Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A few thoughts on Practical Theology for Women's Review of Real Marriage pt 2


As Andy pointed out, Real Marriage paints an intimate portrait of a couple dealing with the sexual and family baggage of the wife, but not that of the husband. Mark is skilled and precise at diagnosing Grace's problems and those of his culture, but he lacks insight into himself.

It's not a big shock that a man who can have all sorts of insights into other people can completely lack insight into himself.  After all the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure and who can understand it?  As I have mulled over the subject over the years it has struck me that if you are deceived about something you can't tell the truth to others even when you wish to because you believe something that isn't true. It can be easy to pinpoint the fatal flaws of a culture while pretending you are not yourself a product of that culture.

In my own transition out of Mars Hill I had to come to grips with the realization that if there was a spiritual sickness in the community I had to admit I displayed a lot of those same flaws and didn't realize it for years.  As I shared when I parted I came to realize that there were spiritual flaws and sins in my life I was only going to learn how to repent of if I wasn't in a place where my sins that I hadn't been aware of weren't such a remarkably good fit in the place I was at. I couldn't begin to say there was anything wrong with Mars Hill without squarely confronting the question of how and why I fit in there so well for so long.  If there was a disease there then surely my own life could be read as a symptom.  This is one of the reasons why I have had such a hard time taking so many anti-Driscoll bloggers seriously, they frequently display the same character flaws I've seen in his pulpit rants over the years.  I've seen in myself the sorts of cruel qualities I want to be free of. 

My estimation, for what little it may be worth, is that the Alsups do not display these problems in their review of the Driscoll booko.  As Michael Spenser wrote about Wendy years ago in his review of her first book, Wendy does not manage to come off ever displaying the flaws of her pastor (i.e. Mark).

Of course there's that dream Mark talks about, a dream which I am not certain was necessarily a divine oracle.  Just because something happens to come true does not make it a genuinely prophetic oracle and, more over, prophetic dreams in the Scriptures are never cases in which things of the past are recounted.  Instead Ecclesiastes 5 warns us that as a dream comes with many cares so many words bring foolishness.  Mark Driscoll has shared enough prosaic information about how his previous women cheated on him that a person can explain the vivid dream as the outworking of worries he already had per Ecclesiastes 5.  It doesn't have to be a divine dream at all.  That it could be or not is not an issue I am interested in discussing at further length here.

Central to Real Marriage, Mark gives testimony of his decade long bitterness toward Grace. “I had a dream …. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating” (p. 11). “Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her” (p. 12). He says on p. 14, “I grew more chauvinistic. … I started to distrust women in general, including Grace. This affected my tone in preaching for a season, something I will always regret.” He repeats this in the first Real Marriage sermon online as well. I don't think the root cause of his misogyny (his own word from the first Real Marriage sermon) is anywhere near that simple, but that actually explains a lot. I remember Mark telling a husband publicly on the church members' forum during those years that if he didn't shut his wife up, Mark would do it for him. I hope his regret has caused him to reach out to that family in apology (she was also an abuse victim, sexually exploited by an older youth leader) as they left Mars Hill after that.

Interesting thing about the Christianese cliche "season".  Mark doesn't say how long the season was and people can't figure out even now, from the outside, that there's any evidence that that "season" has even ended.  As I have written before the confession Mark Driscoll makes in his recent book confirms that the critics who have said he is a misogynist who resents women concedes that these critics have been exactly right.  He's even brought out the sexual issues of his own wife and the sexual activity of his prior girlfriends as evidence for the basis, as he sees it, of his period of resentment toward women (assuming that period is over I "guess" we can say it's over but only on the basis of his say-so).

The general, vague apology for a "season" in his preaching life where he resented women is the kind of safe and saccharine confession of sin that, were it someone else, Mark Driscoll would warn us could be a sign of false repentence.  Would someone like, say, Andrew, have been able to get away with such a vague confession and a comparable level of repentence?  Something to consider.

According to the book, Mark's bitterness and stress culminated in 2007. He recounts on p. 16, “... my adrenal glands and thyroid fatigued, and I finally came to the end of myself …. So we cleaned up the church” and “lost around one thousand people due to changes amid intense criticism.” The intense criticism he mentions came because he fired two older elders while engineering the rewriting of the church by-laws at the high point of this season of bitterness and anger with his wife.

Some of that intense criticism came about because the pastors stonewalled about the firing of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.  Some of the criticism came about because Mark Driscoll, in response to a question about the by-laws from some members, told a woman that Pastor Jamie had said to not talk about those things.  When I pointed out that Pastor Jamie had written nothing of the kind and advised members not to talk about the firings of Petry and Meyer I added that the only person who was saying Pastor Jamie said not to ask about the by-laws at that point was Driscoll. 

Further, I pointed out that since no one else was even connecting dots between the firings and the by-laws, Mark Driscoll himself was introducing the connection of the two ideas in a way that would probably encourage speculation and invite the consideration of why Driscoll was claiming Jamie Munson published something to the church members that he didn't actually write. I asked whether this was a good idea on Mark's part.  Couldn't it lead to speculation that Paul and Bent got fired over the by-laws? Why would Mark speak as though Jamie had forbidden discussion of the by-laws when the prohibition was against public discussion or enquiry into the firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer?

Well ... turns out that there was a reason Mark Driscoll had made the connection.  It's because Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired over the by-laws changes.  After months of stonewalling the leadership finally explained why the two men were fired.  Turns out that Mark Driscoll had let slip something that was eventually confirmed. 

Now if anyone imagines this was done on purpose, well,  you don't know how lazy and sloppy Driscoll can sometimes be.  At one point Mark Driscoll was going to run with the idea in some sermon notes that Boaz must have been a reader of the Psalms and made reference allusively to a Psalm of David.  I had to be very blunt in pointing out that it would be a bad idea for Mars Hill to run with sermon notes attributing to Boaz the reading and appreciation of Psalms that were written by David.  Chronological issues, anyone?  The problem was spotted and things got fixed.  To this day, however, I wonder if it would have been wiser to let Mark get egg on his face for betraying his lazy use of biblical texts.  So, no, dear reader, having been inside Mars Hill for a while he's not the hypercompetent puppet master some of you people want him to be.  For a self-described Bible teacher that he made such a mistake at all was embarrassing, though--yet I mention it because I want to make it clear why I don't take seriously on-line allegations that Driscoll's got to be behind every little thing they don't like at Mars Hill.  Seriously, he's just a guy and we're all capable of making dumb mistakes and having people assume we did something on purpose that was just plain stupid. I know this about myself so I know Driscoll has to be capable of it.  Surely Grace must know. :)

Anyway, around the same time the firings became a controversy Mars Hill finally let us members know the state of that big building purchased earlier in the 2005 capital campaign project, the one Mark Driscoll assured us in the 2006 book Confessions of a Reformission Rev was slated to become Ballard campus 2. The property puchase that Mark says was the idea of Pastor Jamie Munson in the 2006 book (if memory serves). 

Yeah ... about that ... the property is zoned for industrial use and the pastors kinda sorta didn't bother to investigate that before making the purchase.  They must have just trusted that God was on their side come hell or high water, purchased the property, and then figured out privately that this was an oopsie.  Oh well.  During the firing controversy members began to wonder what, exactly, came of that roughly 1.5 million dollar investment.  By the Martian leadership account it was all done in good stewardship.  It's not a huge surprise that within months of this revelation 1,000 members decided that "maybe" Mars Hill leadership was not as fiscally competent as they'd previously trusted they were. 

So Paul Petry and Bent Meyer got fired over disagreeing about the by-laws?  Well, why was completely unanimous voting required?  If two out of forty guys don't agree with something why would it have been disrespectful to spiritual authority?  More importantly, if unanimous voting lead to what seems to have been a 1.5 million dollar boondoggle wouldn't a lack of unanimity form the important role of forcing pastors as a leadership team to ask questions about their competence and motivation as a group? 

Of course with the executive leadership system in place only the executive elders had the powers to make the decisions that had previously been group decisions.  In theory this was probably supposed to preclude things like the Ballard boondoggle from happening again.  Problem, the guy who Driscoll credits with the great idea of purchasing that Ballard boondoggle was one of the executive elders.  No offense, guys, but that was not an encouraging turn of events.  It's got nothing to do with personal disrespect and everything to do with a hsitory of demonstrated competence.  If Mars Hill had leaders who had listened to business leaders in the community who knew the purchase was a bad idea the whole thing could have been avoided.  The reality, as anyone who watched the situation play out was able to see, was that Mars Hill pastors didn't really want input from actually knowledgeable people in the local business community. 

What Driscoll habitually seems to miss is that a lot of the intense criticism sprung from the unhappy reality that he and his leadership team made a lot of dumbass decisions and tried to avoid conceding that maybe they'd botched more than a few things.  The new by-laws ensured Mark Driscoll retains a huge amount of organizational power while divesting himself of having to actually do anything in the trenches.  There was not, I might add, anything particularly clear about the administration of local church discipline on members beyond that there was nothing like an appeals process.  So that Andrew's case ended up in public is no surprise.  It's sort of like Derek Zoolander wondering how his friends could have died in a freak gasoline fight accident.  A plurality of elders who are supposed to unanimously agree on everything defeats the whole point of any advantage a plurality of elders should confer in the decision-making process.  It has become apparent Driscoll has probably never practically grasped this idea.

As I've been saying for years folks can be pretty gracious and forgiving if you can simply admit you did something or said something stupid.  In the Mars Hill theology of sin sin is the result of pride and is a rebellion against God or God-appointed authority, at a practical level.  The idea that sin can involve really stupid yet well-intended decisions that costs huge amounts of money or harm the lives of people is not the usual Mars Hill talking point when "sin" or "idolatry" come up.  It would seem overdue for discussion at some point.  Part of the reason we can be gracious to each other when we sin is because as scripture attests in a few points there can be inadvertant sin. But if you don't have room for that conception of sin you won't have critical room for that abstraction called Christian love. And should a conflict arise and you want to resolve it that will have consequences.  Perhaps uncoincidentally ...

... The accountability of this system is much less effective when you can fire your elders at will and put the ones who remain through the “wood chipper” as Mark called it at an Acts 29 bootcamp at that time.

I recently put (a Mars Hill executive elder who remains at the church) in the wood chipper in my church. ... He was the guy, he had to nitpick at everything; he had to resist everything, he had to look at the other side. … you'd ask him why, he’d be like, well, I just wanted to make sure we've looked at everything, and everybody is considering all the angles. … I'll tell you what, when you despise your elders, at that point you have no safe place in the world from which to do ministry. ... there's always one guy there who's just like a fart in an elevator, and I'm just counting the minutes till I can get away from this guy. You can pray for me. You may say, “It seems like he's dealing with this right now.” Yes, I am. I'm thinking of certain people. If it weren't for Jesus I would be violent.” (Mark Driscoll, “The Man,” Acts 29 Bootcamp, Raleigh, NC, September 20, 2007)
Looking at every angle, as we've seen, is just not how Driscoll thinks. He's the bottom-liner with the one-liner. Of course the Evelyn Waugh remark about how much more churlish he'd be if he wasn't a Christian might not have been what Driscoll was thinking of.  I could take a time to digress on to how many guys in their twenties first introduced to Mars Hill ten years ago looked up to Mark because, whether any of us would have admitted it or not, we lionized the possibility that one could be, in the bluntest way of putting things, a sanctified asshole.  People who look back on the antics of William Wallace II in "Pussified Nation" with something other than regret may have a hard time conceding this point but those of us who regretted the whole fiasco happening at all, never mind those morons who participated in it, should feel a measure of abiding regret. 

If you don't know the history of Mars Hill from first hand experience, there are other issues with Real Marriage that may or may not be problems depending on what you are looking for in a Christian book on marriage. First, there is little exposition of Scripture in the book. It mentions Scripture in passing and footnotes the references at the bottom. When they do discuss Scripture, such as Esther's relationship with the king from p. 65, they sometimes come to troubling conclusions that are not consistent with a careful examination of Scripture. As Andy said, if you're looking for a gospel-centered Bible study on marriage, this isn't it.

Pretty much.  Ten years ago on Babblerash a Pentecostal who went by Morgan74 wrote something that has stuck with me.  He/she saw/heard what Driscoll extolled about Song of Songs and how he slammed the typological reading and said that Driscoll's whole conception of sexuality seemed troubling.  My hunch was when Wendy mentioned the hugely problematic take on Esther as better than Vashti was it might have had something to do with Grace Driscoll's handling of the book of Esther.  That's to say that "if" Grace handled Esther that way it's not a competent handling of the text.  Given where her head goes (Mark) it's not a huge surprise that she'd have an irresponsible handling of biblical narrative literature. 

Mark Driscoll has often professed his love for the wisdom literature.  I am not sure he understands it and I am also convinced that he takes his prism of his take on wisdom literature as a thing through which he filters and distorts narrative literature in the Bible.  He can use a wisdom literature prism to transform Ruth into an instruction manual on dating and marriage when that is not what the book is about. He used Ruth as a dating/courtship manual in 2005 when he was big into courtship.  He then recycled a good chunk of material from that into his Ruth series in 2007.  His two actually decent sermons in the Ruth series where the ones where he didn't recycle his earlier shtick.

Mark spent months later in 2007 transforming Nehemiah into a typology about himself and Mars Hill, culiminating in a sermon in which he explained Nehemiah's violent reaction to people during the time in which it was announced that Paul Petry and Bent Meyer got fired.  The parts where Nehemiah considered how he and other members of the leading class sinned against the people?  Heh, that was not so very prominent in the preaching and teaching was it?

Mark said in the same Acts 29 Bootcamp message referenced earlier that the pastor's wife has the “most important job” in a new church -- “having sex with the church planter.” I wonder what the Driscoll's story would be if Grace became incapacitated long term. If that became the case, the majority of their marriage book would be useless to them

Holy concubines from Colorado, Batman!  He said that? Well, not a huge surprise to me. 

Mark felt betrayed by Grace for her sexual sin, but it's stretching it to call Grace's sexual encounter with another guy when she and Mark first started dating primarily a sin against Mark. A sin? Yes. Against Mark? Not so much. According to how they describe it, they had only just started dating when this incident occurred. She was a sexually active teenager in a new relationship with another sexually active teenager (Mark) who was not a Christian. There was nothing remotely resembling covenantal commitment between them at that point. Even though Mark seems to understand parts of the problem in his response to her, there remains much about Mark's “forgiveness” of her for this sexual sin but nothing about Mark asking Grace's forgiveness for how he exploited her sexually during that same season. [emphasis original]

Yep to all the above.  Driscoll wasn't a virgin at the time so if Grace wasn't a virgin and they had just started dating was there a relational context in which Mark Driscoll could have legitimately considered Grace's lack of faithfulness a sin against him at that point?  If Mark had a dream about something from a decade earlier and felt so retroactively betrayed he threw up does he ever stop to put together why he was okay with using her sexually?  Instead of only freaking out that his woman turned out to have cheated on him when neither of them were particularly Christian and he had grown used to sexually benefiting from her why feel betrayed?  I say this as a single guy who's never had a girlfriend. 

Maybe I'll understand things better if I have a girlfriend who cheats on me.  But, still, the point is not lost that Mark describes himself as having a sexual history where he was totally okay with fornicating with prior girlfriends and with Grace but incensed that they weren't faithful to him.  The question remains why Driscoll never seems to have stepped back and wondered what it was about these women he found so appealing?  Mark can concede that what Grace "should" have done was never dated or married him.  Does this statement let him have a pass on the subject of claiming that if he'd known she cheated on him even once he would have never married her even though he keeps claiming over decades that God told him to marry her?

According to Real Marriage, both Mark and Grace were sexually active with other partners before dating each other. Grace went through Redemption Groups at Mars Hill and dealt with her sexual history, but Mark never did (the elder leading the early version of redemption groups in which Grace first found her voice on the issue of past sexual abuse was one of the older elders fired in 2007). Grace deals with her parents and issues stemming from her upbringing in a pastor's home. But Mark only makes a passing reference to his and doesn't deal with baggage from his upbringing AT ALL. Does he have NO baggage he brought to marriage from his women-beating, alcoholic, redneck family (his description)?

You'd never know Mark Driscoll had any baggage of any kind given his public statements.  He's tended to talk about his family in positive terms.  He's dad's the union dry-waller who swung a hammer for a living.  What Mark has said about his father has tended to be in the vein of establishing his street cred as a preacher rather than a son sharing affection for his father.  His dad may not even be alive or exist anymore for all we know, he's that inessential to any public teaching or preaching.  Now if you haven't seen your biological father face ot face in, say, 21 years, then if you don't make a habit of speaking or writing about him people will get that. 

But if Mark's dad is still alive and Mark has been preaching for decades where's dad?  Not where's Mark Driscoll as "poppa daddy" in his own narrative, where's HIS dad?  I never had to wonder that about Lief.  Lief told me!  Lief gave me some priceless counsel about how to improve my relationship with my stepdad.  Meanwhile, for a guy so obsessed with dad this and that Mark sure has managed to avoid discussing his dad.  It's almost like Mark has himself not had the kind of dad he would ever feel like bragging about to anyone and just avoids any serious discussion of him.  In the church I've been part of I hear my pastors actually make reference to their parents.  I'm not saying you have to, just that if you're obsessed with the whole "pastor dad" motiff and habitually trotting out family vignettes into sermon applications it wouldn't kill you to show an example of how you learned from your old man.

... Though if Mark does teach through Hosea consistent with his Nehemiah sermon series of 2007 and his portrait of himself in this current book, he will cast himself as the hero of Hosea and Gomer's story, not recognizing that he himself is Gomer to Jesus' Hosea as much, if not more, than his wife. “(God) said that He ... had chosen me for the important mission of rescuing, protecting, and loving His daughter. This felt like a noble divine assignment and began to change my motivation for pursuing Grace …” (Real Marriage, p. 15)

Sigh ... yeah, can't argue with that one.

Mark's last chapter on reverse-engineering your life describes a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of writing your life story from the end to the beginning, which basically sets the stage for the autobiographical portions of the book which Andy addressed. The Driscolls do seem to have genuinely repaired their broken relationship. I am glad they seem at peace with each other personally, though I'm concerned that Grace has excused Mark's unrighteous anger against her by calling it righteous. While I'm concerned for Grace, I am more concerned for specific individuals to whom Mark directed angry, cutting words over those years of bitterness and anger toward his wife. The story he recounts in this book was not lived in a vacuum. Mark bears the responsibility for that, not Grace. Giving a general apology (as he did in the first Real Marriage sermon) to a church no longer filled with the specific people to whom he directed those words is inadequate (no one in our family, by the way).

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
A person who keeps advocating reverse engineering your life is someone who has probably never had a moment of real, unalloyed failure, or at least someone who has never looked square in the face at an irrecoverable failure or loss in an unflinching way. If Mark loves the wisdom literature so much he should remember that it is foolish to boast of plans for the future because you don't know what will happen.  And to this day the optimistic declarations about what that property in Ballard was going to be used for when it became Ballard campus 2 are a witness against Driscoll's own over-eager reverse-engineering not only of his life but of the life in his church. 

The reason these things matter, the reason it matters a great deal that a man like Mark Driscoll can make the case to his wife that the cure for his moodiness is more frequent sex is I have known guys at the church who ended up in a bad spot because they were trying to convince their wives they needed more sex.  Apparently if you're at the bottom rungs that kind of relational problem can land you in a church disciplinary situation or a redemption group.  But if you're Driscoll?  You get to write a book in which you flatly declare that more sex stabilizes your moods when if you were at the bottom rungs of the organization you might get told you're a sex addict whose made sex an idol.  You would probably not be allowed to become a deacon or stay a deacon if you made a confession that you and your wife had that kind of relational tension. 

It would have been nice for these sorts of observations from either Andy or Wendy or myself to have never had to have been written.  It would have been nice if years after the pastoral firings of 2007 or the by-laws controversy or the news of the Ballard boondoggle finally coming home to roost that none of us would have had any reservations about the public behavior of the Driscolls or their statements along the way of promoting their self-help book. Gritty confessions don't stop a self-help book from being a self-help book. 

I know a lot of friends at Mars Hill who met their husbands and wives through Mars Hill.  I've known couples who met each other and married swiftly and are still together.  I've known couples who literally spent years dating before deciding on marriage and I heartily support them and their marriages, too.  My lack of interest in reading Real Marriage is not just because I don't feel like reading the Driscolls pontificate it's also because I have come to the impression that there were plenty of other people in Mars Hill better qualified to write about real marriage than the Driscolls. Their lives and marriages lived out on a daily basis have taught me more than I think I could probably learn from the selective and often self-justifying rambles of the head honcho.  That's a good thing because the reality is that probably no rank and file member will ever see a Driscoll apart from a DVD playing on a video screen or on a stage with security in the wings.

It's easy to offer a generic apology to anyone who you might have abstractly done wrong but Jesus' teaching tells us that before we offer our gift at the altar we should go to the brother we've actually wronged.  Bromides and platitudes are not the same as doing that. What is more when the shoe is on the other foot we've seen that Driscoll has no problem pre-emptively attacking both the character and theology of a man like Justin Brierley on PastorMarkTV.  What good does it do to have the pious bromide or platitude about forgiving and making restitution if mere weeks before this you show the world you're willing to assasinate someone's character in advance as somehow exercising "authority" over you? 

Which person was exercising authority?  A journalist?  Dude, for a speech communications major at a top tier American program I would have thought you'd remember what "on the record" means. Get used to it because if you keep acting and speaking the way you do it's gonna keep happening. 

But the truth is a book like Real Marriage isn't really anything more than a best-seller. Inside five years who's going to be reading it besides Mars Hill members who are told to read it by marriage counseling pastors?  Who's going to be talking about it ten years from now?  Probably not the other megachurch pastors who will come out with their own books on marriage talking about how Christian pastors and teachers are afraid to talk about the hard truths about sex and marriage. If Ed and Lisa Young hadn't gone and done their book thing, too, Mark and Grace could have claimed to have been the only ones tackling those tough issues.  Such is life.

That's the thing about trying to be unique, you'll find that you're not unique.  Wasn't it C. S. Lewis who said something about being innovative in the arts would be a fast track to not innovating, while reaching for truth could make you innovative in spite of yourself? 

Another reality that seems to be staying in the light is that a lot of these travails Driscoll tells us about are curiously self-inflicted afflictions.  Why did he have a physical burn-out?  Maybe because he'd made an idol of his ministry and was working past his physical limits.  Why did he hit a terrible spot where he was resentful toward his wife about marriage and sex?  By his account, he'd made an idol of his marriage and a god out of sex.  Why did Driscoll end up getting flak about his remarks in the wake of the Ted Haggard situation?  He decided to "take one for the team" that involved a team that had nothing to do with Haggard's actual situation.  Then, when asked why he said what he said his best defense was "I never said anything about the Haggards" True, which is why what he did say in the wake of the Haggards is even more inscrutable and insane. 

But the confessions of Real Marriage, if anything, retroactively explain why Mark would have been comparing notes with other pastors about how unsatisfying sex with their wives was.  Like I've said elsewhere on this blog, if you don't assume Mark is lying and take his comments at face value they at times become far more creepy and troubling than you thought they were.  If Driscoll stuck to just preaching Jesus and not conscripting Jesus into his agendas most of the trouble and controversy he's courted wouldn't be around for him to complain about. I can't feel too bad for a guy who laments that his ministry is killing him when he's working himself compulsively.  I can't feel too bad for a guy who laments that guys lack ambition to build a legacy from the guy who was so unwilling to excuse himself for a bathroom break he crapped himself at the pulpit and kept on preaching.  If my pastor says he's got stomach flu and has to potentially end the sermon early nobody in my church is going to look down on him.  Stomach flu is lame and so it goes.  I'll end with the last paragraph from the review.

I hope Mars Hill's current elders will encourage Mark to stop and repair with those he has specifically directed his anger and misogyny over the years and to seek counsel for his past issues he hasn't addressed, because the past verbal violence he directed toward individuals was verbal violence toward the Savior. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me” (Mt. 25:40). And the issues he hasn't yet addressed in his own heart will resurface again. In every instance in which Mark's accountability structure (whatever that is now) is aware of his verbal sins without holding him accountable and is aware of baggage from his upbringing without pointing him to gospel counsel, the name of Jesus and the good parts of doctrine Mark teaches will be undermined right along with him, as is now the case in many secular news stories

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