Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution, by Rev. Katey Zeh

 

Rev. Katey Zeh

In Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution, Rev. Katey Zeh combines her gifts as a compelling storyteller, creative Bible teacher, and social justice activist. In a time when many people are misusing the Bible to limit the gifts of women called to ministry, to justify exclusion, to shame survivors of abuse, and to vilify immigrants, Women Rise Up illuminates the stories of biblical women to bring liberation and transformation to all. It was a joy to read Rev. Zeh’s inspiring new book and to interview her. Here are her responses to my questions.

Some feminists believe that the Bible is misogynistic and cannot be a helpful resource for dismantling patriarchy. Why do you draw from biblical stories in your advocacy of gender justice and equality in Women Rise Up?

What constantly amazes me about the Bible is that even though the text is deeply patriarchal and misogynistic, there are numerous women within its pages who find ways to survive against all odds and to resist oppression in creative, subversive ways. For example, in Exodus Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives to the Hebrew women, defy the order of the pharaoh to murder all the newborn baby boys, and they do so at great personal risk. Stories like these inspire me and give me hope for today’s struggle for gender justice.

How has your call to ministry led to your writing and your advocacy for women and girls?

My call to ministry emerged over a period of years as I began to learn about feminist theology and explore how to apply it in practical ways to my own life. Guided by the deep belief that women and girls are created in the image of God, I seek to make the world a more just, compassionate place for all, but in particular for those who are most vulnerable, including women and girls living at the margins of society. My writing is a natural outflowing of that calling: to lift up the sacred worth of women, both within the sacred texts and beyond it.

You are one of my Baptist sisters in ministry. What led you to ordination in the Baptist denomination and why have you remained Baptist?

I’m fairly new to the Baptist faith. I was part of the United Methodist Church for nearly 25 years, but I made the painful decision to leave after witnessing the denomination turn its back on reproductive dignity and denying the rights of my LGBTQ+ siblings. I felt denominationally displaced until walking into Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. What I found there was a celebration and an embracing of all of God’s beloved children and a fierce, firm, historic commitment to upholding the dignity, rights, and well-being of all.

Pullen was the first faith community in which I felt like I could fully and unabashedly articulate my commitment to advocating for women and girls, particularly their access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, and it would not be liability. In fact, my advocacy work was the very basis upon which I sought and received ordination from my church. Being affirmed in that way has been such a gift to me because this work is not easy. Having a community of support around me keeps me going.

In Women Rise Up you emphasize the intersection of sexism with racism, classism, and other injustices. Which stories in the book do you think best represent this intersectionality?

The story of Sarai and Hagar illustrates the many ways in which women are culpable of great violence against one another. Hagar is a foreigner and a slave. Sarai is an abuse survivor who perpetuates the cycle of abuse by forcing Hagar into becoming her surrogate. My reading is heavily shaped by Delores Williams’s classic womanist text Sisters in the Wilderness, who explores the text through the lens of the African-American woman’s experience.

Another text I explored was the Book of Ruth. Too often we romanticize this story as one about sisterhood and faithfulness of female friendship, but there are troubling aspects of the story, namely how Naomi pushes her daughter-in-law Ruth, a foreigner, into a sexual encounter with Boaz, the wealthy landowner who holds the keys to their survival.  

I do not mean to villainize any of these women, but I do want to explore their full humanity and offer them both my critique and my compassion.

Women Rise Up combines your gifts as a compelling storyteller, a creative Bible teacher, and a social justice activist. Which biblical stories resonate most with your personal story?

I probably most resonate with Martha of Bethany. I’m naturally a doer and inclined to overwork. And I also have no problem letting folks know that I think a particular situation is unjust! She brings her complaints to Jesus on multiple occasions, which in my view demonstrates the strength of their friendship.

How did your seminary course on “Gender, Sex, and Power in the Books of Ruth and Esther” inform your reading of the story of Ruth and Naomi? Do you relate to them when they have to simultaneously resist and comply with the patriarchal norms of their time?

The Book of Ruth was one I have long cherished, but this class helped me see how differently Ruth is treated by the author. Repeatedly we are reminded that Ruth was a foreigner and thus excluded from full participation in the society. Again, I see Ruth and Naomi as fully human and in a dire situation–as widows they have no access to resources except through the (perhaps) benevolence of a man. In order to earn his favor, however, Ruth must make herself sexually available to him at great risk to her personal safety, not to mention her emotional well-being.

How do the messages women often get in church make them feel they have to find a way to be like Martha and Mary at the same time? Have you felt this way?

In my experience in church, women are expected to do the mundane work of daily life–cooking, cleaning, caring for the sick and the young–while also dedicating ample time to their spiritual lives. No matter which piece they are tending to, they are told they ought to be doing the other–all while smiling and not complaining. I always wished that Jesus would have offered to give Martha a hand with whatever she was doing.

How do you connect the story of Mary Magdalene to the widespread sexualization of women and girls today?

Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, and yet nearly every reference to her in popular culture is rooted in the mythology of her being a prostitute, which was a falsehood created by a Pope over a thousand years ago.

One of the fastest ways to shut a woman up or make a girl feel small is to attack her body. An observation or even an accusation about a woman’s sexuality shifts the attention away from the fullness of her power. We see this in the problematic legacy of Mary Magdalene, which my book strives to correct.

You mention being open to the movement of the Spirit “who uncovers new revelations from the pages of these ancient texts.” What is one new revelation you had as you were writing this book?

Even the shortest of texts can have most profound insights if we would only spend the time allowing it to emerge.

In your book you point out that current-day women around the world still experience many of the injustices that biblical women suffered. How do you see your generation moving forward on the work of gender justice?

I see my generation taking a much more intersectional approach to gender justice. We see the connections between systems of oppression, and we refuse to address them in piecemeal ways. The work is more complex and more difficult–and the “wins” are fewer–but we see that this is the only way that we can find true liberation.

What’s one question about your new book you’d like to answer that I didn’t ask?

“Tell me about your grandmother Honey.” Honey was a humble, loving woman. She was small in stature and an amazing golfer. And she always made me feel like the most important person in the room. When I went to visit her, she always had a candy bar for me. She gently introduced me to God and to the Bible, and for that I will forever be grateful. Honey, I hope I make you proud!

 

Rev. Katey Zeh

Rev. Katey Zeh is a nationally-recognized advocate for gender justice. Her writing about faith and gender has appeared in Huffington Post, Sojourners, and Religion Dispatches, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Nation, and Colorlines. The Center for American Progress named her one of their top justice-seeking faith leaders to watch. Rev. Zeh is also an ordained Baptist minister and the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast about faith, friendship, and feminism. She lives in North Carolina with her husband Matt and their daughter Samantha. Find her at www.kateyzeh.com or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook at @KateyZeh.

 

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Sophia the Goose: Guest Post by Rev. Sarah Wells Macias, preacher, pastoralist, eco-theologian, and environmental activist

Rev. Sarah Wells Macias

At a recent Equity for Women in the Church event, focused on ecowomanism, my friend Sarah Macias told me a fascinating story from her life and work on Sister Grove Farm in Van Alstyne, Texas. An ordained minister, Sarah is one of the leaders of the Alliance of Baptists Creation Justice Community with a mission of encouraging churches to model ecological responsibility and join voices as a collective Christian witness for just relations among all of creation. I invited Sarah to write this guest post.

“You can have that goose if you can catch her. No charge.” We had come to buy twelve heirloom chickens so this offer shortly after we met Joe, our poultry farmer friend, caught us by surprise.

We looked at each other with puzzled expressions. What would we do with a goose? Is there a reason he doesn’t want her? Why is she free?

“If you can catch her” was the only condition and as our thoughts were racing with questions and suspicions, the goose walked directly and deliberately into a doghouse. She was contained. We had “caught her.”

Her calm and confident demeanor remained intact as she was then transferred into a crate. We loaded her up along with the chickens, and all soon headed home to Sister Grove Farm.

With this unanticipated passenger, we suddenly had a dilemma. The decision had already been made to name the chickens after our favorite female eco-theologians and Biblicists – so we knew there would be a Rosemary and a Sallie; an Ellen and Elizabeth, etc…. But, what to call a goose?

Knowing that the wild goose is the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit due to its wild and unpredictable nature, we often stop in reverence to their honking as they fly over our farm. We love watching them as they migrate to their various seasonal dwelling places.

But this soft, gray-feathered creature, that Joe estimated to be about three years old, is a Toulouse Goose and they tend to stay close to home. Like the chickens, the Toulouse are a heritage breed; hardy and disease resistant but threatened with extinction by modern agriculture; kind of like the divine feminine. Her name then became clear to us – she would be Sophia. And so, we headed to the farm with Lady Wisdom in the back of the pickup.

In fact, it could be that both modern agriculture and modern religion could benefit from a dose of her wisdom.

In the decades since World War II, small farms that have been in families for generations have been displaced by large, industrial farms. Corporate supported monocrop production, which depletes soil and water health, has come to dominate our rural landscapes and our grocery shelves have become stocked with processed, food-like substances. Paradoxically, both childhood hunger and obesity have become the norm from this dysfunctional system.

As families have been forced to leave the farm, our society has become more transient. Less attached to the places we live, we now shop around for a church, if we go at all. A spiritual consumerism has resulted in menus of programs and services offered often by super-size churches. Anonymity is easy to find here as is a homogeneity of congregants with little need to engage in understanding or even listening to people who think differently.

Meanwhile, Sophia is calmly getting to know her new place and community at Sister Grove Farm – the orchard, pasture, and our two ponds. She has even been getting to know the neighbors recently. She was at the Martins next door for a couple of days on their pond, along with a heron. We know Jerry and LaMerle Martin because they go to our church. Today we found her on the Duggars’ place. They have ducks. I don’t really know them; don’t know where, or if, they even go to church.

 

 

 

 

I have missed seeing Sophia the last few mornings with my coffee after her early swim but am comforted that she is close by. Unlike the Canadian geese, she is not wild, nor does she fly far away. She will come home but perhaps home is not only this address but those adjacent to me and maybe even those to them. Perhaps home is community – wherever we are. Perhaps there is a wisdom in staying put but not insulated; being neighborly and getting to know the community of creatures with whom we share our place.

It is my opinion and experience that the healthiest communities are those that are diverse; whether as crops in the field, animals in the barnyard, or people in the pew. Nature does not thrive as a monoculture. The same could be said for our understandings of God.

The divine can never be captured in one christology. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out – “God is male!” “No, God is female!” – they fly over to the neighbor’s pond because the divine can never actually be “caught,” confined, or limited. Our christologies can though, when they feel threatened enough to dominate and silence others as the exclusively patriarchal images have done – to the detriment of men, women, children, earth, and even God.

Sophia christology is inclusive of others. Her wisdom is patient and comes from a source as old as the cosmos yet is as fresh as the beginning of a new creation. It is holistic, recognizing the biodiversity of true relationships that connect rather than false boundaries that divide.

Christ-Sophia celebrates the male, female, and queer enfleshment of God in all things, which has been present since the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

It is in the soil and the water from which all life is formed. It is in in the bread and wine from which all life is sustained. It is in you and me, in the places we call home, and in our neighbors, who may live across the fence but sit beside us at the table.

Which reminds me… I need to go meet the Duggars.

Rev. Sarah Wells Macias

Sarah Macias is an ordained Baptist minister with a background in eco-theology and a calling towards agricultural ministry. She and her husband, Rodney, live on Sister Grove Farm in Van Alstyne, Texas in an 1859 historic farmhouse. Through implementation of regenerative agricultural practices they hope to rebuild soil health, restore native prairie grasses, and promote a diversity of plant and animal species. They are also developing a small retreat center where individuals, groups, and families can reconnect with the land.

 

 

 

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Blessed Easter! “Rise Up, O People, Proclaim Christ-Sophia Has Risen”

Christ-SophiaLife triumphs over death. Christ-Sophia is risen. The all-inclusive love of Christ-Sophia brings new life. Rise up! Claim the new life Christ-Sophia offers! Proclaim Christ-Sophia is risen!

“Christ-Sophia” is the central divine symbol in this hymn. “Christ-Sophia” symbolizes all-inclusive love and life. This symbol holds power for inspiring social justice through shared power and fulfilling the biblical promise of new creation.  “Christ-Sophia” resurrects a lost biblical symbol and offers new possibilities for wholeness by making equal connections between genders, races, and religious traditions, thus providing a foundation for communities based on partnership instead of domination. Sophia, the Greek word for “Wisdom,” is a resurrected biblical female divine image that opens new possibilities for justice, liberation, and new life.

New Testament writers link Christ to Wisdom, a female symbol of Deity in the Hebrew Scriptures. Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew) symbolizes creative, redemptive, and healing power. In their efforts to describe this same power in Christ, the apostle Paul and other New Testament writers draw from the picture of Wisdom. The apostle Paul refers to Christ as the “power of God and the Wisdom (Sophia in the Greek language of the New Testament) of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24), and states that Christ “became for us Wisdom (Sophia) from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The book of Proverbs describes Wisdom as the “way,” the “life,” and the “path” (4:11,22,26).  The Gospel of John refers to Christ as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). There are many more connections between Christ and Sophia in Scripture and Christian tradition. Origin, one of the earliest Christian writers, declared Sophia to be the most ancient and appropriate title for Jesus. Bringing this biblical connection of Sophia and Christ to our worship can inspire powerful partnerships that contribute to peace and justice in our world.

The new linguistic symbol of “Christ-Sophia” awakens the imagination to the continual birthing that takes place through creation and resurrection. “Christ-Sophia” inspires hope that biblical female names for the Divine, killed by patriarchy, can rise again to join with other biblical divine names to bring new power and wisdom. “Christ-Sophia” gives rise to a living faith. “Christ-Sophia” frees us from narrow ways of thinking and challenges us to new ideas and new ways of being. “Christ-Sophia” empowers us to make the vision of the new creation a reality.

Hymn Lyrics:

Rise up, O people, proclaim Christ-Sophia has risen,
raising the buried and opening the doors to all prisons.
Rise up and shine! Lighting the pathway divine,
as we declare this true vision.
 
Take heart, O daughters, behold, Christ-Sophia brings healing;
sons, lift your eyes and find health in this sacred revealing.
Claim life anew! Earth’s richest beauty renew,
showing a way so appealing.
 
Come now, O sisters, and join Christ-Sophia in daring.
Brothers, join in and lay down heavy burdens you’re bearing.
Come, one and all!  Follow the life-giving call,
changing the world through deep caring.
 
Sing a new song and rejoice, Christ-Sophia adoring,
glory and freedom within and around us restoring.
Sing, for the Light comes to revive truth and right;
now radiant spirits are soaring.
 

Video Credits:

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006). For permissions, contact Jann Aldredge-Clanton. See additional inclusive music for all ages.

Performed by: Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina. Conductor: Rev. Larry E. Schultz

Visual Artists:

Alice Heimsoth: two photos inside Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco, and two photos from “Sisters Stepp’in Pride” events. © Alice Heimsoth. Used with permission.

Pam Allen: “Mary Magdalene and Butterflies” © Pam Allen. Used with permission.

Mirta Toledo: “Sophia” © 2003 Mirta Toledo. Used with permission.

Bridget Mary’s Blog: two photos from Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

Mary Plaster: “Sophia, Divine Wisdom” © 2003 Mary Plaster. Used with permission.

David Clanton: photo of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Chancel Choir, Orchestra, & Congregation © David M. Clanton. Used with permission.

Recorded by: Ward Productions, Pinehurst, North Carolina

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Sing and Celebrate the Prophet Huldah

image of Huldah by James C. Lewis

Maybe you grew up in church hearing about Huldah, but I didn’t. During Women’s History month and throughout the year, we can celebrate Huldah and other unsung women leaders in Scripture. To reclaim some of these prophetic women, I have written songs featuring them.

When I discovered the Hebrew prophet Huldah, I felt immediately drawn to her and saddened that her story has been ignored. Not only is her story in the Bible, but she is the first authority on what should go in the Bible.

Recently as I’ve been writing songs to honor women leaders in Scripture and other prophetic women leaders, I wanted to write about Huldah, one of my favorites. But at first I wondered if the name “Huldah” would sing. Then the hymn tune, “Restoration,” came to me as a good vehicle for singing “Huldah” and her remarkable story. You may know this tune through the hymn “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.” Here is “Sing a Song of the Prophet Huldah,” celebrating her story seldom told.

Sing a Song of the Prophet Huldah
2 Kings 22:13-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-33

Sing a song of the prophet Huldah, lifting up her voice of power;
she began the holy canon; sacred Word with Huldah flowered.   Refrain

Hokmah Wisdom guided Huldah, speaking boldly without fear;
king and priests consulted Huldah, claimed her words for all to hear.   Refrain

Now reclaim the women prophets, rising up from sacred page;
follow Huldah and all prophets, speaking truth from age to age.       Refrain

Refrain:

Now we will honor the prophet Huldah, singing her story seldom heard;
first to name a book as Scripture, she declared the holy Word.

Words © 2016 Jann Aldredge-Clanton                     RESTORATION

image of Huldah by Elspeth Young

Although we seldom hear about the prophet Huldah in sermons and Sunday school lessons, she is the first authority on what should go in the Bible. Huldah begins the biblical canon with her validation of an ancient scroll, probably an early form of the book of Deuteronomy, as the divine word.

For The CEB Women’s Bible, I wrote a portrait of Huldah. Although Jeremiah had been prophesying for five years, the high priest Hilkiah and other officers of King Josiah chose Huldah as the most reliable prophet in Israel to determine if the recovered “Instruction scroll” was the authentic word of God. King Josiah told his royal officials to ask God about the scroll, and they consulted the prophet Huldah, who pronounced it to be God’s word.

image of Huldah by Julie Duschack

Huldah clearly spoke for God with authority, just as other biblical prophets did. The biblical evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the role of prophet was open to women on an equal basis with men. The narrators of Kings and Chronicles express no surprise over Huldah’s gender. When Huldah validated the scroll, she confirmed King Josiah’s fears about the disaster that will come to Judah. About thirty years later, Huldah’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Huldah authorized the first document that would become the core of Scripture for Judaism and Christianity. Significantly, Huldah, guided by Divine Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew), marks the beginning of the biblical canon.

In her book Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel, Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney further elucidates the importance of Huldah. She “is the only female prophet whose oracle the Hebrew Bible preserves in the standard ‘so says YHWH’ form,” Dr. Gafney writes. “She is the prophetic authority behind the reform usually attributed to Josiah.” The high priest Hilkiah and other officers of King Josiah chose Huldah over Jeremiah, “not as a last resort,” but because they preferred her. “The language of the text implies that the service of female prophets was commonplace and required no special introduction or accommodation.”

Then why is a book of Jeremiah included in the biblical canon and not a book of Huldah? Dr. Gafney comments on this exclusion of Huldah:

Huldah was a court prophet employed by Josiah’s administration, living in Jerusalem; yet her male contemporaries who were not court prophets had significant collections of their oracles preserved. Huldah’s case demonstrates both an apparent lack of gender bias on the part of the king and priests who consulted her (including the high priest) and the appearance of bias on the part of the tradition preservers and shapers of the Hebrew Bible who did not conserve her broader oracular legacy. It strains credulity to believe that a temple-sanctioned court prophet uttered only one oracle or that the temple and/or royal scribes failed to record her oracles. She is arguably the first person to grant authoritative status to the Torah scroll deposited in the temple treasure. That scroll is largely understood to have been the heart of the Deuteronomistic corpus.

Huldah, like many other biblical women, has not been given the credit she deserves. The fact that God gave authority to Huldah to pronounce the first official statement of scriptural authority demonstrates that the divine intention is—and has always been—for women to hold authority as spiritual leaders.

How sad that a book of Huldah is not included in the biblical canon! Through our stories and songs, however, we can help reclaim Huldah’s remarkable contributions to our faith.

 

 

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Celebrating Julian of Norwich

During Women’s History Month and throughout the year, women deserve recognition for their important contributions to church and society. Too often, women leaders have been ignored in church history. In an effort to reclaim and draw inspiration from some of these women, I have written songs highlighting their prophetic ministries. The songs celebrate the power of the Female Divine proclaimed and embodied by these women leaders.

 

One of these songs features Julian of Norwich, a medieval Christian mystic and theologian. The song “Julian of Norwich Reveals Wisdom’s Way,” sung to the tune of “Be Thou My Vision,” draws from her visions of the Female Divine that continue to expand our spirituality.

 

 

 

Julian of Norwich Reveals Wisdom’s Way
Proverbs 3:13-18, 4:8-9

Julian of Norwich reveals Wisdom’s way,
showing us visions for our current day,
visions of love bringing all into one,
beauty from dawning to setting of sun.

Julian sees Wisdom, Great Mother of All,
sending us power to take down each wall,
changing the world with Her kindness and grace,
opening all doors for each gender and race.

Now Sister Julian inspires us to grow,
reaching our fullness of creative flow;
joined with Sophia, our Wisdom and Friend,
we claim our wholeness, our life without end.

Still Sister Julian reveals mystic dreams,
wellsprings of healing from Earth’s sacred streams.
All shall be well, and all things shall be well;
justice and peace shall forever prevail.

Words © 2017 Jann Aldredge-Clanton                             SLANE

Thomas Merton called Julian of Norwich “one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices” and the “greatest English theologian.” But there is still little known for certain about her life.

For centuries the church ignored Julian of Norwich (c.1342-c.1416) and her remarkable writings. She wrote theology in a time when the church did not recognize women as preachers or theologians. Also, church leaders may have disregarded Julian because she wrote about her revelations of the Female Divine. Sadly, many churches today still refuse to accept women leaders and discount revelations of the Female Divine in Scripture, Christian tradition, and Christian experience.

Rediscovered in the early 20th century, Julian of Norwich, an anchoress and mystic, proclaims a Christian feminine divinity. Her Revelations of Divine Love, based on a series of sixteen visions she received when she was thirty years old, is the first theological book in the English language known to be written by a woman.

Julian’s vision of the Trinity includes the Female Divine: “God, Almighty, is our kindly Father; and God, All-Wisdom, is our kindly Mother; with the Love and the Goodness of the Holy Ghost, which is all one God.” Julian explains her vision of the all-inclusiveness of the Divine: “As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother.” God is the “Goodness of the Fatherhood,” the “Wisdom of the Motherhood,” and the “Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love.”

Julian’s visions reveal a Deity who can be called “Mother” as well as “Father.” Julian sees the Motherhood of God as threefold: Creator, Sustainer, and Teacher. God gives birth to us; “our precious Mother, Jesus,” feeds us “with the Blessed Sacrament that is precious food of very life”; and “Our Gracious Mother” teaches us Her kindness and love. “Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

Julian rejects the image of a wrathful God, instead inviting experience of the Divine as unconditional Love and Goodness. Indicated by the title of her book, Revelations of Divine Love, Julian’s visions reveal the Divine as Love. Her revelations include the message that compassionate Love is always given to everyone, and that in this all-gracious God there can be no wrath. She sees only the infinite benevolence and compassion of the Divine.

Though we may feel overwhelmed by all the injustices and violence in our world today, one of Julian’s best-known sayings brings hope: “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

 

 

 

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