Easter Reflection

The dawn broke heralding a new day. The first sounds of creation were all around us welcoming not just any day but Easter Day. The day of celebration, the day that changed everything, a day that offers hope and peace. 

I read the resurrection narratives in John’s Gospel and listened to Vaughan Williams ‘The Lark Ascending’ on the radio. In the still, quiet early morning, we make our way to the Secret Garden, just off the High Street for an Easter morning Garden Reflection. We gather in an unexpected, ‘sacred space’ with other believers to listen to Scripture, reflect and ponder on that resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary in the garden. 

Over 40 years ago I encountered something of the presence of the risen Christ on the side of a mountain in the Cairngorms of Scotland, an experience that was to change my life and orientate it away from the mountains and into the ministry. Now many years later, it is not on the mountain top but in the garden that I get a hint of awareness of His presence. In that moment of contemplation, of quiet prayer and reflection I am also mindful of a world beyond the tranquility of these moments; of those whose hearts were broken in Sri Lanka today by the mass killings of believers gathering to celebrate Easter, their lives ended as a result of terrorist bombs. 

I’m enjoy listening to my toddler granddaughter Lyra, pottering around the garden, exploring its many delights but my prayers take me to think about her namesake, Lyra McKee. A gifted and courageous young journalist who was shot dead in Northern Ireland on Thursday night.

Suffering and death remain a tragic scar on the face of humanity. Only the cross and resurrection makes any sense of such evil and devastation and the consolation and hope that such things will be no more.

Travelling south I think about some of the happenings in our world and cannot escape thinking that I am part of a generation that has been so consuming of our own wants that we have been blind to the consequences of our actions for our children and grandchildren. For all the amazing progress that we have made, we have consumed the world with little care for God’s creation. TheExtinction Rebellionprotesters have reclaimed the streets of London and other cities and injected fresh energy into the climate movement. Whilst not endorsing all of their tactics I appreciate their courage and attempts together with the YouthStrike4Climate movement to bring society’s attention to the current and the impending global ecological crisis. 

Driving to Oxford, in central reservations and by the side of every road that we have travelled, is the litter and plastic detritus that is polluting the planet as a result of our careless disregard of our ‘ Garden of Eden’. 

I think of that passage in the Bible which speaks about creation crying out and groaning for its redemption. 

In Ukraine this evening, the country has elected a TV comedy actor, with no political experience other than appearing in a soap drama as their next president. He has deposed Petro Poroshenko, who whenhe became president of Ukraine in 2014, swept away the notion of Ukraine as an inherently divided state, by winning in every region.

All across the world, including the West, the former and noble aspirations of democracy are being challenged by populist movements. The thought of a Brexit Party, gaining seats and being in the lead of current opinion polls, holding influence is a disturbing one. The movement’s clever propaganda, the hypocrisy of its proponents and the capturing of peoples’ hearts and minds on single issue politics is reminiscent of those employed by Goebbels in 1930s Germany. Self-interest, national interest, a right to sovereignty, fearing and blaming the stranger in our midst, trading insults at other nations, falling out over trade deals and running down established institutions all contribute to the arena in which populist movements fester and grow. 

Many people are coming to wonder at the way in which the referendum was conceived, how it has been handled and what it has revealed about divided Britain, (created not by the EU but by us) as one of the saddest and most disturbing periods in modern British history. 

The task of beginning to unite a fractious and divided Britain along with that of climate change are among the greatest challenges we face as a society. 

So how might we have any hope of ever making a contribution to such a task? By seeing in the events of that first Easter both the challenge and hope that is found in Christ. His rising from the dead is proof that evil will not conquer, that redemption is possible, that fear can be set aside, peace with God and between nations can be expereinced and the earth can be renewed. In Christ, God is always making things new and bringing hope and transformation.

The movement that was born on that first Easter Sunday was to turn the world upside down. A movement of ordinary men and women, meeting the risen Christ and empowered by his Holy Spirit went out with the gospel of peace and love. A movement that truly was motivated by love not hate. A movement that eschewed all traces and traits of nationalism, racism, sexism and sectarianism. “Your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”.

In that quiet garden this morning we were reminded in the reflection that the same word for ‘garden’ is that used for ‘paradise’. 

God calls us to shine in a dark world, to speak and work for peace amidst conflict, to be bearers of hope and to share the joy that comes from recognising the presence of the risen Christ in the garden or wherever we are. So that the world might experience something of paradise here on earth.

Christ is risen; He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

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Remembering the Good Friday Agreement and our Present Political Crisis

On a day when we remember the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, it’s timely to be reminded of the words of Bill Clinton, when he was President of the United States. Speaking outside the Guildhall in Derry/Londerrry, Northern Ireland he said, “I see a peaceful city, a safe city, a hopeful city that’s full of young people that should have a peaceful and prosperous future. A future where their roots and roots and families are. That is what I see. And so I ask you, to build on the opportunity that you have before you. To believe that the future can be better than the past, to work together because you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart. Have the patience to work for a just and lasting peace”. 
Last night the excellent Channel 4 ‘Derry Girls’ finished the present series with Clinton’s speech.
In an era of Brexit attrition and antagonism that divides people and nations, when it’s easy to forget that many conflicts and war stem from trade disputes and nations contending for self-interest, those words of Clinton are timely because, in the uncertain, hostile happenings of Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement is seemingly being ignored. His words, “you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart” speaks volumes.

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In celebration of women


Marking International Women’s day on Friday, I turned to our Northumbria Community liturgy Canaire – In celebration of women and gave thanks to God for the many women who have blessed my own and many others lives.
I read about how such a day was celebrated throughout the world and probably for the first, and possibly the last time, I found myself in agreement with President Putin of Russia. He marked International Women’s Day by congratulating Russian women, “You manage to do everything: both at work and at home and at the same time you remain beautiful, charismatic, charming, the centre of gravity for the whole family, uniting it with your love…..It is hard to imagine the history and development of our country without the contribution of the great Russian women.”
Last week I was privileged to share and work with some of the women who are leaders in our Northumbria Community and was blessed by who they are and the gifts they bring.
This morning I listened and was truly blessed by a brilliant exposition of Psalm 118 by one of the many gifted women in the church we belong to. Tomorrow I shall be with some amazing women pioneers and on Tuesday with another group of gifted women who are studying for the ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham.
At a historic UN Summit in 2015 the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted by world leaders. Over the next 12 years countries are mobilising their efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. In relation to women, the goals include;
By 2030, ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.
End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
These are great goals that every nation should embrace.
They also contain a challenge to the church, for there still remains a failure to recognise fully the gifts of women. An issue that was brought home to me so forcibly this morning when I received a message from an incredibly gifted woman student who is having to jump through so many hoops, meet some unrealistic expectations and incur considerable debt in order to be formally recognised as a minister, when clearly she already is one! It’s one example among many of discrimination and inequality which damages people and robs the church of those called and gifted by God who happen to be women. As the Canaire liturgy declares, “It is not God who blocks the way of women. It is not God who robs us of their gift.”

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Ash Wednesday Reflection

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. An intentional season of prayer, fasting and generosity.
Deploying and exercising some of the spiritual disciplines, this season provides us with an opportunity to be more open to God, ourselves and others. A time to reflect, refocus and re-centre ourselves.
I’m mindful of that image in Luke 15 of the Prodigal Son returning home to be welcomed by his Watching Father. An image that challenges and speaks into the busyness of our lives, of the “far country” that has taken us into a world of constantly doing and the drivenness of activism. Doing that has led us away from being held in the arms of God, we’ve wandered off into a world of frenetic activity and Lent reminds us to return home, to respond to the invitation of a watching, loving, forgiving God who longs for us to know what it is to be with him.
Lent is an invitation to come home; home to God, to ourselves and others. A time to reorder, to clean up, not just the house and exterior matters but the interior of our hearts and lives.
I appreciate symbolism and the powerful marking of the cross with ashes on the forehead as part of today’s Ash Wednesday liturgy, accompanied by the words ”remember that you are guest and to dust you shall return”, a vivid reminder of our mortality and a perspective on our life and purpose in the world.
Lent is a period of abstinence. For some, the pancakes are been consumed, the festivities of Mardi Gras are over. It’s a season to renounce, to repent – to turn around, think, feel and act differently.
I enter Lent, surveying the landscape of my own heart, seeking God with a desire to re-orientate those areas of my life where I have drifted off, been distracted or side-tracked from my true hearts bearing and calling by God. I am mindful too of the gathering storm clouds across Europe, which way heavily on my heart and am conscious of the political, economic and social chaos that threatens our own British society at this time. The European Union and the Referendum are not the causes of broken Britain; they have merely brought to the surface the underlying conflicts, inequalities, injustice, prejudices, fears, racism, increase in violence, hate and knife crimes, bigotry and other evils that have been simmering away for a long time. The Referendum and its dire consequences have only brought to the surface the brokenness of our society. I believe we are seeing in our contemporary society the first fruits of a post-Christendom culture, a society that is increasingly abandoning the Judaeo-Christian narrative that has shaped and undergirded civic society, holding it together and providing values that have informed the public domain. Education, welfare, health care, justice, work and governance, religious tolerance and race relations, all influenced by underlying Judaeo-Christian values that held things together for the common good. The longest-serving MP and ’Father of the house’ said recently that Britain is facing the worst political crisis since 1938 with the Government and Opposition parties divided and ruling over a fragmented and divided nation. Using my Voice Recognition Software, I had to train it to recognise the word ‘Brexit’. Before introducing the word to the software vocabulary it thought I was saying either ‘wrecks it’ or ‘breaks it’! Whatever side of the divide we may be on when it comes to the issue, no one can deny the wreckage and breakage we are seeing in a divided Britain.

So on this Ash Wednesday we cry out to God to show us His mercy and to lead us individually back to him and to lead us out of the dis-ease and fragmentation and all that threatens to trigger further trouble in our own and others societies.
Lord in your mercy… hear our prayer.

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Appreciation​ of things don​​e well

It’s the perfectionist bit in me, (which has its strengths and weaknesses) but I really appreciate it when things are done well. I’m reasonably relaxed when they are not so good but love when someone uses their God given gifts and demonstrate a good attitude and aptitude to do something well. Doesn’t matter what it is I appreciate when things are done well. I marvelled at the skills of the guys who erected a fence on our estate last week, the gardeners at a nearby Historic House and the art work from some pupils at our local school. Likewise I really appreciated being part of the congregation at New Life Baptist Church here in Northallerton this morning. Sadly too many church services I attend across all traditions and denominations do little to feed my soul, inform my mind, stretch my imagination, deepen my faith or increase my awareness of God’s heart for the world but it is a privilege to be part of a church that we belong to here in North Yorkshire that does just that. 

This morning was no exception. Being part of a church of all ages and backgrounds, where the services usually evidence over 90% seating capacity and often more. Worship is led by a variety of different but gifted teams. A church where welcome and hospitality is extended to friend and stranger, regular attender and guest.  For a new monastic introvert contemplative, loud action songs pose a challenge but being part of the family I swayed my arms and joined with others in worshipping God with lots of children, who are very much a part of the church. Not the church of tomorrow but every bit a part of the church today. Before many of them left for their own groups they were prayed for and blessed but not before five people were welcomed into partnership. Each shared something of their faith story and why they were joining the church. Diverse, mixed ages, men and women, each received an encouragement, word of Scripture and were prayed for as we welcomed them into the fellowship and committed ourselves to work with them in serving Christ and his Kingdom. We were then led in prayer for the world; praying among other things for the people of Yemen, Indonesia, those victims of human trafficking, for an increase in Fair trade and a respect for human rights, together with prayers for Parliament this coming week and for the local hospital under threat as a result of Government cutbacks and staff shortages, (where are the medical staff who will come and live in the north?). We prayed for those who belong to the church who are suffering or struggling at present. (I still recall with much amusement being asked as a visiting preacher to pray “for the sick of the fellowship” at a church and thought how apt a prayer for many folks I know who are sick of their fellowship!).

This morning it was so refreshing for a charismatic evangelical church to pray and intercede for the world, for those outside the walls of the church. The prayer ministry team who meet before the service to pray and wait on God share any words or pictures they receive in the service and offer pray for anyone at the end of the service. We then sang a wonderful song which has been adopted as a song for the a new series, Show Us Christ. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk2Y7WoM4h4A different genre to that of our Northumbria Community’s Morning Office Declaration of Faith but in its own way a reminder that Christ holds the words of eternal life.

Glen, our Senior Pastor then opened up John’s Gospel with an inspirational exposition of John 1 to introduce the series. Good Bible teachers are gifts from God, building up believers in the faith and opening up opportunities and avenues for those new or exploring what faith can mean.

Concluding worship and blessing flowed naturally into sharing conversations over coffee with friends old and new.

A service not thrown together but prayerfully and carefully crafted that had design, order, spontaneity and no trace of manipulation or religious jargon about it. I said I liked things done well and this morning was cracking! Thanks be to God.

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Christmas Eve Reflection

I have and am blessed by many women in my life; an amazing mother, an incredible wife, two fabulous daughters, two wonderful daughters in law, three fantastic granddaughters, a soul friend, spiritual director, many companions, friends and colleagues – all of whom have been a source of great blessing. Mindful of the inspiration of women and taking a retreat at Whitby, made famous by St Hild, I have spent time thinking about Mary through this Advent season. Incredible to think that she was no more than a teenager, that she would give birth to Jesus and in such extraordinary circumstances. The words of the angel, “Do not be afraid Mary. Nothing is impossible with God“. In those words the impossible was made possible. The coming of Christ into the world, the miracles, healings and transformation he brought to peoples’ lives and above all, the reason and foundation of all hope, his resurrection – the impossible made possible with God.

Advent and the celebration of Christmas is a season for remembering what happened and for imagining what is possible. A season to hope, to realise new visions and dreams. 

And it’s the thought that nothing is impossible with God that has given hope in what is a bleak period. Winter with its darkest days and chill air echoes the bleak news pervading our daily lives. The folly of a contrived Referendum and its consequent Brexit debacle is disturbing. All that it has triggered is seen in damaged relationships, a fractured Britain, discord with our European neighbours and the fueling of partisan, nationalistic and racist popularist movements. It’s incredible that we are seeing a resurgence of extremist policies, of both the Left and Right that are undermining democracy.  We learn so little from history. What we have sown in the West, we are beginning to reap: failure to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, defend the weak, protect the vulnerable has resulted in a backlash, meted out to us in the increasing threat of global terrorism. 

History reminds us that after any economic recession, austerity measures that favour the rich and neglect the poor will result in civil unrest. It is obscene and evil that Britain, the fifth richest country in the world has inflicted hardship and misery to the most disadvantaged and poor in our society. There are 14 million people living in poverty in Britain, one in five of the population. A benefit system that is supposed to protect all of us from being swept into poverty is failing. The gap widens, the number of people living in poverty increases, all of which fuels the fires of discontent and contributes to a society conflicted, lacking in compassion and blinded to the reality of suffering behind the veneer of consumerism. The number of people using food banks has increased from 2010 from 41,000 to 1.4 million. Attitudes towards ‘strangers’ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers smacks of those prevalent within 1930s Germany. Our self-interest and protectionist policies are eroding our contribution to the shaping of European society, rooted in its Judeo-Christian values. We are giving up our place at the table where we can influence for good the shaping of an institution, that, far from being perfect and in major need of reform, has nevertheless held once warring nations together for over 60 years. Conflict is often triggered by contesting trade issues. Volatile and dangerous policies, usually announced over a twitter feed by the president in the United States, together with the rise of an increasingly powerful China, which has no checks and balances in terms of democracy, is threatening world peace. The War in Yemen has been raging for three years and has left the country in the grip of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis where children are paying the heaviest price, facing a deadly cocktail of bombs, disease and hunger.

Western consumerism is beginning to evaporate as the tangible signs of an economic downturn, the weakening of the High Street, the struggle of businesses, the stockpiling of resources, the failure of the Government and Opposition parties to exhibit any sense of serving the common good are all signs of a society that is in turmoil and signalling its decline

I do find it difficult to sing, “tis the season to be jolly“. I am disturbed by what is happening in the world. I am blessed for I represent the minority of people in the world who have a comfortable home, I don’t have to worry about having enough food to eat, I can drink fresh water straight from the tap. I am content and enjoy a comfortable life. I am blessed with a great family and lovely friends.  For the vast majority of people in the world life is hard. It is a time in world history when hope can be hard to find and dreams of a better future difficult to believe. Hope seems to be in short supply and it is in this context that we need to receive Mary’s inspiring courage and trust in the face of fear and uncertainty.

Life was uncertain for Mary. She had fears and problems to encounter. The bureaucracy of her day required her to travel some distance to Bethlehem late in her pregnancy on a donkey more uncomfortable than any packed commuter train. After the birth of her son Jesus, she had to flee with Joseph to Egypt; refugees, fleeing from an evil dictator, when their lives are in danger.

She must have been anxious at the prospect of what life lay ahead for her beloved child. The angels announcement, the shepherds arrival, Simeon’s words in the temple, “a sword will pierce your soul” left Mary pondering. 

What Mary experienced and how she responded provides us with an inspiring example of faith in troubled times, courage in facing uncertainty and above all hope. Hope that the impossible is indeed possible.

Whatever the future holds, whatever challenges, turbulence and uncertainties may lie before us, we hold on to the hope that all things remain possible with God. We once again dream and allow ourselves to be inspired by the same Holy Spirit which came to Mary, to imagine the world where Good News is heard, where God’s Kingdom breaks through and hope is born. Where the same Holy Spirit brings not a selection box but the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit that makes the impossible possible.

May the hope of Christ and his inextinguishable light illumine your path throughout this Christmas and the coming year.

Bless you and take care

Roy

Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to its tune today.

Peter Kuzmic, Croatian theologian

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Giving thanks for gifted women

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I sat in prayerful silence in the chapel at Saint Oswald’s in Sleights. I gazed out through the stain glass windows. Windows that portray two of my favourite and inspiring Celtic Saints, Aidan and Hild. I have prayed during Morning Office in the chapel with the sisters and other retreatments for the troubling situation here in Britain in relation to Brexit and the turbulence that we are experiencing as a nation. I am heartened and encouraged that the church that Shirley and I belong to, New Life Baptist Church in Northallerton, has called the church to prayer on Monday. Would that many churches and other expressions of Christian community would pursue a similar call to prayer. The consumerism, trivia and commercialism that pervades our society masks us from the deep and disturbing undercurrents. What we have sown in an ill-conceived referendum is now yielding a harvest of unrest, disarray and disturbance, the like of which has not been seen in British society for many years. The debacle and damage that we are now facing pose some very serious threats to our society, our relationship with other nations and our standing in the world.
I pray for Teresa May and the Government, not because I have any sympathy for the policies and decisions that they have taken but because Scripture bids me pray for those who rule over us. I am appalled at the cynical marketing ploy of sending out Government Ministers this weekend to have their photographs taken outside food banks as a backdrop to their campaign to gain public support ahead of Tuesday’s crucial vote in Parliament. Sheer hypocrisy! This present and the previous Conservative government’s policies of austerity have widened the gap between the rich and poor, caused untold suffering and hardship for those least able to withstand the consequences of the global recession. So many of the policies stand in stark contrast to the values of the kingdom of God.
Leadership in these turbulent times is incredibly challenging and complex. So much of what I see in society, including the church has trapped us in bureaucratic management policies, systems, protocols and ways of being and working that imprison the human spirit, damage the way in which we relate to our fellow human beings and provide no building blocks for a society that seeks to cohere in trust, mutual support, respect and honouring of one another. There is a place for management but there is also a great need for leadership in these troubling times. The kind of leadership that Hild and Aidan brought to bear upon their troubled world, both secular and ecclesiological. A leadership that was characterised by its peaceableness, humility and gentleness. A leadership that was not coercive, bullying or partisan but one which was seeped in serving.
I watched the funeral service of George HW Bush the other day and witnessed an occasion that spoke powerfully of someone whose life was informed and influenced by his deep faith and which gave expression in his commitment to serve with humility, courage and grace. The testimonies of family, friends, colleagues and his former political opponents bore witness to a good man. The contrast between him and other former Presidents sitting along the front row of the cathedral with that of the present incumbent could not have been starker. Pray God that the present occupant of the White House will have listened to the words of the sermon preached at the service. A sermon that was a word of challenge and encouragement to all who occupy leadership in whatever capacity.
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I couldn’t help but wonder how the USA and the world might be under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, or what is sadly now unlikely to happen, Michelle Obama. I am halfway through her autobiography which has served only to deepen my respect for a remarkable lady. It is a brilliant book and follows on the heels of a biography that I have read recently about Angela Merkel. These are great women, women of faith, women who through their lives and works have made a difference for good in the world, whose legacies will be seen in the course of history to have served and reflected the values of God’s heart and kingdom. Angela Merkel’s open door policy on refugees, (which has caused her and her nation many problems), comes from her Christian faith. She has spoken and written extensively about the motives behind why she has taken that unpopular decision, which run like a commentary on ‘what would Jesus do’.

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Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama discusses her forthcoming memoir titled, ‘Becoming’, during the 2018 American Library Association Annual Conference on June 22, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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I sit in the chapel at St Oswalds, in a house that belongs to the Order of the Holy Paraclete, the monastic community founded by a woman suffragette and give thanks to God for her and other women pioneers. I’m mindful of Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst and Dorothy Day. I give thanks to God for leaders with whom I am privileged to know and work with; Catherine Askew, Sarah Pillar, Lynn Green, Linda Donaldson, Ruth Rice,Mary Taylor, Shawna Snow-Wilbrink, Ingeborg Janssen, Kezia Robinson, Ali Boulton, Margene Vessel, Sr Janet Elizabeth, Gayle-Anne Drury and many more. They are gifts of God and the church and world is better served by such female leaders than many of their male counterparts.
I leave the chapel but not before gazing at the image of the Madonna and child. In Morning Office we prayed, “Hail Mary, full of grace and truth, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among all women. For you conceived the Son of God, the Christ, our Redeemer.” I give thanks for Mary and all those who carry Christ in their hearts and through whose lives the love of God is made known and the ways of Christ, the Servant King, are lived out in the world.

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Arriving at Nether Springs, our Community’s mother house, I ask Fiona, another gift of God along with the three Sarah’s here, Anne and Tina, Bekah, Margaret, (the place is crawling with them!) which room I am staying in. “You’re in Hild Roy”.
Maybe God is saying something……
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