Monthly Archives: June 2010

Cadbury’s Chocolate: “Food Offered to Idols”?

Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be pretty stupid at times. I had a phone call a couple of week’s back from a woman who was concerned about letting her children eat Cadbury’s chocolate. Why? Because it was certified “halal”. Someone had told her that Christians should not eat anything that is “halal” because it has been “prayed over to idols”.

Then today I received an email from a friend who wrote:

A Catholic women told me that one of the Pentecostals told her that Cadbury’s chocolate was Hallal- therefore it should be boycotted by Christians because it was “offered to idols”. I told this good woman to rewind and have a think… one this Moslems DO NOT do is worshop idols (for goodness sakes!!). I am frankly very pleased to hear that my chocolate had been prayed for… I don’t know about you.

So this was obviously more than just one person’s concern. So I googled “cadbury chocolate halal idols” and Google came up with 3,170 results. To call it an “urban myth” hardly does it justice. It is more like one of Dawkins’ “memes”, which are supposed to be responsible for religious ignorance.

Here is a full entry on WikiAnswers:

Why is there a halal symbol on cadbury chocolate?

I checked out Cadbury today at Woolworths!!! No more Cadbury’s for me!!! I will check everything from now on… It is also on my Bega Cheese. The symbol is so small you can hardly ready what it says.

This is absolute fact. Before Lorraine went shopping Monday I showed her this email. She looked at the products in the shop mentioned and they had the symbol hidden on the back of the packaging and in a very weak colour that was hard to see. Leggo’s Pasta Sauce has the logo on their bottles. ..


This is a Muslim Association that collects money from the Australian Food Industry for this symbol so that Muslims will purchase the product. Yet we are told the Muslim population are only one and a half percent of Australia’s total! On a recent radio talk-back show a well known host was alerted to this practice.

He hit a stone wall when trying to find out HOW MUCH money was paid to this organization and WHERE the money went.

It was explained that by buying those marked products at least you are supporting a religion that is actively trying to destroy the Australian way of life or at the other extreme the money MAY be supporting terrorism. Many Australian Companies are paying this money including BEGA, CADBURY and many other well known companies. Check before you buy. DO YOU KNOW WHERE THAT MONEY IS GOING?

Until you know, support those companies that support the Australian way of life.

This is so wrong on so many different levels. As I wrote back to my friend, Cadbury’s chocolate is “halal” in exactly the same way that your roast pork is NOT “kosher”. No prayers have been said over the chocolate; the certification simply means that no pig products were used in manufacturing the chocolate. The need to state this isn’t as odd as it sounds, some thickeners – in cream, for instance – are made from pigs trotters, which makes those products inedible for Jews as well as Muslims. The only time prayers can make a difference to whether food is halal or not is in relation to meat, which requires the saying of the formula ““Bismillah, Allahu Akbar” – or at least “Allah” – meaning “God is
great” in Aramaic.

What’s the problem with that? Nothing, unless you happen to think that the God who the Muslims pray to (the God of Abraham, the God of the Jews, and hence, incidentally, the God of the Christians) is “an idol”. It might help to point out that Arabic Christians use “Allah” for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ too, but I suspect not. A little bit of knowledge about the rise of Islam and the specific identity of Islam as a religion that has been “anti-idolatry” since its inception might help, but again I suspect not. There are many Christians who wish to say that the God Muslims seek and intend to worship is “not the same” as our God. It is true that some of attributes Muslim’s ascribe to the Deity are different from the attributes we ascribe to Him, but then, the attributes of God in Jewish theology is different from the attributes of God in Christian theology too, and no-one is suggesting that they worship “an idol”.

For a complete statement of the case against eating Cadbury’s chocolate because it is “food offered to idols” (cf. 1 Cor 8 and 10), see here on The Salt Shakers website. If you decide not to eat chocolate that has been certified “halal”, I won’t be offended. As St Paul wrote: “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Or as I say, all the more chocolate for me!


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Two Predictions on Julia Gillard

I should have got the first prediction up and running on Saturday, but I was busy travelling (I’ve been in Queensland where it is a darn sight warmer than it is here in Melbourne – brrr). Now everyone is saying it, so it doesn’t help for me to say “I said it first”. Anyway, Prediction One is: Our Julia will call the election within a month. Cathy is of the opinion that she will wait and try to get some runs on the board. I don’t think so. She has a number of problems that she has to deal with immediately – one being the Mining Tax (aka Resource Super-Profits Tax). There is a temporary truce on the table, but that isn’t going to last forever. Either she will do a quick deal with the mining companies or it will be a long drawn out affair. I think it will be the latter. For this reason, she will be better to go to the polls now while her personal popularity is high, before everyone see that it is the same government in charge today as it was a week ago.

My second prediction is that we will see less rather than more of the “Prince Consort”, Tim. Already today there is an adverse article on the front page of The Age. The issue here is not that our new PM is “unwed and childless”. As Magda Szubanski points out, so are nuns, and they do a great job. But unlike nuns, Our Julia has a “hanger-on” (as my father-in-law likes to call his grandchildren’s boy-/girl-friends), and – as in families – we don’t quite know what to do with hangers-on. When the family photo time comes, do you include them in the shot or not? Official spouses of those entrusted with the national government and security are easy to handle. They belong. They fit. They have a right to be at their partner’s side because they have made a public sworn committment to them. They are family and so they can take on duties on behalf of the family. Hangers-on are not and cannot. Julia’s “partner” is going to be a problem for her because we don’t know what to do with him. We are not to blame for this. Julia herself has not made her relationship with him clear. Anyway, I think one way or another we will see less of the boyfriend during the election campaign.


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Revisiting the Summit III

On the 9th of March, 2001, I and two other pastors of the Lutheran Church of Australia were summoned to St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Box Hill by the President of the Victoria District to give an account of our Roman ideas to 18 other specially invited pastors.

You will find my complete submission here, on my Year of Grace Blog, along with the reply that was given by Pastor Peter Kriewaldt, a senior and well-respected pastor.

In this series of posts, I am “revisiting the Summit” almost a decade later to see what, if anything, I have learnt since. This post deals with the second question in my submission and Pastor Kriewaldt’s response. Click here for “Revisiting the Summit I”.

My Third Question:

3) What is the locus of Christ’s authority in the Lutheran Church? Who can claim to be the “you” in Luke 10:16 today and on what grounds? How is this authority validated, ie. communicated incarnationally from Christ himself? Whether authority is claimed by the presidents, the pastors conferance, the synod, the local congregation, the confessions, the Theses of Agreement or the theologians of the church, on what grounds would we regard such authority to be validated?

Whenever someone asks me “between the soup and the fish course”, “Why did you become a Catholic?”, I always reply with three words: “Authenticity, Continuity and Authority”. These are not, of course, in any particular order, since they are all inter-related, but Authority is key here. Actually, to be perfectly honest, Authority is the key issue in the entire matter of the unity of the Church (aka ecumenism). Whatever form of Christianity you may ascribe to, the issue of Authority will be central. This is because all Christians believe that they are followers of, ie. disciples of, Christ. To follow a discipline implies a source of Authority. ALL Christians agree that Christ is that authority (can you imagine someone who calls themselves a “Christian” and yet who denies the Authority of Christ?). The crucial question is: “How is the Authority of Christ manifested to me here and now today?”

In Luke 10:16, Jesus says to a group of seventy “others” whom he “apostles” to go ahead of him: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” There is something pretty clear here about how Jesus exercises his Authority: he does it through real human beings whom he “apostles”/sends out into the word, and who exercise his Authority in his name. The same is reflected in the famous “Great Commission” passage (Matt 28:18-20), which is addressed to the 11 apostles: “All AUTHORITY in heaven and on earth has been given to me [ie. God the Father has given all Authority in heaven and on earth to me]. THEREFORE GO [ie. with this same Authority which has been given to me and which I give now to you] and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, BAPTISING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And just to rub it in from another Gospel yet, we have Jesus commissioning the apostles in John’s gospel on Easter Eve (John 20:21): ““Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send (apostle) you.”

In all these cases, the authority of Christ is communicated directly and personally to his apostles. His authority is INCARNATED in their very persons. Now, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that this authority, which the Father handed to his Son, and which the Son handed to the Apostles, is in turn handed on by the Apostles to their successors, the bishops of the Catholic Church, and that THESE bishops in THIS Church continue to speak and teach with the Authority of Christ: He who hears them hears Christ.

But the Lutheran Church has other ideas, and these ideas are eminently outlined by Pastor Kriewaldt in his reply to my question at the Summit in 2001:

3) The locus of Christ’s authority is the word (Jn 8:31-32). Christ gave his keys to the church. The church also receives from Christ pastors who exercise Christ’s authority of the keys in the church. No one in the church claims authority; authority is a gift of the risen Christ to his church through his word. For Lutherans the word is interpreted by the great consensus of pastors, theologians and laity and given to us in the confessions, which always remain for us the ‘norma normata’. Tradition is also an important feature of this interpretation (cf my concluding remarks). LCA Synods do not create doctrine, they give assent to scriptural doctrine that comes to them through the confessions. Cf TA V.11; CRCR Statement: ‘Gospel and Scripture’.

While most Lutherans today would understand the term “the Word” to mean simply and exclusively “the Scriptures”, nevertheless the use of the tem “the Word” in the Lutheran Confessions is has a broader sense. Pastor Kriewaldt replies to my question “The locus of Christ’s authority is the word” and cites John 8:31-32 “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” This would seem to imply that “the Word” is “the teaching of Jesus”. But in fact Jesus Christ is “THE Word”, the “Logos”. The “Word” cannot be “the locus” of Christ’s authority because Christ IS the Word! The question is: Where is the Word heard today and through what channels? Through the Scriptures? Certainly the scriptures ARE authoritative; and certainly the Scriptures ARE the inspired and inerrant “Word of God” as a whole and in all their parts; AND YET there is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that Jesus intended his disciples to commit his Authority to writing and to collect it in a book and that thereafter this book would be the full repositry of his Authority. Even if this was his intention, a book cannot exercise authority on its own!

But this isn’t the direction that Peter Kriewaldt wished to take this answer. He responded that “Christ gave his keys to the church” and that “The church also receives from Christ pastors who exercise Christ’s authority of the keys in the church.” Well… is this accurate? Does not the Scriptural witness rather show us that “Christ gave his keys to his apostles (particularly and explicitly to Peter)” and “The church also receives from Christ successors to the apostles who exercise Christ’s authority of the keys in the Church”?

Peter replied that: “No one in the church claims authority; authority is a gift of the risen Christ to his church through his word.” Oh, really? What then was the Synod of the LCA trying to do in 2000 and again in 2006 when it set out to vote on the matter of the ordination of women? Was it not “claiming authority” to do so? And what of the Presidents of the Lutheran Church in their oversight of the districts? Do they not “claim authority”? And what of the Pastor who announces on Sunday morning “I as a called and ordained servant of the Word announce the Grace of God to all of you…and I forgive you all your sins”? All these acts “claim” authority. Okay, so that authority is said to be a “gift” – of course it is! But once it is given it is like the talents that the rich man gave his servants to use and invest: it is to be claimed and exercised. So let’s not split hairs over whether authority is “claimed” or “given.” Even if we dropped the ridiculous idea that anyone in the LCA actually “claims” authority, we would still be left with the question: to whom is Christ’s authority “given” and by whom is it validly exercised?

Pastor Kriewaldt says that authority is a “gift of the risen Christ to his church through his word” – but this still begs the question: How is “his word” communicated to his Church? This is where Pastor K. falls back on the narrow understanding of “the Word” = “The Scriptures”. “For Lutherans,” he sas, “the word [read: the Scriptures] is interpreted by the great consensus of pastors, theologians and laity…” There are definite similarities here with Catholic teaching (which distinguishes magesterium, theologians and sensus fidelium), but one might have asked for greater clarification. Do Pastors exercise authority differently from Theologians? How do the laity exercise their interpretative authority? And what is this “great consensus”? Who exactly is to be counted in “the great consensus”? How it “the great consensus” determined?

This same lack of clarity is in evidence in the reference to the LCA’s Theses of Agreement V.11 in Peter’s answer. This reads:

The congregation is therefore truly ecclesia and is endowed by the Lord of the Church with the Power of the Keys, that is the same power which is given to the whole Church and to the individual Christians, whom God has made priests and kings through Christ. Matt. 18:17f; 1 Peter 2:9. Tractatus 24, 66f. According to the New Testament the smallest congregation is as truly the Spiritual Body of Christ as the Church Universal is. Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 12:27.

This also begs the question: WHICH congregations are “truly ecclesia” and therefore have a valid say in “the Great Consensus”? All Christian congregations and sects (even “the smallest”)? Only those who are members of the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Australia? Or only those who hold to the Book of Concord?

Perhaps it is the latter, as Peter Kriewaldt explicity identifies “the Great Consensus” on the interpretation of the Word as “given to us in the confessions, which always remain for us the ‘norma normata’.” God knows why. I have never received a satisfactory explanation of exactly why those books contained in the 1580 Book of Concord should be accorded the status of any kind of NORM of Christian doctrine. No “Great Consensus” exists among the Christian congregations of the world on this matter. No “Great Consensus” exists even among Lutherans today on this matter. No “Great Consensus” existed even among Lutherans at the time in which the book was put together.

Pastor Kriewaldt acknowledges that “Tradition is also an important feature of this interpretation”, but this is left to a later question for fuller discussion. He then goes on to say: “LCA Synods do not create doctrine, they give assent to scriptural doctrine that comes to them through the confessions.” Well, yes, of course he would say that. We Catholics also say that the Church does not “create” doctrine, it only gives assent to that doctrine which it has received from the Apostolic Deposit of Faith. And yet, Lutherans say we have invented lots of doctrines. Catholics say the same of Lutherans. I have even experienced the process by which a significant proportion of LCA Lutheran Synod Pastors and Delegates (about half on both sides) attempted to create a doctrine that allowed women to be ordained. Of course, they SAID they were only giving “assent to scriptural doctrine that comes to them through the confessions”, but one half disagreed with the other half about exactly what this “scriptural doctrine” was.

The real fact is that Authority, its source, its validation and its exercise, remains a crucial question for any Christian seeking to “continue in the Word of Christ” and “truly be his disciple”. So, we come back to the question: When Jesus said “He who hears you hears me” – who was he exactly talking about?

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A Perfect Political “Sh*tstorm” delivers our First Female Prime Minister

Just a few days after he launched the new book “Shitstorm” (an account of the first years of Kevin Rudd’s Government and how the faced the numerous crises that arose – especially the global economic crisis), a real “shitstorm” struck the Prime Minister’s office. While only yesterday morning, The Australian was reporting that the rumours of leadership changes at the top of the Labor Party were now in the past, this morning Kevin Rudd is history and his deputy – Julia Gillard – will be sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and our first female prime minister.

There was, of course, one reason and one reason only for this sudden (and historic – no Australian prime minister has ever before been dumped by his party DURING HIS FIRST TERM) choice of the governing Labor Party: the ALP MP’s realised that with Kevin at the helm they were very, VERY likely to lose the next election (that in itself would have been a point in history – it has been more than seventy years since Australians have failed to re-elect a government for a second term). In other words, they did this to save their own skins. It looks very bad, and is definitely risky (Bob Hawke replaced Bill Hayden as leader of the ALP just before going into an election back in 1983, but they were in opposition then, not government), but it was a lot more palatible than being returned to opposition after a single term in office.

The choice in the upcoming election is now more clear cut than ever. We have two genuine and accessible “Ozzies” leading the major parties – both in their ways more like Bob Hawke or John Howard than Paul Keating or Alexander Downer – but who are (for once) ideologically clearly defined individuals who truly represent the beliefs and traditions of their parties. I’m looking forward to the election campaign: Bring it on!


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“It’s all gone sour” with Our Kevin

Click the picture to be taken to The Australian website to see the video


I have been reading The Australian lately as a change from The Age. The Australian has been full – day after day and in just about every section of the paper – of bad news and reviews of Our Kevin. The long tall and short of it all is that, if the present Labor government went to the polls right now with Kevin Rudd at the helm, it would get thrashed. The top editorial in The Australian is headed “Kevin’s real problem? He can’t see we’ve changed”. The Editorial opines:

In 2007, Australians voted for Mr Rudd as an acceptable alternative after 12 years of Mr Howard and the Coalition. His early efforts – signing up to Kyoto and offering an apology to indigenous Australians were unthreatening, easy changes. For a time, voters were even prepared to tolerate the Prime Minister’s foray into essays criticising capitalism and backing state intervention. But no longer. The RSPT [resource super-profits tax, aka the 40% mining tax] has proved a vote-changer for people who are not interested in joining unions and want to make their own decisions about spending their money. Labor’s weakening support is not driven so much by individual events such as the home insulation debacle as by a general disillusionment with the Prime Minister. It’s not Mr Rudd’s anger that worries these voters but a sense that he is driven by a residual guilt that makes it hard for him to accommodate the changes in the electorate. It is as if the boy from Nambour who is now worth millions can’t accept that his fellow Australians are equally aspirational. Instead he persists in viewing them through the outdated lens of left-wing ideology, class warfare and economic protectionism. Labor was wrong to see the 2007 win as a vote for the protected culture of the unions who funded the anti-Work Choices campaign. It was wrong to see that win as a repudiation of the Howard economic policies and a call for more government intervention. This misreading of Australia now threatens the future of Labor – and of the nation. Those in the party who understand what modern Labor stands for must decide whether Mr Rudd and Mr Swan have the capacity to listen to what the electorate is saying, and learn from their mistakes. Labor must see the nation as it is, not as it used to be.

That has it about right. In fact, I predicted the current disapppointment at the start of Kevin ’07’s inglorious reign (not that anyone was listening: see “He’s not the Messiah, he’s just our new PM…” from December 10 2007).

The list of grudges is long. The $42 billion give-away in the “Stimulus Package” (“Thanks, that’s really generous, but er, um,…”), then the emissions trading stuff up, then the insulation program disaster, and of course, don’t forget the Schools building program. On the latter point, there is this story in The Australian in their section “Schools Watch”: “First the revamp, then the school closure plan”. Try and get your mind around this (it is second only to the news that our local State Government spent $2 million putting 1 cent on 87,000 pensioner myki cards so that they would work on the trains…):

The 13-student Nagoorin School, an hour’s drive from Queensland’s booming mining hub of Gladstone, will receive a $250,000 library within weeks, using a federal government Building the Education Revolution grant approved last year… The school was given $250,000 for a library, $35,000 for “minor classroom renewal”, $9800 to enclose its front veranda and $5200 for new signage. It has spent funds extending the administration office, repainting the classrooms and buying new furniture.

But Nagoorin is only one of more than a dozen schools — mostly in Queensland — that have already used taxpayer funds on building work, painting, carpets and playgrounds, and yet are now being shut down or earmarked for closure.

This is no joke. It would be funny if it was.

There is a line in Tim Rice’s libretto of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, sung by the character Judas in “Heaven on their minds”, which could be suitably adapted by Government MP’s addressing their leader:

Listen Kevin to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live
But it’s sad to see our chances weakening with ev’ry hour
All your followers are blind
Too much heaven on their minds
It was beautiful, but now it’s sour
Yes it’s all gone sour
Ah — ah ah ah — ah
God Jesus, it’s all gone sour

O yes, indeedy. Sour as in Kevin0Lemon.


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A Morning with one of my favourite Biblical Scholars

The wonderfully named Dr Ben Witherington III is one of my favourite contemporary biblical scholars (he has a blogspot on Beliefnet here too – I should add it to my blogroll). Yes, I know I go on and on about Tom Wright, but I do read others! BWIII is especially keen on socio-rhetorical criticism. I used his I & II Thessalonians commentary when teaching on that subject recently and have just bought his Romans commentary to prepare for the upcoming course on Romans I am doing for Anima Education.

An interesting thing to note is that while Witherington III sees I Thessalonians as a classic “epideictic” letter, he rejects the common categorisation of Romans in this genre, and sees it rather as a “deliberative” letter. For what it is worth, I reckon BWIII is on the money with this. I was reading our (local) Fr Brendan Byrne’s commentary on Romans last night, and found that he, along with the majority, does class Romans as “epideictic”. I think it depends on what you think Paul was writing the letter to achieve (although, there is far more stylistic evidence in 1 Thessalonians of the “epideictic” genre than in Romans). If you think he is writing to commend himself and his theology to the Romans, you might think “epideictic”. If however you stand with folk like N.T. Wright (here I go), and see that Paul is addressing a real problem among Roman Christians (the relationship between Gentile and Jewish Christians – sort of Galatians in reverse) you will agree with BWIII that it is deliberative.

Anyway, all that aside, Dr Witherington is coming to Melbourne courtesy of the “PRAXIS: Ongoing Professional Development for Ministers and Pastors”. Here are the details. I have already enrolled. If you are keen on the latest trends in New Testament exegesis, I strongly encourage you to come along too:

A morning with Ben Witherington III

An opportunity to hear from a world-renowned New Testament scholar and author on some of the contemporary Biblical issues in pastoral ministry. Join with colleagues in this interactive time of exploring contemporary patoral and scriptural issues with plenty of time for Q&A.

Friday 30th July: 9.30 – 11.30am
Churches of Christ Theological College
44-60 Jacksons Road, Mulgrave

Cost: $10 (covering Ben’s travel costs and morning tea)

Numbers are limited so get in early. RSVP or 9790 1000

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Wot we said

On this blog, both I and most of our commentators have agreed that “defrocking” – or (more technically) “laicisation” – is not necessarily the best way to deal with a clerical abuser. Now, according to this report in Zenit, exactly this has been said by Father John Beal of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, a canon lawyer addressing a one-day seminar May 25 on canon law and sexual abuse in an address on “Crime and Punishment in the Catholic Church: An Overview of Possibilities and Problems.”

Zenit reports that Fr Beal told the seminar participants that “in the case of priest sexual abusers, perhaps the most serious canonical punishment is not always the best one” and

cautioned that turning a priest-sexual predator loose in society by separating him from the clerical state might solve the internal problem for the Church, but could serve to worsen the issue as a whole, particularly when the chance of a successful civil trial is minimal.

This comment, about the limits of the effectiveness of canonical censure in achieving the three aims of ecclesiastical sanctions (“repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender”) is particularly interesting:

Father Beal proposed that censures are unlikely to be effective punishments for priest abusers.

He explained: “Since they can only be imposed after a warning, there must be evidence of an incident of abuse or at least suspicion that a particular cleric is prone to such abuse before a censure can even be threatened. Sad experience of the recent past suggests that even the sternest warnings and threats are unlikely to be effective in deterring abusive clerics from repeating their offenses. Even when a censure has been imposed, it must be remitted once the offender evidences repentance — and, as many bishops have learned to their chagrin, sexually abusive clergy can make very convincing displays of repentance when they are confronted with evidence of their offenses.”

He goes through all the other options, including the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches. He says:

Balancing the aims of restoring justice, removing scandal and reforming the offender is not an easy task. Efforts to achieve a just balance among these ends will open Church authorities to criticism from all sides just as efforts to find a balance in the secular arena has resulted in sharp criticism of secular judges, including the justices of the Supreme Court. But, in an imperfect world, one does what one can. And if we do what we can, perhaps we shall achieve in time that object all sublime of letting the punishment fit the crime.

For what it is worth, I think most of us on this blog will also agree that there is wisdom in what Fr Beal said in the conclusion to his address:

When searching for the just balance of the aims of canonical penal law, the most important consideration for decision-makers in the Church is not how best to punish the offender for past crimes but how best to protect the vulnerable from future abuse.

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