 3 Million Light Years to Triangulum in less than six weeks – because those 3 Million Light Years are an illusion. Triangulum is an illusion. Earth is an illusion. There is nothing there. There is nothing here. There is no here nor there. It’s all Dark Energy, and we are left alone in the dark, like blind musicians to sing for hope and comfort against the terror and agony of a cold, lonely night.





Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Stressed, but not Distressed


I've told family and friends, I've told work mates and employees, I've told FB friends and acquaintances, but I haven't said anything about it here on the blog yet...

So, here's the announcement:

After 18 years as Officers in The Salvation Army, my wife and I are resigning. We remain Majors Carter only until June 25th, after that, it's just plain ol' Jeff and Mikey. Our plan is to stay in here in town for the sake of our children and our sanity. This is a good thing.

Though everything (and I do mean everything) is up in the air right now (find jobs, find a house, find a vehicle, find myself...) we feel at peace with the decision we've made.

We meet with a realtor friend tomorrow to discuss the housing market.

I've applied for work as 1) fork-lift driver 2) art program coordinator, 3) newspaper editor, 4) manufacturing assembler, 5) general laborer, 6) media assistant for the Sac and Fox Tribe of Iowa, and, and, and, and ...

Mikey had a great interview yesterday.

We're desperate, yes, but not frantic. We're stressed, yes, but not distressed. We're happy. The kids are happy. And, the cat and the dog are, for the most part, getting along.

I Remember Iris



I Remember Iris by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Monday, May 15, 2017

He Lies – A Limerick for Trump




Trump says, ‘I know how to buy and sell;
when I’m president all will be well.’
But he lies, and he lies,
and he lies, and he lies,
and he lies and he lies…what the hell?!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Goodwill and Truth?



Goodwill and Truth? by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Background Images for Everyone - Week 20 - 2017


The week almost slipped past me without my sharing the free background image for this week. Sorry. It's been a little crazy in the Carter house.

Still - the image, as always, is yours to use as your very own. Please share it with others and tell them you found it here.

I like the simplicity of this one. There's really nothing tricky going on here; it is a small, red glass bowl, and blue, cloth napkin. That's it. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Amos Meets with the Director of the Prophets



Amos sat nervously in the waiting area as the Director’s administrative assistant carefully arranged a stack of files and papers. “The Director will be with you soon,” she said without making eye contact. She’d said the same thing ten minutes earlier, and twenty minutes before that.

Soon, as it turned out, was an hour and twenty six minutes later. In that time the administrative assistant watered the few decorative plants placed around the room, answered the phone four or five times, went out for lunch and came back. Amos sat where he was, waiting.

Eventually the Director of the Prophets opened his office door, stuck his head out, and said, “Amos, thanks for waiting. Come on in.” Inside the office the Director pointed Amos toward a purposefully uncomfortable chair and said, “Please have a seat.” Amos sat.

The Director of the Prophets sat behind his immense desk, which was devoid of any sign of work save a few sheets of paper – official reports. The edges of these he tapped on the flat surface of the desk to straighten them, then he shuffled through them, reading a line or two from each, and then tapped the edges even again. Then he laid them down flat on the desk. “Amos, I’m going to say it straight: You’re being reassigned.”

Amos silently acknowledge this; it wasn’t completely unexpected.

“You’ve been preaching in…” here the Director consulted the papers again, “Samaria and…  Bethel. And without much success as far as I can see here. So you’re being reassigned to Hebron, in Judea.”

Amos nodded again, still silent.

“But I warn you,” the Director continued. “If you don’t prove yourself there, there won’t be any more assignments…” he let the vague threat hang there in the silence between them.

“Prove myself?” the prophet Amos finally said. “What do you mean?”

“Well just look at your statistical reports: You’ve made few converts, your warnings are completely ignored, you’ve offended King Jeroboam of Israel, and you’ve been denounced by the head priest, Amaziah. This isn’t spectacular work, Amos. And I think you know that.”

“I’m not sure what more you expect, sir.” Amos said carefully. “I’ve delivered the word I’ve been given. I’ve been faithful. I’ve done my duty.”

The Director swept the reports from his desk and dropped them into one of the drawers. “Listen, Amos, it’s apparent to many of us here that you spend too much time talking about social justice, and economic policy. Perhaps your political opinions are getting in the way of your work…”

Amos began to answer, but the Director cut him off. “In any case, you need to show results in Hebron. You should be more like Jonah. Now there’s a prophet that knows how to get things done.  He converted the whole city of Nineveh in less than 40 days…”

Now it was Amos’ turn to cut the Director off. “Sir, you know that report is mostly fiction, right? That whole whale thing is a joke. He thought you’d get it.”

The director fumed. “I think we’re done here, prophet Amos. Report to Hebron.”

Amos stood. “That’s okay sir. I think I’ll go back to my father’s farm and tend to the sheep and the fig trees,” he said then turned and left the room. He was content.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Full Flower Moon


The full moon in May is sometimes known (in North America) as the Full Flower Moon.  Here it is over the house where I live.



Sparklers in the Kitchen



Sparklers in the Kitchen by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Monday, May 8, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Stop the Whispering


Lord, hear how they whisper and mutter;
they call me a lunatic nutter,
so Lord, muzzle their lips
and now cause them to slip
into the silence of death’s gutter.

Psalm 31: 13 - 18

The News Today



The News Today by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Anticipatory Visions of November Violence



I cannot sleep for fear of
Anticipatory visions of November violence;
I see bloody stripes and exploding stars.

I see the arrest record of an entire nation.

Now shoot a man on suspicion.
Now arm the robots.

Little punks get around fast
but now we shoot first
eviscerate the rules of evidence
to hell with jurisprudence.

Society is a conspiracy to plunder.

Clowns on the platform,
neon sparkle distraction
the police state hero will have law and order


the revenge of angels is bloody work

A communion with death,
a Eucharist of death
drink from the chalice of gasoline,
eat the arsenic wafer.

Benevolent imperialism is a velvet-wrapped IED
nostalgia is a rose colored lie

Relax! There is so much to fear.
Relax! Or die. Relax!

Drop bombs down the chimney
to ease the excess of democracy

ask questions later
the line leads nowhere

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hotel Hell's Wallpaper


The rooms at Hotel Hell are nice enough, but that wallpaper... Either it goes, or I do.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 19 - 2017


Here it is - a free background image for you. Make of it what you will, but share it freely and tell others you found it here.

A Resurrection of Justice - A Sermon (Luke 24: 13 - 35)


The world around us has already moved on. They celebrated Easter with chocolates, and bunnies and then moved on to other things – but in the church we are still in Easter. The world outside is already gearing up for graduations and summer vacations – but in the church we are still in Easter. Our scriptural reading for today (Luke 24: 13 – 35), like last week’s reading (John 20: 19 – 31) takes place “that very same day” (Luke 24: 13 New Jerusalem Bible) Easter Sunday. We take our time here; we linger in this, the “Lord’s Day.” The world may have already moved on to the next shopping holiday – but in the church we are abiding for a while in this resurrection day.

“Now that very same day, two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. And it happened that as they were talking together and discussing it, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side.” (Luke 24: 13 – 15)

These two disciples – Cleopas and another unnamed disciple (in later tradition, named Simon) (Maclean 422) – may not have recognized Jesus as their risen Lord and master, their eyes may have been supernaturally blinded against seeing him for who he was, but the risen Jesus did not want them to remain in the darkness of ignorance. As they walked those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus he walked them through the scriptures, “starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.” (Luke 24: 27)

We cannot know what passages Jesus explained to them on that dusty road, but let’s take our own little trip through the scriptures, through Moses and the prophets, and try to understand the resurrection a little better.

The first thing that we should understand – and this may help us to understand why the Cleopas and ‘Simon’ were so disappointed that day – in the Hebrew Bible / Old testament, especially the earliest parts of it, there is little that speaks about a resurrection.

The idea of a resurrection of the dead “does not appear except in texts that are rare, obscure with regard to their precise meaning, and late” (Martin-Achard 680). In the Old Testament there is no concept of resurrection, life after death, or rewards or punishments in the afterlife. In the Old Testament, the dead, all of them –the good, the bad, and the ugly- go to the grave, the pit, to sheol. And that’s it. Sheol, the place of the dead, was a place of no return. No one came back from there. No one gets out alive.

“A cloud dissolves and is gone,
so no one who goes down to Sheol ever comes up again,
ever comes home again,
and his house knows that person no more.” (Job 7: 9 – 10)

The road to Sheol was a “road of no return. (Job 16: 22). For the Jewish people, the grave was an inescapable prison.

But this thought caused a sort of crisis of faith for them. IF God is good, and IF the world belongs to him and is under his sovereign control – then why, they asked, do the righteous sometimes die horrible, painful deaths at the hands of powerful and wicked men? IF God is good, and IF the world belongs to him, then there must be justice for the righteous – if not in this life, then … perhaps in the next.

And so, slowly, over time, an idea developed among them that in the later days, in the time of the end, everything would be made right; the righteous dead would be rewarded and wicked, powerful men would receive the punishment due to them. And there would be, they began to understand, a resurrection of the dead.

In the book of Daniel (written during a time of intense persecution and struggle, during the Maccabean wars against the tyrannical Antiochus Epiphanes) we find this newly developing hope expressed: “Of those who are sleeping in the Land of Dust, many will awaken, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightness, as bright as stars for all eternity.” (Daniel 12: 2 – 3)

The origins of Jewish belief in a resurrection after death are unclear (Nickelsburg 685). But by the time of Jesus, many (but not all) Jews accepted the idea of a life after death; the Sadducees did not accept this new and still developing theological point, and they argued with Jesus (and presumably with others who believed in the coming resurrection).

But the idea of resurrection was, at its foundation, about justice.

So, while Cleopas and ‘Simon’ may have believed in, and hoped for the resurrection of the dead, they still grieved the great injustice that had been done to their Teacher, their master, Jesus – the one that they had hoped would be the one to set Israel free (Luke 24: 21) And, while Cleopas and ‘Simon’ may have believed in, and hoped for the resurrection of the dead, they did not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead.

They thought of the resurrection of the dead as a great and general event all at once, at the time of the end. They did not expect a dying Messiah, and they did not expect his singular resurrection. As the New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright has said, “Nobody expected the Messiah to be raised from the dead, for the simple reason that nobody in Judaism at the time expected a Messiah who would die, especially one who would die shamefully and violently” (Wright 19). And no one expected the Messiah (or anyone else for that matter) to be raised up in resurrection before the general resurrection at the end.

But as they walked those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, with their eyes still blinded and their understanding still darkened, Jesus walked them through the scriptures again, explaining how Moses and all the prophets pointed to him and to the justice that his resurrection promised.

And this is what the resurrection is really about; this is what we must understand. The resurrection is about Justice. “The resurrection stories in the Gospels do not say Jesus is raised, therefore we’re all going to heaven, or therefore we’re going to be raised.” The resurrection stories in the Gospels are not there to give us a rosy hope for justice someday. The resurrection stories are there to say that the Kingdom of God – which is the kingdom of life, the kingdom of the living, the kingdom of the resurrected – has broken into this world of death and is bringing life and justice with it. The stories of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels say that “Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do” (Wright 21).

The hope and promise of our resurrection is not (not merely) the hope of life after death someday – but life after life, and of renewed life and full life in this world now.

We cannot begin to answer the question of how did the resurrection happen – the resurrection of Jesus is a supernatural event, outside the realm of observation and quantification. But we can answer the question of why. Why is there a resurrection? Why is Jesus resurrected? Why does he promise this resurrection to us, his followers? For Justice. For Righteousness. For the renewal of all creation. Jesus is resurrected and we’ve got a job to do.

I’m always disappointed when I hear people say - and when I hear Christians especially say with a sigh and resignation, “well… that’s just the way things are.” Or “that’s just the way the world is.” No. I do not accept that. If we do not believe in change, the possibility and the necessity of making change for the good in this world, then why do we bother to speak of the resurrection of Jesus? Look again at the scriptures that Jesus opened for Cleopas and ‘Simon’ – the Law and the Prophets – passages of Holy Scripture concerning justice for the poor and the oppressed. The resurrection of Jesus may not be about our politics – but it doesn’t change our political belief, why bother to believe in the resurrection at all? “A deeply orthodox theology about the resurrection… is the proper seedbed of radical politics” (Wright 23).

Further, I may not agree with the conclusions of John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament Scholar who believes that the resurrection of Jesus was not a ‘real’ event[i], but I fully embrace his conclusion that while we might disagree over whether or not Jesus’s resurrection was a real event, a literal, physical, bodily et cetera… resurrection, what really matters is what we do as the result of our belief in Jesus’ resurrection; “I want really to know how we are going to take back God’s world from the thugs” (Crossan 29).

This is what the resurrection means. This is why we linger here in Resurrection Sunday two weeks after Easter. In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote at length about the nature Jesus’ resurrection and concluded by saying, “Thank God, then, for giving us the victory [over sin and death] through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, my dear brothers, keep firm and immovable, always abounding in energy for the Lord's work, being sure that in the Lord none of your labors is wasted.” (1 Corinthians 15: 57 – 58). 

The resurrection of Jesus (and the promise of our resurrection) does not mean we sit back and hope for that ‘pie in the sky, by and by’ – but that we are to be at work in this world, in the here and now, creating the justice and righteousness that is the character of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ victory over sin and death does not mean we kick back and relax until we are raptured away, but that we get to work, that we make things better for our neighbors, for the immigrant, for the sick, and the poor. He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign” (Lowry). And this is what is to believe in his victory over the dark domain of death, to believe in the resurrection – to reign with him in this world by working for justice.We have a hope and a mission in this world because Jesus’ resurrection (and the promise of our own) is about Justice.


***


Lowry, Robert. “Up from the Grave He Arose (Low in the Grave He Lay)” 

MacLean, Gilmour S. “The Gospel According to Luke: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 8. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1952. Print.

Martin-Achard, Robert. “Resurrection (OT)” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 5. New York. NY: Doubleday. 1992. Print.

Nickelsburg, George W. E. “Resurrection (Early Judaism and Christianity)” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 5. New York, NY: Doubleday. 1992. Print.

Wright, N.T. and John Dominic Crossan, “The Resurrection: Historical Event or Theological Explanation? – A Dialogue.” The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue. Ed. Robert. B. Stewart. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press. 2006. Print.







[i]  …though we do have to be careful about that word “real.” “The word real is one of the slipperiest ones in modern English…” (Wright 32)
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