2nd week of Advent — “For He Has Looked with Favor”

Upside-Down Advent 2015by Ann McCulloch

It probably isn’t too surprising that, as I was raised Catholic, Mary has been a source of inspiration. Her acceptance of God’s will, her persistent faith despite unbelievable circumstance, renders me awestruck, perhaps because my own faith falls short. I’m reluctant to trust in that whole and complete way, though I’m working on it.

Maybe it is because I fear the upside-down, even though we live in a very upside-down world. There is little escape from terrorism, racism, classism, discrimination, poverty, hunger, division, violence, and disease. Concerns about jobs, relationships, health, children, friends and loved ones affect all of us on some level at some time. Amid this turmoil, where do we find place and peace? If faith is bigger than fear, why is it hard sometimes to
let my worries go?

There is one thing I certainly believe — that God has looked on me with favor, in spite of my doubts, questions, and shortcomings. I feel a presence in the morning light that filters through near-empty trees; in quiet reflections on a sermon or song, in the grasp of Maggie’s still small hand or the sight of Will’s confident smile. I try everyday to trust in and act from this presence, which I believe is God’s love. Faith may ebb, but love freely flows, fueling my faith and hope.

Advent and the Christmas season remind me that God so loved the world, He sent his Son, born to Mary, meek and mild, fulfilling a promise made generation upon generation ago, a promise born from a love greater than my comprehension. When I feel fear winning, it is to this love I return. The upside-down brings uncertainty and doubt, but it also can bring courage, growth and transformation. I see this so clearly in the work of the Silver Spring United Methodist Church, here, and am so happy to be a member of this dynamic faith community. In this place, I find peace.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

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2nd Week of Advent
December 6, 2015

Luke 3:1–6
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius
Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother
Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—
2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah
the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5    Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6     And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

3rd week of Advent — “Standing on My Head”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Sarah Park

I frequently, and intentionally, stand on my head. It is a part of my yoga practice.

Things certainly look different from that perspective. For one thing, you really notice the crumbs underneath the table which may have gone unseen. And, it feels dramatically different when you turn what is supposed to be the up-side, down. All of the sudden there is an unsteadiness in place of that which is so familiar, so known and comfortable. There is work required to maintain the alignment that would be second nature if only you were right-side up. Plus, there is a whole lot of fear!  At any moment you feel as though you may come crashing down in a heap. The posture of upside down-ness requires a conscious and continual coming back to center in order to be held in such new territory.

In my mind this isn’t unlike the story of Mary or the many, many times in my life when things have been turned up-side down. That which feels so unfamiliar, so full of uncertainty and difficulty actually draws me closer to God — and I am held.

Wherever you are at this moment — right-side up or up-side down — close your eyes, remember God’s promise. And let your spirit rejoice!

Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

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3rd Week of Advent
December 13, 2015

Luke 3:7–18
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely —
be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

3rd week of Advent — “Blessing, or Being Blessed?”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Ivonne Lindley

My parents had the good sense to raise me to speak both Spanish and English. As a result, I now have many opportunities to use my bilingual abilities. I speak to my clients in Spanish every day as an attorney, and sometimes I use my Spanish volunteering in the Latino community.

Reverend Rachel recently called upon me (and my bilingual abilities) to volunteer as a translator at a local elementary school in a large Latino community. The Principal needed translators to assist teachers meeting with Spanish speaking parents during the first quarter parent/teacher conferences. So, I signed up, and arrived at the school ready to help others. But after a few hours there, I was the one who left feeling blessed.

Over several hours, I had the opportunity to be the person who delivered the news to parents that their child was doing well, was working hard, and was having a great experience in school. I got the privilege of seeing up close and personal the look of true joy and pride on the parent’s face upon learning that their child — who never got to go to preschool, or who lives in a home where no one speaks English, or who didn’t know the alphabet before September — now knew 20 out of 30 sight words, could easily recite their ABCs, was “proficient” in several skills, was engaged in class, or was enjoying learning each day.

After starting the night feeling like I was there for “yet another thing I signed up to do,” I left there feeling overwhelmed with emotion — feeling blessed by the chance to spend a few hours with those teachers and parents — reminded of the importance of effort, gratitude, humility.

We serve God when serve others and I can’t wait to volunteer again.
Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

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3rd Week of Advent
December 13, 2015

Luke 3:7–18
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely —
be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

2nd week of Advent — “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Lori Crowe

When I think of God turning things in our world upside down, there is certainly no shortage of examples — a massacre in a Charleston church, terrorist attacks around the world, helpless children without food and shelter, public role models who sexually abuse children. These are certainly “upside-down” occurrences we struggle to make sense of as Christians.
But while these events trouble my soul I, at the same time, often feel a bit distant from them.

I’d like to share a more personal story of how God turned my own world upside down in order to bring about new life:

I had started college in Atlanta because my best friend lived there. Through her, I met a vast network of friends, but two in particular — Kevin and Michelle — became very close to me. We were 18 and they had just started dating. After I transferred to school in another state, I lost touch and only saw them when I visited town (and this was the early 1990s, so there were no cell phones or social connections like Facebook).

When I moved back to Atlanta after graduation, I reconnected with them, but also found new friends through work and social activities. Several of my “former” friends had gotten married, including Michelle and Kevin. They were in a different place and, over the next few years, our paths only crossed occasionally, and then seldom at all.

Looking back, I believe they would have drifted right out of my life entirely had it not been a phone call I received stating that Michelle was in the hospital for unexplained bleeding. She was 27. I dropped everything, including my fear of hospitals at the time, and rushed to be with them other friends to see how we could help. Within hours, there was a diagnosis of cervical cancer with an emergency hysterectomy scheduled within days.

When I was in my 20s, I was somewhat aware that children had cancer, but I mostly associated it with being an “older” adult disease.

For a young woman who always wanted children, this was devastating news. The days beyond were a blur. Being so young, I didn’t have any experience with illness. But what I did know was that during times of crisis, people need two things: First, they need to be with other people, so I stayed. Second, they need to keep their strength up, so I fed.

I often insisted that Kevin take a break and eat some food. I distinctly remember sitting in the McDonald’s inside the hospital trying to find the right words to ease Kevin’s pain and to help make sense of this life-altering news. I have no idea what I said that day, but whatever it was, it came from my heart, from God, and it seemed to help. Our group of friends rallied around Michelle and Kevin through the surgery, through the chemo and subsequent sickness and hair loss, through recovery and the grief of lost motherhood, and all the fear that accompanied each step.

We emerged on the other side of this terrible event stronger in our friendships — and our faith.

To this day, Kevin and Michelle remain two of my closest friends. We have helped each other through many of life’s twists and turns, and I cannot imagine my life without them. But the truth is, I almost lost them.

Thanks to God’s mysterious “upside-down” ways, those valuable friendships were saved — and brought to new life — through cancer.

Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

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2nd Week of Advent
December 6, 2015

Luke 3:1–6
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius
Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother
Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—
2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah
the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5    Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6     And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

4th week of Advent — “God-tropism”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Katherine Brown

You can’t plant a bulb upside-down. That is, you can, but even a mis-planted bulb will grow right side up. ‘Tropism’ scientists call it, ‘turning’:  gravity draws the geotropic roots down while the stems turn away, and up. ‘Upside-down Advent.’

The first thing that comes to mind is not God but life inverting my life. Standing barefoot on a cold floor in a night-dark room with the telephone receiver in my hand and no clear recollection of the shrill ring that hauled me bodily out of bed. The voice on the other end is buzzy and incomprehensible. Turned upside-down.

A happier inversion:  the joyous topsy-turvy of our newborn — perfect as a rosebud — placed in my arms and entirely reorienting my life just by virtue of her being. Her birth a sudden thunderclap of amazing love. But even that which felt at the time so sudden an inversion, was really the culmination of nine months slow growing. And as vast a reorientation as it was, it was not itself an end, self-contained and complete, but a lightning moment that made newly visible the continual turning and turning again that is life ongoing.

Even in the dark night. Pulled from my planting and plunged upside down and deep away. There and then, too, there is a subtle turning, a tug that persists through times that I am too blind to see it or too dull to respond. It comes in sudden flashes and small glows. Walking in a windy day, lighting a candle as night draws in, hearing a right word at an acceptable time, seeing a potted paperwhite bloom in cold midwinter. Moments that light the world lovely and make visible the ongoing, inexorable turning of God’s faithfulness on my frailty.

Life turns me upside down. God draws me on and through; God turns me again around. God-tropism:  turning and growing toward the kingdom.

Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

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4th Week of Advent
December 20, 2015

Luke 1:39–45
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

4th week of Advent — “Joyful Mysteries”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Joy Gerdy Zogby

A few years ago during Lent, I learned to pray the Rosary, and I found it so wonderful that I continue to pray the Rosary occasionally today. Part of what I love about praying the Rosary is that it forces me to slow down and reflect for just a few moments. This quiet time is precious and a powerful form of Christian meditation that is important all year long, but especially in a busy time like Advent.

Initially, I was intimidated by the steps I had to learn to pray the Rosary. There were so many beads, so many prayers and creeds to say in a particular order. In addition to learning the words associated with each bead, one must also reflect on certain mysteries while praying certain beads each day of the week. For example, twice a week, while praying the Rosary, I (and millions of others) reflected on the Joyful Mysteries. The Joyful Mysteries include two beautiful moments I think about during Advent: the Annunciation (when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary) and the Visitation (when Mary visited Elizabeth).

Once I got the hang of the process of praying the Rosary, I was able to let my mind focus on some of the mysteries. When I reflected on the Annunciation and the Visitation, I naturally put myself in Mary’s shoes in the moment she found out she was pregnant with the Son of God. I thought about how frightened she must have been. I know I was terrified when I was pregnant, and I was armed with an entire library of pregnancy books. The fear Mary must have felt at the Annunciation must have been debilitating.

At first Mary was “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29), but Mary kept her faith. Mary believed in and hoped for God’s better world in which someone of her “low estate” (Luke 1:48) would go on to be the Mother of God, in which God “exalted those of low degree” and “filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). This hope of turning the world upside-down likely helped her through the pregnancy in moments of doubt, which undoubtedly bothered her occasionally. According to the Qur’an 19:23, during the pains of childbirth, Mary cried out, “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!”  Even right before she gave birth, Mary was saying she did not want to be around to see the better world she had believed would be possible.

Ever since I learned to pray the Rosary, I began thinking more and more about Mary at Advent. This year, when I think about Mary and the upside-down world she believed in, I cannot help but think about refugees fleeing their homes in desperation because they believe there must be a better world somewhere else. I imagine at some point during the voyage from home some refugees might cry out, “Ah! would that I had died before this!”  I can only imagine that one of the few things keeping some people going is the hope and faith in an upside-down world where God fills the hungry with good things. This Advent, when I pray the Rosary, I will not simply reflect on what Mary went through; I will also reflect on the challenges faced by so many in our world today and how I can help bring God’s heavenly upside-down world to Earth.

Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

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4th Week of Advent
December 20, 2015

Luke 1:39–45
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

1st week of Advent — “The Still, Small Voice of Calm”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Lillian Scott

About ten years ago, I would drive to Baltimore on Saturdays to help my sisters who were providing care for our mother who was homebound.

On one particular late Saturday evening, I was driving back to Silver Spring via my regular route, I-70 to 29/S. That night, traffic was unusually light. Further down the road, a familiar sign indicated that my exit was two miles away. As I continued to drive, the road became pitch dark, mine was the only car on the road and my surroundings did not look familiar.

I had missed the exit. I did not know where I was, so a cell phone would not have been of any benefit to me. And my car did not have a GPS. So I accessed the only help I knew was readily available: as I continued to drive down this unknown road, I unceasingly prayed to God to guide me back to my usual route home. After driving what thought was a long way down the road, I came to a junction. The road sign indicated that I was at Marriottsville Road; however there were no signs to guide me to the direction I needed to get back to 29/S. Several times, while in the Randallstown area, I had been on that road. Knowing that a right turn would take me in a northerly direction, I turned left. After going a short distance, I was overjoyed to see a sign directing me to 29/S.

A sense of calm set in and I knew that God had heard my prayers and I was on the road home.

As I reflect on my experience, I am reminded of Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19:11-12. Elijah was fleeing from harm and seeking God. He did not find God in the wind, in the earthquake or in the fire but in the sound of sheer silence. I suppose I was expecting to hear the mighty voice of God answering my prayers. Instead, I was guided by His still, small voice of calm.

It is a blessing and comfort to that God always hears our prayers and continually speaks to us. Listen in the silence. You will hear God’s voice.

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Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

1st Week of Advent
November 29, 2015

Luke 21:25-26
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.
26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

1st week of Advent — “Every. Single. One.”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Stephen Willson

You can’t measure the length of humanity’s scars in numbers and names. Every life taken down, regardless, has value — whether one, one hundred or one thousand. All take part in the body that is humanity; their absence an equally immeasurable impact.

A void is left who’s depth we cannot comprehend when an individual’s absence suddenly and unexpectedly defines their impact. How many lose a chance at forgiveness or amends? How many discoveries lost or inspirations crushed? How many loves missed or laughs silenced?

As the stories flow of families broken and students or teachers or lawyers with lives cut short, remember that many-fold more sons and daughters are lost every day who’s name or face or language you may never know; you may never understand; you may even fear. We are all sons and daughters. All equal parts, all equal possibilities, all equal losses.

We need to care as much about yesterday, today; and as much about today, tomorrow. We need to care about every single life cut short over fear, over hatred over race, over religion.

We need to care. We need to do more.

We need to treat every single son or daughter, every single neighbor with the same reverence and come together with those who can still respect our commonality regardless of our differences.

We cannot expect this from everyone; but we cannot use everyone’s actions as an excuse to turn away from one’s expectations of self.

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Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

1st Week of Advent
November 29, 2015

Luke 21:25-26
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.
26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

 

1st week of Advent — “What You Leave with Others”

Upside-Down Advent 2015By Amber Palmer-Halma

“Leave a wake of blessed people” is a life goal I adopted from the book Finding a Date Worth Keeping. When I was reading the book as part of dating group I realized I went on dates with an attitude of “this date won’t be any good but I’m sure I’ll get some funny story out of it that I can tell at parties.” I ended up spending my date nights looking for the funny story to be fodder for my party chit chat.

The men in our dating group helped me see that my witty party stories were huge turn-offs to any guy who was thinking of asking me out. No one wanted to become my next punchline.

The book encouraged me to consider every date an opportunity to leave the other person glad they met me — whether or not a follow-up date occurred. To, like a boat, have a wake behind me of people who felt blessed that they’d had time with me (not from a high and mighty place, but from a place of genuine joy and grace).

Embracing this goal changed my dates for the better. Suddenly, instead of being focused on my experience, I paid attention to my dates’ experiences. And I could see my dates through a lens of grace instead of judgement. I started asking better questions. I started really listening to my dates’ answers. Eventually, I met my favorite date and we got married.

Now, I try to “leave a wake of blessed people” in all of my relationships. It’s amazingly effective everywhere.

It’s countercultural in most D.C. offices to be leaving a wake of blessed people instead of stepping on others to get ahead. It positively changes team dynamics to be the colleague who offers support, assistance and praise instead of competition.

In friendships, work relationships and in my community, I see the power of leaving this wake of blessed people.

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Please join us for our Advent and Christmas services.

1st Week of Advent
November 29, 2015

Luke 21:25-26
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.
26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

 

2015 Advent Devotional is Here!

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As we enter this season of Advent, we are looking forward to the traditions that mean Christmas is coming—baking, mailing cards and gifts, singing Christmas songs. Sometimes Christmas feels so expected, we forget that it’s really about God turning the world—and us—completely upside-down.

When Mary first learns from the angel Gabriel that she will give birth to the Messiah, her response is, “How can this be?” But when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth (who is also expecting a child, John the Baptizer, the one who will make a way for the Messiah), she is moved to sing God’s praises for these miracles with a song we have come to know as “The Magnificat” (Latin, meaning “My soul magnifies”):

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
(Luke 1:46-53)

Mary can see that God’s way of coming into the world, of bringing hope, redemption, new life is about to turn everything on its head. Those who have been high and mighty will be brought low and the hungry will be filled; the proud are scattered, the rich are sent away empty. This is just a foretaste of Jesus’ own ministry: preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, restoring sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed…healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and eating with sinners. (UM Liturgy for Holy Communion, UMH p.9)

What we should really be expecting, hoping and preparing for this Advent is for God to do something completely unexpected. To enter into our lives and world in a way that we may not anticipate, to open us up, fill us with joy and transform us in ways that we could never have imagined.

This little devotional is filled with stories and reflections from people in our own church who have experienced God’s presence, grace and redemption in surprising ways—A cancer diagnosis. Serving others, and finding that you are the one who has been blessed. In a yoga practice. And the last page of this booklet is intentionally left blank, so that you might write your own story of how God has turned things upside down for you in this season of miracles.

Advent Blessings,
Rev. Rachel

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