Missing Babies, Feral Males, “Smokin’ Hot Wives” and Female Appointments

A little background here before I weave together some threads of thought.

Sex Selective Abortions

First, look at issue of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide. These are major issues especially in India and China.  For multiple financial and cultural reasons, many families have a strong preference for male babies over female babies.  The growing availability and affordability of ultrasound technology makes it increasingly easy to abort unwanted female fetuses.  If an unwanted one makes it to birth, the child is often abandoned and left to die.

The result is a growing disparity between the number of males and females entering adolescence and early adulthood.  In plain English, there are not enough women to go around.  Here’s an article about the situation in 2001.  By using 2001 figures (it is worse now), we can see that the situation has now manifested itself in that shortage of marriage-age females.

Feral Males

Now, has anyone besides me noted the large number of news items recently about the growing incidences of mass rapes in India?  My quick analysis:  there are bands of feral males roaming the countryside full of anger about the shortage and taking out their anger on the women they cannot have.

Women are a civilizing force, even relatively powerless women, which is very much the case in India.  The decision to radically reduce the number of female infants is contributing to the destabilization of these societies.

We all know the teen-age brain is long on impulse and short on self-control.  This is especially the case in males whose brains do show somewhat different developmental patterns than females.  Risk-taking behavior without regard to consequences characterizes much youth culture, especially male-dominated youth culture.

I predict that things are going to get much, much worse in those societies that do not have sexual parity.  Even in the unlikely hope that incidence of sex-selective abortion stops immediately, it will be at least 30 years before all this sorts itself out.  Expect immense damage and continued destabilization there.

“Smokin’ Hot Wives”

Now, let’s talk about “Smokin’ Hot Wives” for a bit.  For the last several years, young, virile, charismatic male superstar pastors have made a big deal of their “smokin’ hot wives.”  It appears to be a way to let everyone knows how sexually potent these pastors are.  Here is a great post on the situation, written by someone who himself was guilty of that demeaning stances before recognizing how very, very destructive it is.

The  phrase objectifies women, placing all their worth only on their ability to be sexually attractive.  Personally, I call it “smokin’ hot pastor porn.”  It’s the first part of the book of Esther all over again.  The foolish King Xerxes insists his beautiful wife Vashti come out and dance for his drunken cronies.  When she rightfully refuses, he deposes her for her lack of submissiveness. He then systematically searches for as many young virgins as possible so he can routinely deflower them until he finds just the one who pleases him.

I do wonder what would happen if one of those “smokin’ hot” wives were to say to her pastor husband, “You are a fool and are an embarrassment to all around.”  Except they won’t because then they, like Vashti, will be labeled as “unsubmissive” and will face just punishment.  Trust me on this one.  I know that world.

Female Appointments

Now, let us talk about the apparently growing number of churches that are saying, “We don’t want a female pastor.”  I don’t know how strong this movement is, but understand that this is a problem at least in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church.

These churches want men, preferably young, handsome and virile ones, to fill their pulpits.  These young men, especially when they’ve got their own “smokin’ hot wives” in tow, will solve the problem of depressed and declining churches.

They could very well be right.  Let’s face it:  pretty and sexy draws the crowds.  Always has, always will.  We live in a visual, consumer-driven society.  The call to well-formed characters, depth in spiritual understanding and practice, and complicated paths to discipleship that include following Jesus to the cross just do not fill worship spaces or offering plates.

Multiple sociological studies show that the young, the tall, the beautiful and handsome nearly always are hired earlier and with better pay packages than the dumpy, plump, and homely. I call this the Elephant Man syndrome: we have a very difficult time getting past the exterior.   Why? Probably because the young, tall and beautiful say, “Life is going on.  We will not die.  We will persevere.”

Here are the problems for female clergy:   First, when they are young and especially attractive, they very much get sexualized. Huge forces combine against taking them seriously as leaders. Second, these are their prime child bearing years.  Few female clergy are going to get away with what some high-powered women in industry get away with:  having babies and showing back up at work the next week without missing a step. Some of these high-powered ones even hire surrogates to bear their children for them.

Many older women, no longer facing the problems of being sexualized or needing to bear children while they can, have developed immense reservoirs of wisdom and the understanding of spiritual things.  But we have little value in a system that says, “only the young [and pretty/virile] may apply.  Frankly, older men do not face the same demeaning pressures.

This is our reality.  This becomes our cross to carry. And this becomes the church’s loss to bear.  So the church continues to move forward with surface spirituality that cracks when real life pressures hit.

Why can’t we do this in real partnership?  Male AND female?  Young AND old?  Beautiful AND plain?   Charismatic AND quiet? And, yes I will dare to mention this:  Heterosexual AND homosexual?  But all with formed characters, impeccable moral lives and unwavering love of God and neighbor?

Should we do this, we might indeed show the world that the church is a place where the kingdom of heaven is lived out.

But we don’t and we won’t.  And God’s heart breaks.

Addendum:  In Barry Weber’s comment below, he pointed me to a TED talk.  I thought it was so important that I have linked it here.

28 thoughts on “Missing Babies, Feral Males, “Smokin’ Hot Wives” and Female Appointments

  1. This was a wonderfully insightful article. The idea of sex selective abortions is sickening. Especially when i look at my children and others, realizing what a blessing they are individually and collectively. The violence against women around the world is shameful.
    Female appointments, what can i say the continued struggle of women in ministry is very real. In our conference this year there were some appointments that left people scratching their heads and wondering how qualified women and men were overlooked. In one case a PT local pastor has been appointed to a church that was previously served by elders. He is not provisonal elder, not ordained elder, and is getting a substantial boost in salary. This appointment overlooked several seasoned and recently ordained and or commissioned Elders (men and women) including his ex-wife. Sadly, i fear there is still a glass ceiling and little to no accountability.
    But by the grace of God many women and men will press on doing God’s work!

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  2. In speaking of the “immense reservoirs of wisdom and the understanding of spiritual things” that many older clergywomen possess, in spite of which they “have little value in a system that says, ‘only the young [and pretty/virile] may apply,'” you suggest that “older men do not face the same demeaning pressures.” Don’t bet on it.
    In the Texas Annual Conference, a 37-year-old male with less than 10 years of pastoral experience is being appointed as the new Senior Pastor at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston, a tall-steeple, regional megachurch, one of the 5 largest in the annual conference. Try telling the “45-60 something” males with 20 or more years of experience that their “value” in the system has not suffered a decline.
    Though it is the most egregious, this is only one example of the rampant ageism in appointment-making that is eroding the morale of male and female conference members alike.

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    1. Thanks for weighing in Keith. I am not at all surprised this type of thing is happening in the Texas Conference since their proposed “don’t bother to apply if you are over 45” document is now all over the blogosphere.

      I value our younger men and women coming into clergy orders. Their talent levels awe me and I am grateful for them. I also know how long it took me to gain wisdom, and much of it came from being sorely tested. Talent without testing is a recipe for disaster. This is why I’m calling for more partnership: together, old AND young, etc, we can do ever so much more. But shared leadership doesn’t go well with the career ladder model and the excitement of being personally recognized as “the one who grew the church.”

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    2. Keith – I don’t know the man being appointed, but I do know that there are vast numbers of older clergypersons in the 45-60 group with “immense reservoirs of wisdom and the understanding of spiritual things” that are woefully unsuited for the particular requirements of lead/senior pastor of a regional/’mega” congregation. The skill set for such a person is decidedly different than that of someone who is highly effective in a small congregation. You are simply assuming, because of seniority, the older person is better qualified. That presumption has killed many a savable congregation. It is also an ageist supposition… oh yeah, I will be 59 next week.

      Let me put this another way: I am a solo practitioner with a small law practice. I have many friends who are partners at multinational firms – I can say with some certainity that they are not temperamentally suited or prepared do what I do… and I have made peace with the fact that I am not suited to being a partner in a large firm, doing what they do. Does that make me a less valuable lawyer? No. Do I make less money? Oh my gosh, I am not even close to them.

      I would ask the question, as I asked all the candidates I worked with over 11 years as a lay member of the District Committee on Ministry: What are you called to? Are you called to your ambition or are you called to serve? Part of this whole appointive process, as flawed as it may be, is about faith. I do not pretend to say it is easy, but I’d say the standard is in the ordinand’s vows.

      “Remember that you are called
      to serve rather than to be served,
      to proclaim the faith of the church and no other,
      to look after the concerns of God above all.”

      I DO believe God is at work in the process, in the same way He is at work in MY life, in MY practice – which is MY ministry.

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      1. I agree with Don here. It’s been interesting to me to hear comments from clergy this year, regarding certain NTC appointments. Some of them to “big steeple” places, and some for younger men.

        A part of what I tell folks is: “I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally want to serve at ‘Appointment X.’ I’m not sure I have the gifts for it, and I personally vision that it’d be my worst nightmare.”

        I often ask my friends, “Do YOU want to go there?”

        Interestingly, the answer is often, “No” too!

        So, I end up reasoning, if neither of us wants “Appointment X” when why aren’t we able to just be happy for whomever gets it?

        Therefore, I don’t begrudge anybody who *does* get appointed to these places. I hope, and trust, we are sending very capable clergy to all these appointments.

        Having said all this, I *do* think there are issues related to women in ministry that still need addressing, and that’s why this is such a great blog.

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        1. I also am uninterested in one of those high-steeple appointments mainly because I know I personally don’t have the gifts for that type of church life. And I am all for those who do have those gifts moving to those places. However, it looks like those who get them are primarily those who have connections when there are others who have those gifts who are sent to appointments that are not a good fit.

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      2. Don, since I have been a clergy member of the Texas Annual Conference for 37 years, I am not “simply assuming” anything, and perhaps you shouldn’t assume that I am.

        I know all of the people involved. I know the young man being appointed. I know all of the cabinet members who made the appointment. I know the congregation fairly well. And I know several very gifted pastors in the 45-60 age range who, far from being “woefully unsuited” for the duties that would have awaited them in this position, would have served faithfully and effectively, with great wisdom, and would have borne many fruits….if they had been given a chance. Their years of experience have been preparing them for exactly this kind of appointment, and several of them were hoping to be seriously considered. Seeing a 37 year old with fewer than 10 years of experience be given the appointment was much harder than seeing someone of their own generation doing so. After all, when the pastors I’m speaking of are ready to retire or move to something less stressful, this same thirty-seven-year-old will be hitting his prime and be ready for this kind of appointment.

        Of course, my input was not sought. But if it had been, this is exactly what I would have said.

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        1. Keith, I made no assumptions at all. i didn’t say he was the only qualified candidate. I didn’t say middle-agers WEREN’T qualified: I said it was and is an ageist assumption that this young man is not the right guy for the job. Years of experience are great, but if the men and women in the Cabinet don’t see the experienced elder, in those years of experience, manifesting the gifts and graces they believe are vital, they should not choose them. Might they be excellent members of the staff, offering that wisdom and experience to that particular part of the Body of Christ? Absolutely. I will leave that to the Cabinet’s judgement.

          One of the ironies, from the beginning, of the Book of Discipline has been the veneer of ‘democracy’. It is not a democratic institution and was never really intended to be such. Elders are not called by a particular church in the Southern Baptist tradition. They are sent by their episcopal leader. That submission to the direction of the bishop is, I believe, part of the faith basis of the connectional church. An elder is guaranteed an appointment because of her/his faithful submission to the leadership of the episcopacy. I personally think that this is not an accident, nor is an oppressive patriarchal structure foisted upon ______ (women, ethnic minorities, the young, the old, the GLBTIQ, those with special needs – OK, fill in the blank with any thing other than ‘virile, successful white male’). God calls us to relationship with Him and He calls us to have faith in Him. My translations of the Lord’s prayer use “Thy/Your”, not “My”, when talking about whose will and kingdom I am seeking. My job is to remain faithful…

          I understand ordained clergy have their own views about who ‘should’ get certain appointments. I know they think some are HUUUUGE mistakes, some are brokered deals and some are racist, ageist misogynist abuses of power. I am at a church where the pastor is STILL considered an outsider by some in the NTC because he was brought in from … the Texas Conference… at the tender age of 36… to lead what many consider to be a NTC regional “mega” church (wow, sounds familiar). What I can tell you is, 17 years later, ithat the young man made some mistakes, made some some great moves, always preached from his heart in keeping with the way the Holy Spirit moved him … and did well. he developed into a leader in the NTC… Maybe the Cabinet knew what they were doing… or… perhaps the Holy Spirit actually was in the room, in their hearts and minds, prayers and actions – in short, maybe, just maybe, God IS in the process…

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  3. Christy, I look at it in a different light. I believe I can rant and rail about my ‘wisdom’, life experience and spiritual commitment, but the results (as well as the studies) show, generally, that folks like to go to church with folks with whom they share something defining/significant/important BESIDES their faith. That ‘something’ may be similar race (#1) neighborhood (#2) similar age (young families go to churches with younger clergy…), similar economic situation… and it may be similar interest in service to the poor, prison ministry, music ministry, care for others, etc. If the church is trying to reach 20-30-something “None”s, it is far more likely that a 20-30-something pastor will communicate with them in a way that is significant and accessible. Why? Because THEY – the None – is simply more likely to listen to someone who looks and sounds like them than someone who looks and sounds like their mother or father…

    I will second Eric’s comments; it IS important for us to recognize people for their skills and we need to make sure we show respect, whether professional clergy or laypersons in ministry, regardless of politics..

    Would you agree that men and women lead differently? Do you believe that it is only men who seek to have men as pastors? And perhaps you are making light of some of the demeaning pressures older men clergy DO face… like ‘why haven’t YOU gotten that big church appointment?’, ‘he’s a little “soft” – can’t handle the big stuff’ .

    There are an array of pressures on middle-aged men in all walks of life that go unexamined; it is why the deaths from suicide in the middle-aged now exceed the deaths from car accidents…. and men are 4-10 times more likely to commit suicide in that age group:

    “From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.

    The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html

    Were this gender differential reversed, do you think the medical/psychological media community would be largely ignoring it? Don’t you think OOP (Oprah/Dr. Oz/Dr. Phil) would be all over it? Hmmm…

    I am not saying that there is not much work ahead for the church… in many ways… I am heartened that we have people who are not looking for the same old solutions. I DO know that in a church which has such a challenge to grow beyond its aging base, we need to be looking for younger faces and voices. It does not mean us ‘older’ types are less relevant – it means our roles are changing.

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    1. Don, I saw that article in the NY Times about the growing suicide rate among middle-aged men and just nearly wept when I read it. Yes, there are huge pressure there. However, in the general scheme of things, older men do not get pushed aside nearly as easily as older women, who often become essentially invisible. It’s hard to conceive if you have not experienced it, but it is achingly true.

      And I also think that younger men and women need to be given important leadership roles. But as I said in the comment above, talent without testing is a recipe for disaster. This is what is concerning me greatly: many of these young men who have been sprung into the high-steeple, high-pay, high-prestige churches are getting set up for a fall. As someone on FB reminded me, that’s how Walker Railey got going.

      I again call for partnership, rather than the sole star. It is a far more biblical model, and gives structure for more accountability. But shared leadership and career ladders don’t go well together.

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  4. I think the United Methodist Church (at least) has been trying for several decades to have its cake and eat it, too. We will be BOTH large with lots of members and lots of money and therefore cater to camera-ready male pulpit masters; AND we will be world-transforming, high-commitment, and diverse which doesn’t bring in as many people. If Christy’s right, we don’t and we won’t.

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  5. Excellent points eric- where I am the spouse usually the female spouse is expected to be at her husband’s side, and as usual teach the kids, play the piano, lead the UMW etc. and not only are her mannerisms inspected on a regular basis but so are her clothes and there are many places like this still living in the 50s where the wife has no life of her own not to mention a career of her own. I recall when Bishop Moncure, wish he had lived longer as our Bishop, told us his wife had her own career and would be with us when she could- that was a breath of fresh air! while we can say we have 2 females on the cabinet, I am not sure how many new females will lead churches this year. There are some but many are a transfer from another church as lead pastor which of course is good. I hope and pray I live to the day when I not only see we have a woman Bishop but a woman to lead HPUMC as well and so on. Bishop Bledsoe appointed an african american female to lead St Paul UMC in Abilene, my hometown and I mean that was a break through big time!! That is a loud statement! A very conservative town, redneck, Bible belt town and a leading church in town too. Love it!!!

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  6. Christy,
    Wow. You have woven together some powerful threads in this blog. (and, btw, without even mentioning Cleveland…) Knowing men the way I do, I feel certain that many will be uncomfortable with it. Thankfully, many will not.

    But I think you’re uncovering some deeply important topics that we call need to address and be aware of.

    It seems to me the first two points are deeply linked together. (“Selective Abortion,” and “Feral Males.”) I think you’re quite likely on to something. Something horrible. I pray you’re wrong. I fear you’re not.

    But the common thread that unites all these issues, it seems to me, is what’s pointed to in the TEDx video that David offered; and I find that it’s spot-on too. A HUGE part of the problem in all four of these issues you’ve noted are the “bystanders” who do not speak, do not act, or do not support women. (or LGBT folks, or ethnic minorities..).

    Another HUGE part of the problem is how we choose to “draw the frame” of these issues as “Women’s issues,” as the TEDx talk notes…we need some reframing, before we’ll make real progress.

    I must confess something, and I hope in this I am not rendering myself totally naive and out-of-touch…but never before moments ago have I read of the “smoking’ hot wives” phenomenon. The blog by Hoag was terribly helpful, and enlightening. I guess that’s a part of the male-clergy culture I have missed. (Do I need to get out more?)

    I will speak to my own experience…
    From my earliest seminary days, I have found women colleagues to be as important to me as male ones. I’ve sought out women as clergy friends, and find myself consulting with them as much as with men. But, closer to home, I’m blessed to be married to a professional woman with her own career, of whom I couldn’t be more proud.

    Do I tell my wife privately that she’s “smokin’ hot?” Why, yes. Yes I do.
    But PUBLICLY, I call her “The Judge.” And that’s not just a term of endearment, or even bragging. It’s a reminder to me, her, and everybody else watching that is and how *I* see her…as more than appendage to my career, but instead as full partner in our marriage and life together….as someone with her own unique calling and career.

    So, this gets me to one of the things we still need to do in our Annual Conference. (Not just ours. Pretty much everywhere, as far as I can tell…)

    It seems to me that one of the steps we still desperately need to make is to more fully celebrate couples in their mutual callings….some of us as clergy (male and female)…others of us as spouses with their own careers and interests, not even connected with the church. We are are a LONG way from there now. But if we’re going to change these dynamics, this is a part of the needed change too…not just changing how we see us *clergy,* (male and female) but reframing how we see *spouses* (male and female) and our FAMILIES….as both supporters of The Church, and also as human beings with their own callings. And in this, let me point out that it’s not just *male clergy* who need to change, but also women too. A brief example…

    Dennise is currently an officer in the NTC “clergy spouses” group. It’s a challenging role, as you might imagine, for somebody will a full-time career. Over a year ago, she was trying to recruit more “male spouses” to attend clergy spouse events. In her mind (and I agree with her) one of the shifts that needs to happen is for “professional spouses” (men and women) to find some *new* role (still emerging) as “clergy spouses” too. Not the “traditional role,” but a new one.

    So, Dennise was mentioning this to one of our women clergy colleagues…along the lines of “Hey, you should get your husband to come to the clergy spouses group.” To which this person replied (TO Dennise…)

    “Oh, he couldn’t do that. He has a full-time job…”

    Um……Oops.

    See? This is part of the issue too. So deeply embedded, we don’t see it.

    Point is, as the TEDx video notes, all of us need to reframe these issues in ways we haven’t fully done yet.

    As for North Texas, I realize we we probably a long way from where we should be, with respect to appointments for women. I absolutely realize that. However, it seems to me that two really important things are happening this Spring: 1) the appointment of two very strong women to the Cabinet and extended-Cabinet, and 2) the appointment of many women to very strong mid-sized churches. These are deeply helpful steps that will pay strong dividends in the future, it seems to me.

    So, thanks for what you’ve written here. Very very helpful. I do think this issue of reframing “clergy spouses” (male and female) is another huge part of addressing these issues.

    So, let me close by pushing this a bit further. I think we need to more fully embrace the idea that our spouses (male and female) have callings of their own that may or may not have anything to do with church-ministry.

    The way to confront the “smoking’ hot wife” phenomenon is not to put the focus on those women, or even women at all….but to ask: how ARE our clergy spouses called? To WHAT are they called?

    Do we believe the Discipline, and it’s section “The Ministry of All Christians?” If so, then we implicitly affirm that our spouses (male and female) have callings outside of church ministry…or, at least they CAN. Yes, they can be stay at home wives/husbands. Amen to that. Yes, they can be active in the ministry of their local churches, supporting their “spouse who is a clergyperson” (Their “clergy spouse?”). Amen to that.

    But they can also have full-time careers too.

    And, as a part of acknowledging, WE CLERGY must also “reframe” too. That reframing must allow us, male and female clergy alike, the space to become *supportive spouses* too! We must allow space, for those of us who have spouses with full-time careers, to support our *spouse’s* careers.

    Only when we have made THIS shift will we fully confront the “smokin’ hot wife” phenomenon….not by confronting it, head-on, but by drawing a completely new frame around who spouses are, and who clergy are.

    We are a long way from this….but we must be willing to imagine all this as possible. It will take conscious choice by all of us.

    Let me end by bragging on Northaven a bit, if I may…

    In the annual “profile” that Northaven submits to the Annual Conference, Northaven’s SPR has, for years, included the following sentence: “We do not have a stated expectation for the ministry of the pastor’s spouse, except that he or she should follow his or her own call.”

    That was a part of the profile long before I came to Northaven, and has been deeply helpful to us. It seems me to in addition to pushing churches to say “we will take a man or a woman as pastor,” we must simultaneously say something like that sentence…in every profile in every North Texas Church.

    THAT will also help these issues too.

    So, as you can see, I’ve taken your thoughts in some slightly different, but also related, directions.

    I hope you find them helpful.

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    1. In one hour, you and your then associate, female/black influenced my life and my spiritual growth in a co-op sermon. With my late wife being a doctor, I was considered the ‘spouse’ in the medical world……so “get it.” My FB contact with your then associate, now with frequent postings, continues to guide me. My path has led me to the UCC (disappointed after 72 yrs of Methodism on Discipline issues), in Palm Springs, CA where I don’t have to question the hypocrisy I see in the “not always open doors, open hearts, open minds.

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  7. I love this- at some points had to laugh out loud- but unfortunately bluntly true- true and true!!! glad there is a place to say these things. is anyone listening? Not only have the young clergy taken the spotlight this year but so have the young men in our conference- in one fell swoop (it seems) appointments have been done for yrs to come- but what then- when these are old or at least too old? will there be a new batch of younguns on the horizon to take over? will they have saved the church?

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