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Every now and then a moment comes along and it hits you – this is what it is all about.  Last week when the final stone was laid it was one of those moments.

Last Monday was the day that all the work on the stones was finished.  I hadn’t planned on being outside when the stones were actually laid into the ground but a friend needed a little fresh air so outside we went.  The day was cool, cloudy and threatening rain; for me it was a perfect day.  As we walked outside I pointed out the holes for the stones to our right, but in front of us we noticed a purple and white banner on the quad.   Neither of us quite knew what it was for but it seemed interesting.

We continued our conversation as we began to watch what was unfolding – it was a ceremony by the Native Americans Students at Syracuse (NASAS). As they began their celebration of song and dance I heard noise coming from the area where the stones where.  The stones were going into the ground at that moment.  I struck me then.  I was standing at a point of convergence.  I was in front of the Chapel, a place most associated with Abrahamic religions and at the same time witnessing traditional Native American ceremony through song and dance while a stone circle was being laid for Pagan gatherings.  Hendricks truly is a place of interfaith dynamics; a home for all faiths and a place for all people.

Not one of these things took precedent over the other.  The Chapel, the stones and the dance all had equal value and all were living in harmony with one another in the same virtual space. Isn’t this what true respect and diversity is supposed to be?  I believe so.

A few days later I was asked a question that I had never been asked before: “When people bring their religions and traditions to a new land how do they reconcile and respect the spirits of the land who are already there?”  I thought about it for only a second reflecting on the events of the previous Monday and my response was easy.  You ask permission.  When I began the process of requesting the stones seven years ago I did two things.  The first was in the original proposal I simply stated that the University has a unique and solid connection to Scotland and while all cultures in one way or another have some sort of connection to stones and megaliths Scotland’s connection is special.  Scotland has more standing stones and stone circles than any other country in the world.  How better to honor the University’s connection to Scotland than through stones. The second thing I did was I began to ask permission of the land here in Syracuse to allow this to happen.

When the holes for the stones were being dug a contingent from Lockerbie Scotland was on campus for Remembrance Week.  A coincidence that had nothing to do with the stones being brought to campus.  When the stones were being laid the Mohawk group Kanienkehaka Ratirennenhawi danced their song on the quad only yards away.  I believe both events blessings underscoring that all connections and energies were in complete agreement – it is time we lay aside differences and see what can bring us together to make us better in this world.

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Today is a day for dreams.  Today is the day a dream of mine became reality and it is the day that new dreams are to be born.  Today is the day that a circle of stones, dedicated to the religious gathering of Pagans, was created at Syracuse University.

Seven years ago I wasn’t the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  There was no Pagan Chaplain, but I was the religious advisor for the student Pagans on campus and at that time I had a vision where the students would have a place of their own.  It didn’t have to be exclusive, in fact I didn’t think it should be.  Rather it needed to be a stone circle where they could observe ritual, meet with friends or do whatever.  This needed to be a place where they could feel the energy of their gods and their beliefs – a place where they would be reminded that they did matter.

Seven years ago I requested a stone circle to be built on campus.  For seven years I would periodically bring the subject up to those that needed to be reminded that Pagans did not have a place of their own like other faiths.  For seven years energy was built to push a dream forward and for seven years the ancestors watched and waited.  After seven years the energy culminated and the ancestors were heard.  I was asked to resubmit the proposal and all agreed that a circle would be built.

What changed in that seven years?  My position changed from advisor to Chaplain and with that a voice formerly foreign at the religious table was now heard. A new Dean at the Chapel was introduced.  The previous Dean had welcomed Pagans to the Chapel but it was the current Dean that understood the need for place. What changed was Pagans became recognized as valuable members of the religious makeup of the University deserving the same respect as any other faith tradition.

Yes, today is a day of dreams.  The stone circle doesn’t look like the stone circles created so long ago.  There are no standing stones familiar to so many.  There are only four stones – a stone at each cardinal point creating a 20’ inner circle.  The stones are large and made of blue stone, imbedded in the ground laying flush with the earth.  They needed to be unobtrusive, reflective of landscape and useable.  They are altar stones and any tradition, Pagan or otherwise, will be able to use them.  The dream came to life today when four stones were laid.

However, the laying of these stones is not the end of the dreams.  It’s the beginning of dreams.  A place for the seeds of possibility to break through and find sunlight to help them grow.  For many the creation of this circle seemed like a natural process and in many ways it was. When the voice of the ancestors sang once again those ready to hear their story listened and all barriers became non-existent. This was the right thing to do, this was the right day to do it and on this Samhain the ancestors will be honored in their stone circle.

Today I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with both the awe that I feel when I realize what has happened but also at the thought of what will be the next dream to come to life.

There are days when I have to laugh at how we all understand each other. For a very long time I was the newest Chaplain and with that designation came certain nervousness about finding my way and offending anyone. That is over. I’m no longer the newbie in the bunch. That is someone else and to be honest in one way it’s funny to watch. I mean heck, I’m the Pagan how could I make the new Christian feel nervous? Well…

I have always been the only one here on Mondays. Most of the other Chaplains take the day off because they work on Sunday. So it is a little odd to have other people in the office on Monday now. Nice but odd and I’m finding it to be amusing. This morning our newest Chaplain wanted to make sure that I had read the email regarding some “redecorating” that was going on. I hadn’t read it only because I hadn’t received it. She was confused, she had sent it to my email she thought and I should have had it last week. Unfortunately it was the wrong email so I never saw it. Once she found that out she began to explain what we are doing, nothing big, but she wanted to make sure I didn’t feel left out. I didn’t and I’m fine with what the changes are. After our conversation ended I was continuing on with my morning routine of reading and catching up on stuff. That’s right, just stuff.

oreosThere is a website I love called Thug Kitchen. If you haven’t read it you should. It is just fun, but it can be a little raw at times. So I had just finished reading the latest post of stories about meals that have gone terribly wrong. I mean terribly wrong. I was in shock at the last one it was so funny but at that very moment my colleague, the new Chaplain, walked in and offered me coffee and Oreos. Now I had just read this post, was offered food and couldn’t help myself. I said thank you and then told her that I didn’t think she was someone who offended easily and wondered if that was true. At that moment the conversation became humorous.

Her face was blank; she didn’t look like she knew how to respond. And she agreed that she didn’t really offend easily and I explained that I thought she would find the stories (yes some of them were about college students) hilarious. She relaxed and laughed. She had the horrible thought that an offer of coffee and Oreos was code to Pagans for some strange sex ritual and that she had offended me! All could do was laugh. Now I’ll be the first to say that I am huge on language and how we need to modify how it is used to be more inclusive. However, I have to say that I’m not aware of a bizarre coffee and Oreo ritual at this time. We did laugh about it but it made me chuckle about how much the rest of the world doesn’t know about what we do.

This did make me think though. Maybe I need to do another Ritual of Understanding so that people begin to familiarize themselves with our practices. Maybe I should invite them all to Pagan Pride Day festivals. After all they really are about educating non-Pagans. Or maybe I should give the newbie a break and bring her peanut butter cookies and cocoa instead with a note that this is what we use in those odd rituals late at night!

And no, there was no offense. Just good laughter and learning that we are both human.

A day of possibilities is here.  It’s the first day of the academic year and students are attending the first classes of the semester.  Tonight is also the first meeting of the Pagan students for the year as well.  I look forward to this time because it is a time full of wonder, excitement and the knowledge that anything is possible. It is the last that I love more than anything.

So what do I have in mind for this year?  I’m not sure about the definitive but I do know the possibilities:

  1. Finish my bulletin board (it may not seem like a lot but trust me it is)!
  2. Participate in at least two interfaith events on campus.  This will be fun and I’m already working on it.
  3. Figure out fundraising – This one is actually very important.  Every other religious organization or church has on going funding from their larger denomination or sponsoring church.  I would like to see that happen here in order to better serve the students.
  4. Finish a few writing projects.  Some are about the Chaplaincy and some are not.
  5. Write my blog more!  This is actually the number two priority – write here at least once a week.  The number one priority is actually:
  6. Teach what I can to the students and find others qualified to teach them what I cannot.  I only know what I know and that is all.  There is so much in this to offer and give to the students that I am continuously looking for new and different people to introduce them to and in the process new and differing views on faith, belief and themselves.

So let’s take this journey of possibility together.  Keep me on track where you can and in the end we will end up in a much better place than we started because we worked together.

And if you want to help out with getting the fundraising part started right away you can always go to our Contribute page.

Yesterday was a day of disbelief – it will remain that for quite some time.

As I read the headline for the first time I didn’t understand it. I had to read it again and again and again; but it sank in and I got it.  A most horrific event had occurred and the innocents of the world had paid the ultimate price for the anger and mental state of another.  They were dead. I was numb. The conversation in my shop was continuing. I was the only one who had read the headline and I couldn’t bring myself to repeat it.  Not at that moment, not until everyone left and it was just I and my friend across the room.  It was then that I said the words, whatever words they were, that told her of the tragic events unfolding in Newton, Connecticut.

Moments later a Facebook post from one of my students; this was only 15 minutes from where she lives.  Then another post, and another, and another; they continued to one after the other.  Disbelief, grief, sadness, shock; there are no words to describe how everyone felt, how we feel.  Words of comfort and consolation sent out from one person to the next. Virtual hugs and messages of mourning and love were little to console the madness of the day.  I lit a candle.

emma

It seems such a small gesture but for me it was the only thing I could do at the moment.  A candle lit so that the ancestors could lead the nation’s babies to their place among them.  This way they would not be struggling in the dark trying to find their way alone.  The light would help them; it would help me. I always tell everyone to take care of yourself first then you are able to take care of others.  This I needed to do for me.

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and many more things than these few definitions.  I am flesh and blood and the sea of emotion inside me is deep.  It is the same with everyone I know.  There are times when the care givers need to take care as well, and so the candle was lit.  It was a single act and now I move forward to try to make sense of an event that is beyond the darkest recesses of the mind.  Now I take on that other role, the one that I wrap the title Chaplain around.  It is time for the Priestess to come forward and to help walk the bright souls through the veil as they need to and to hold the individuals left behind in universal arms to console their grief.

It makes no difference if you knew the victims of yesterday’s tragedy the grief and loss of so many is overwhelming.  It is the grief for lost innocence, for babies who will no longer be able to look at the world in wonder, wondering when senseless violence will end, for the lost respect for life and for so much more.  We as the human race lost so much yesterday I believe it is time to rethink what we value and what we want to leave our children as a legacy to be proud of.

These are my grandbabies: Emma, Logan and Isla.  They are beautiful and full of life. I cannot imagine loganwhat life would be like without them around and I grieve for what the parents of the children in Newtown are going through.  But I make a promise to my three grandbabies to make this world better.  I promise to work so that no other parents or children have to endure this type of pain and that when they are old and have grandbabies of their own they can be proud of the changes that came about because a few people decided that the world needed to be safe.

islaDo I know what that means? No, but I do know that if we do not begin to value life more than a trip to the mall on Black Friday then as a caring people we are doomed.  If we do not care enough for our children to disengage from a culture which glorifies violence more babies will die.  If we decide to not change then we decide that money and guns are our gods and that life in all its forms means nothing. Only the powerful and the feared will walk this land but never feeling quite safe.

I challenge all of you to make the same promise to someone you love.  Maybe, just maybe, if we all make such a promise the world can become a better place.

It has been a rough week, an enlightening week.  I thank everyone that has listened because this was not an easy journey that I walked but I did it knowing that all of you are here.  I know that what I do is worth it because we are worth it and parts of the world need to know that there are others who have voices that will never be silenced.  Every last one of you inspires me to move forward, you are why I do what I do.

So, what next; in all fairness what comes next is sharing the perspectives that I received from this experience and what the few positives were.  So here goes:

  1. Janice Jones – my roommate from Wales.  She allowed me a voice when I felt I had none.  She listened, was compassionate and understood my frustrations.  She is from Prifysgol Glyndwr University, Wrexham.  Send her a note if you think of it and acknowledge the kindness she showed me.
  2. There is something I need to do, or at least needs to be done, with the young women of Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC.  I’m not sure what it is, but I am sure that it will manifest itself eventually.
  3. The Air Force – believe it or not even though their language was embedded in Christianity they were the most open-minded group that I encountered.  I can’t fault them for the language, it is all they know and they are willing to be educated.  I spoke with them the first evening and expressed a desire to talk to them about their stone circle.  The end result was an agreement to an ongoing discussion after the conference and a possible trip to the Academy to visit the circle and see what they have done.  In all honesty, the military was not what I expected to be the highlight and they turned out to be. Oh and I am getting a copy of their Religious Respect curriculum in order to understand what they teach their cadets.
  4. What to do in the future – this is the question that faces me now and this is what I think…

I just ran the gauntlet; I hadn’t intended to, but I did.  The wounds to my mind are fresh and the bruises on my soul have barely started turning color but my  soul and the beliefs I hold in my heart are intact.  It’s time to breathe deep and move forward and forward will take me to many places; I just have to start by taking one step.  I’ve done that by looking for positive from this experience.  With that, I think that a symposium centered on minority religions, religious tolerance, and listening to the marginalized on how best to respect them is in my future.  Leaving the dogma behind it is time we remember that we were all born with two ears and one mouth. People in the majority need to quit telling others how to be “integrated” and start listening to what people in the minority are saying.  They would be amazed at what they hear.

I found the following on YouTube today.  Let’s just say it’s how I feel, it speaks to what is in my heart and hopefully it will help you understand what keeps me moving forward. Thank you Bill, Kate, Kurt and everyone else; this is for you.

http://youtu.be/13dsYEOi5TY

There was only one session yesterday, I wasn’t sure I was going to stick around to even have breakfast let alone attend any workshops, but I gave it a go.  I had wanted to talk to the Dean of Hendricks Chapel to let her know my opinion of the conference, I figured these guys could feed me breakfast, and besides I needed to talk to the Air Force again.

Breakfast was quiet, I ate alone but I suppose that might have been due in part to the energy of “leave me alone” that I was exuding.  I wanted no one here to talk to me.  Almost every time someone had spoken to me the day before I had become more and more horrified and I just did not want to deal with that again.  That’s right, it wasn’t just the workshops/seminars but it was everything; especially when I was assumed one thing based on looks rather than actual discussion.  This is where privilege of the majority comes into play and assumptions are made about those by that majority.  You see, I don’t dress in all black long flowing skirts, I don’t drip pentacles that could be used as weapons and hinder me from walking forward due to their weight, I don’t do goth makeup, nor do I drag a broom and cauldron around behind me with a black cat continuously rubbing up against my legs.  In other words I don’t look like a stereotype; I look like a normal member of society.  Here the norm is Christian, therefore I look like a Christian.  Sure, that’s what I look like.  So I shouldn’t have been confused when I was asked if I would like to attend the WSCF meeting.  I had no idea what that was, I smiled and said maybe.

The invitation was extended by a woman who I had talked to the night before for over an hour, in the conversation stating that I was the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  The questions were interesting, like “so what issues do you get to deal with being a Pagan Chaplain”? My answer, the same issues that all Chaplains deal with if they are working with students.  I am not different from any one else.  So it was interesting that after that hour-long discussion she extended this offer for me to attend and get involved in WSCF.  Then I found out what that is: World Student Christian Federation.  I’m not sure on what planet this woman was from.  Either she completely did not listen to the hour-long conversation we had, OR she thought it would be good for me and my kind if I promoted Christianity around the world.  I’m still confused and a little horrified.  It was about then that I really decided not to talk to anyone about my faith tradition or who I represent.

So, the session I decided to attend was regarding Liturgical Hospitality.  It was all about food, setting a table literally that would be welcoming to all without offending any so that different groups could share a meal and get to know each other better.  It was an interesting topic, one that was “safe” to attend because it was about food more than it was about religion or trying to accommodate the other.  Unfortunately the speaker asked that we break into small groups to discuss experiences when we might have seen this go right and also horribly wrong.  The wrong was easy, the assumptions made in a Western cultural context did not pan out for most when working with other cultures or societies.  The comments were interesting in our group.  The “what went right” was also simple.  Accommodation can be an easy task when thought about.  But it was the last comment made by the gentleman in our group that took me back.  He simply stated: “This is good and I don’t mind accommodating, but when is my turn.  I feel like a victim because not accommodates me.”

No one accommodates me?  The voice of privilege has spoken and it asked: as a white, Christian, male when will someone accommodate my needs and serve me.  I was floored.  He had to be kidding, but he wasn’t.  I kept silent; this was not a right conversation.  He was serious.

I left there and had a silent lunch.  I was still debating whether or not to pack my bags and just leave but sometimes we get a nudge in a direction that we didn’t expect.  My friend Patty had sent me a note and then a text.  The pub I had mentioned was the best in New Haven, she would be there in about 20 minutes to see me.  We had a wonderful afternoon which included great Irish food and Smithwick’s by the pint.  We caught up on a lot of things and she gave me some great advice – regardless of the experience if there is one thing, anything, that I can take away that will help me or the students or anyone I needed to stay and find it.  So, about 6 hours and several pints later I walked back to my room, cracked open a book and settled in for the night.

Today I go home and it is an ending that I welcome.  I stayed for the entire conference; trust me that wasn’t easy.  I wanted to leave and just go home but I’ll find that beautiful thing today.  One can only hope.

I have to start today by saying this: I don’t belong here and I don’t know that I, or any other minority religious person, will ever belong at this conference any time in the near future.  I make this statement because it is evident after a full day of workshops, a few discussions, and the overall reactions of the majority of participants that anyone who is not Christian is considered less than.

Yesterday morning I began with breakfast, still gauging where I fit in and decided that fitting in wasn’t the key; rather jumping in with both feet would be best and to finally decide which workshop/seminars to attend.  The first was on women’s spirituality.  It intrigued me because the description cited discussions on goddesses.  Presented by the Chaplain at a small, all-women’s college, the information was on wellness and the role of spirituality within that and how they teach interfaith understanding.   She had us introduce ourselves, including faith tradition, at the beginning of the seminar.  I suddenly became the pink elephant in the room.  When I stated I was the Pagan Chaplain she was happy and explained that there was “lots of Neo-Pagan things” in her presentation.  A picture of a May Pole dance and Goddess Discussions as a quick bullet point were as close to “lots” as it got – but it was “exciting that I was there”.  I spoke with her afterwards and she explained that the neo-pagan group was the largest religious group on campus, but they floundered because they had no guidance.  You would think that an effort would be made to find someone to help out the largest spiritual group but apparently that isn’t the case.  She mentioned maybe I could come and talk at their college – am I now the educator of the world? No, I just don’t belong here.

The second seminar was about mentoring students build their own faith tradition – sounded interesting.  It was, but the discussion soon devolved about students coming from traditions that put them in a place of being told what to believe rather than allowing them to explore.  What do we do for those students, they live their traditions as they are dictated and would never go for such a program.  The presenters for the workshop were Christian, which was not a surprise to me.  What happened though, was that I began to understand that the language used with and the education guiding most of the conference participants is by Christians for Christians and unless you accept their perspective there is no common ground for discussion.  In fact you are looked at (literally) as if you are stupid.  I have to say that no one was asked to identify their faith tradition in this seminar – the gentleman sitting next to me, just assumed that I was Christian and so the discussion we had was based in his belief that I agree with his philosophies. Trust me it was interesting, it was the second time in less than four hours that someone thought I was a Christian. I don’t belong here.

It was the third seminar that sent me over the edge.  It was on the ability to craft a common language around spirituality – the presenter’s take was no, spirituality is a word that should be done away with.  Faith, religion had to be based in long standing tradition and practices and that is what was needed to be built on in the schools so that students “have a foundation of belief.”  If that wasn’t bad enough it was the reaction of the room when she discussed the demographics of students religious identification.  Snickers were loud when she mentioned in a sarcastic tone the “other religious” designation.  It was even louder in its mocking tone when she mentioned a Jewish Wiccan Quaker student.  Three religions the student had been raised in. I was seething and so was my friend, a Protestant Chaplain, seated next to me.  I don’t belong here.

The ingrained dogma and blind self serving attitudes of many are infuriating.  This conference has been a slap to the face reminding me of the prejudice of Christians which includes the attitude of assimilating other religions so that “we can all be the same.” We aren’t all the same.  I don’t belong here. Or maybe I do, maybe I belong to be a thorn in the side of the monster, you know to kick the hornets’ nest and all that to let them know that they are not alone nor will they ever be. I may go home early, I will not out myself to anyone else here, talking is not effective, but maybe my presence is.  I know this has made an impact on those I work the closest with at the University.  They have heard my anger and how I feel at the moment about their religion.  It will make for good discussion later.

Or maybe I need to stay just a little longer so that I can explain the rest of the story of the US Air Force Academy.

 

It has been quite a while since I have paid attention to my writing.  Not because I did not want to write, but because there are times in life when there just is not enough time to do everything.  This last year has been one of those times.  Taking a short sabbatical from the blog was essential in order to give proper attention to everything else that was going on. Most specifically, I needed to pay attention to the business that funds me sufficiently so that I can continue with the chaplaincy at the University: I opened up a small store.  I can, and will, talk about it for hours and will relate a great deal of what has gone on there here in this blog as it directly relates; but first I want to discuss the conference that I am at – the 2012 Global Conference of Chaplains in Higher Education.

I drove to New Haven yesterday and had about five hours to myself to contemplate the time I would be spending here.  How many people would be here, what different religions, what countries, who would my roommate be, and most importantly how well would we all get along.  As I asked the questions I did what I always do – I looked to the clouds.  They have always told me what would be lying ahead and sure enough they did.  Despite the thunderstorm and the torrential rains the sun broke through and the drive was a pleasant one.  It was a matter of “arriving” at the other side of the storm.  When I did I saw two clouds, two people really, looking at each other.  They were slowly coming together and melding into one unified being.  I could feel the laughter coming off of them and so that is how I viewed this conference.  There would be controversy, disagreement on some issues, a torrent of emotions for many and in the end a coming together in understanding that all of this is really not about any of the individuals but rather trying to make a better place to live.

The drive finally came to an end and I was able to check into my room on campus.  The conference itself is at Yale University and that is where I’m staying.  In room, car parked for the week, and registered for the conference.  I was done with it all just in time for the welcoming reception to begin.  As I sat down with my non-alcoholic mojito (they made a very specific point there was no alcohol at the conference) I began to thumb through the program for the week when all of a sudden a gentleman bent down near me and said “Hello Mary.”  I was so surprised; it was Fritz Lampe, a Lutheran minister from Flagstaff, Arizona.  What was so significant about this is that Fritz was key to the Pagan students being recognized at Syracuse University.  He was the original person asked to be their adviser.  He would have loved to but unfortunately didn’t feel it was a good idea for his position as the Lutheran Chaplain on campus at the time.  It was because of that decision that the students found me and I became their adviser.  Fritz was always a friend and advocate for the recognition of the Pagans on campus and it was a joy to be able to reconnect with him.

I soon found all my other SU colleagues and off to dinner we went.  Dinner was nice, but the bonus prize was being able to connect with one of the US Air Force Academy Chaplains that is here.  I’ll talk more about that later, but it was a good start to the conference; a start that brought old friends together and reminded me of the very fragile beginnings of the Pagan presence on campus at SU.

We fight many battles in our life; sometimes the price seems more than anyone could bear, but we do it anyway.  Today the U.S. flag was lowered in Iraq, the battle mission complete, and I personally say thank you to all of the troops that served, their families that served with them and most certainly to those that paid the ultimate price.

Today I received an email from the office of the President, a mass mailing type email to be sure that encouraged everyone reading it to take a look at the image and the timeline of the Iraq war since he took office.  It also encouraged everyone to take a moment to say thank you to the troops and their families.  And so I opened the link to the timeline and the images, but I didn’t really care about the timeline I just wanted to look at the images and remember.  I wanted to remember because something as horrific as war should never be forgotten so that it can be repeated again.  But I have to say that I found more in those images than I thought I would.  I found a very small symbol that change is happening albeit slower than what we sometimes want.

What did I see?  I saw the gravestone of a fallen soldier, a fallen Pagan soldier.  How do I know this?  Because on this stone was a pentacle to represent his faith.  Sometimes we forget what we have fought for and what we may have to fight for in the future.  This was a reminder of why it is I do what I do.  So may the gods bless this fallen soldier who reminded me and may the gods of those who fought with him bless them as well.  I encourage you to take a look at the images regardless of your belief and remember it is the freedoms to be who we are openly that so many have paid the ultimate price. 

You can find the images at the following link:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/iraq?utm_source=email137&utm_medium=image&utm_campaign=iraq

 

 

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