SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Jesus Christ (Page 2 of 3)

We Are A Thought in God: A Christmas Eve Reflection

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be –
the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.

Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
you that feel you are nothing in history:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned

like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year,
you that are tortured:

God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you, and, like Mary,
incarnates that thought in his womb.

Archbishop Oscar Romero from The Violence of Love

Nativity with Mary, Joseph and the New-Born Christ by J. Le Breton 1933

As a pastor I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside people at different times of their life. There are times of celebration – baby’s being born, the news of a promotion, graduations, and weddings. Then there are the difficult times, when life seems to be going downhill, when it turns on us and our hearts are broken, when illness takes over, despair comes near, sin and death knock at the door . . .

It is at those times that the good news is most needed.

Christmas in the Christian tradition is the answer to the good news needed in our broken world. It reminds us year after year that sin and death is no longer our inevitable path, the child born in Bethlehem becoming the sign and symbol of God’s purposes for the created order.

Gift giving becomes the reminder of God’s gift of his Son. At its best it should become a catalyst for our difference making in the world. Like God gave us his Son, we then give of one another to the work of salvation, to the world of justice, peace, and hope.

Christmas is most understood by those who long, hunger, and desire for a better day. What a gift it will be to them if something changed, if there was hope after all, if justice would come; as Romero reminds us “God’s eternal purpose” thinking of them.

As we gather in our churches tonight, as we gather with family, around trees and gifts, may we not forget the message of salvation to us and to the world. And may that message become incarnate in us; incarnate – an essential aspect of our identity – so that we can become difference makers in our world.

We are a thought in God so the savior we have been expecting is here!

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (CEB)

Advent: No End to His Kingdom

"Annunciation" by Lawrence OP

We have been waiting, we’ve been preparing, and we’ve been counting the days. Now we are drawing near, salvation around the corner, I wonder if we are ready.

I don’t mean to be a cynic but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I guess to be more specific I struggle with our cultural celebration of Christmas and how, in the lives and practices of Christian people, it has taken over our religious commemoration. I know I am not alone in all of this, and I don’t want to be another religious leader complaining about our cultural Christmas celebration. But I do struggle and I approach these Sundays of Advent with much reverence and care, hoping to hold the space for preparation, reflection, and realization.

Now we enter a final week. After hearing about an end that becomes a beginning, about one who prepares the way, about us not being the light, now we hear how salvation will be made possible:

‘Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ Luke 1:31-33 (CEB)

Salvation made possible by one like us and unlike us. By one holy, promised, and whose kingdom will have not end. I needed to hear that this season. God’s kingdom still unfolding, Christ still making all things new, the Spirit . . .

. . . who made Christ’s body in Mary’s womb and keeps re-making the church…is a Spirit that is hovering – in the words of Genesis – over a new creation. –Archbishop Romero

A new creation is dawning: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love still unfolding, still available in the world, no matter how difficult, how distant it seems. Year after year, season after season, celebration after celebration, it keeps on dawning.

And it just so happens that this new creation is birthed through each of us. Each of us transformed by the Spirit, each of us ready to become agents of Christ’s in-braking in the world as we become the incarnation of Christ to our struggling world.

As I prepare for this last week of Advent I recognize more than ever our need for a savior. I am more thankful than ever for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s body the church. I am also deeply aware that there is little that I can do with the cultural celebration, but that I can continue to hold the space in my congregation, in my family, and in my own heart, for the return of the one who will make all things right.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Till then I’ll continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to call God’s people to the way of Jesus, and will remind myself of the words of Archbishop Romero,  that God’s Spirit is still “re-making the Church . . . hovering over a new creation.”

“No end to his kingdom” indeed!

Advent: We Are Not the Light

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light.  He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. John 1:6-8 (CEB)

As a pastor I often remind myself that I have been sent. Although in our tradition we are indeed sent to places of service by the bishop, I like to remind myself that in the end I have been sent to serve and lead by God.

It started long ago when my parents brought me forth and made the claim that I belonged to God. The prayers of a community of faith, the waters of baptism, and the many voices that helped me clarify my vocation. Each of these moments were “sent” centered as these varieties of people helped form me as a fellow “sent” one.

To believe in being sent is easy, what is difficult is to recognize why we are sent. I’ll have to admit that at times I have forgotten. My passion, my dedication, and my ego have gotten in the way. It is almost as if my mantra needs to constantly be “I am not the light, I am not the light, I am not the light.”

We are called, empowered, sent . . . to “testify to the light.”

It is easy to believe that we are indeed the light. How many times have I spoken of My church, My ministry, My calling? It has taken many wise sages in my life to remind me that is God’s church, God’s ministry; God’s calling in my life. These fellow sojourners have called me back to our shared vocation, to our baptismal call, to the light.

Here comes Advent again, getting us down from our high horses, pushing us to recognize our desperate need for God, getting us ready for God’s in-braking in Jesus Christ. Here comes Advent with its call to reality and new life. Here comes Advent with its proclamation of promises to be fulfilled.

This Advent I am keenly aware of our search for answers as a church. We hear the reports, the statistics, and calls to action. Many of our congregations are trying to survive, in the midst of economic uncertainty and a shrinking pool of resources.

I struggle with many of these conversations because at times they seem to be self-serving.  I hear a fear of our “demise” as a denomination, a fear of closing churches, a fear of losing “market share.” Could we say that we are living in the darkness, in the shadow? Could we say that we are groping for our way forward? Maybe a mantra is needed, “We are not the light, we are not the light, we are not the light!”

I pray that John’s proclamation helps us focus our attention to our light proclamation, to reminding God’s people of their God given mission, to tell the world that

“the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light.” Matthew 4:16a (CEB)

Advent: Salvation’s Way Prepared

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.

He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

Last week I struggled with endings that become beginnings. It struck me that this season of Advent, if taken seriously, could truly prepare us for God’s repeated in-braking in Jesus Christ. Each Advent reminds me of my own need for salvation and the need of the world, of all of creation. The reality of an end, of all that is not right in the world, causes me to pay attention to the ways that God’s kingdom is birthing forth a new beginning; just like God promised.

Soon it becomes evident of how difficult it is to take that step. The narrative of faith reminds us time and time again that human nature prefers the familiarity of slavery and exile to the uncertainty of freedom and home. Those that came to John came to the wilderness, obviously they wanted something, needed something, so they came. “Change your hearts and lives,” he proclaimed. But as this passage nears a close we hear more uncertainty, “One stronger than I am is coming after me.”It is good to know that the way of salvation has been prepared; God’s own initiative at work long before we become aware. The prophetic words from Isaiah were a call to return home from exile. God was indeed making a way, preparing the path, no stumbling blocks would be left, and no excuses could be found. God making it possible, the people of Israel just needed to follow the path.

On Sundays I stand before my congregation with the goal of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Like the writer of the gospel according to Mark, I too recognize that what I am to proclaim has been at work from long ago. The words that I say are a repetition of the great narrative of our faith. Yet each Sunday I am amazed at how difficult it is to recognize our need to walk away from our “slavery to sin and death” into the freedom of God’s grace.

The way has been prepared. Advent guarantees that we know that year after year. The way has been prepared because a way was needed, because we are not to stay in the comforts of exile and slavery, because God wants us to be freed to enter into the work of God’s kingdom.

May this season be a one where we “change our hearts and lives,” a season where we recognize our slavery to sin and death and accept the freedom that God offers to us. May we in recognizing that freedom work diligently by the power of the Spirit to be preparers of the way so that all of creation can experience the final consummation of God’s kingdom as revealed by Jesus Christ; Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Advent: End Becoming Beginning

Who will put a prophet’s eloquence into my words
to shake from their inertia
all those who kneel before the riches of the earth –
who would like gold, money, lands, power, political life
to be their everlasting gods?
All that is going to end.
There will remain only the satisfaction of having been,
in regard to money or political life,
a person faithful to God’s will.
One must learn to manage the relative and transitory
things of earth according to his will,
not make them absolutes.
There is only one absolute: he who awaits us
in the heaven that will not pass away.

(Archbishop Oscar Romero)

On the eve of what is normally dubbed the “biggest shopping day of the year,” a day we reflect on the many blessings given to us, the economy continues to struggle. We are not alone; our struggles, it seems, are common with other nations in the world. Fear, uncertainty, and suspicion abounds. Many corners of our world are in the midst of war and strife, injustice abounding, power struggles widespread. From whom shall our help come?

The least everywhere find themselves living their everyday. While many others who could make ends meet just a year ago are finding themselves with less and less, with little hope ahead. Some of our citizens out of frustration and anger have taken to the streets to “occupy” places of power. Can we stand aside while the rich become richer and the poor poorer?

Our politicians are in a gridlock. Extremes abound and I can’t see any sign of helpful conversation and a way forward. I wonder if the “common good” will ever dominate our decision making.

This Sunday we’ll gather in the midst of uncertainty only days after many will spend beyond their means hoping to make this season meaningful. They have struggled through early mornings, long days, and crowds of people, all for the chance at the “great deal.”

For so many this is no season to be merry. So many have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost hope. It might be better to skip this all together.

In the church we might be tempted to get on the celebration bandwagon, while ignoring the plight, the hurts, and the reality of so many. We might ignore our own uncertainties, the ways that our ecclesial world is also changing. We could act like no end is needed and jump to the celebration of new beginning but the reality of life speaks to the great narrative of our faith in the promise that only in an end can a beginning be found.

There is no better time for Advent!

Advent comes to remind us that God’s story unfolds towards a renewed creation. The brokenness in our world will not prevail, God’s kingdom of justice and peace will have its last say. In the meantime we wait; we continue experiencing loss, despair, and pain. We continue experiencing ends and wonder if that is all there is?

During these special times of the year, seasons of so called “celebration,” we are more aware of ends experienced. Yet in surprising ways these “ends” can become agents of new life, of renewed relationship, of a transformed world. The story of faith seems to know these rhythms of life: Fruitfulness after a fall, an olive branch after a flood, a journey home after settling as strangers, a child in old age, empowerment after captivity, freedom after slavery, a word of the Lord in a strange land. . .

Here are the words of Jesus from the Gospel for this Sunday:

In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27 (CEB)

So today I pray for the in-braking of God in our world:

Come once more gracious God, shower us with your grace, and empower us by your Spirit so that we can become agents of your kingdom. Heal our brokenness; bring justice to our world; make love our way of life. Come, Lord Jesus, come make our endings into beginnings, come bring us your salvation!

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I’m excited to be part of the Common English Bible Blog Tour 2011. To find out more please LIKE the Facebook page http://facebook.com/LiveTheBible. You can also follow on Twitter @CommonEngBible #CEBtour

Leadership as “Space Making”

I join the many others in church circles who are reflecting, talking, and gathering about leadership. It seems that the more that we recognize congregational reality the more that we talk about “leadership” as the key factor in helping congregations become fruitful again. Strategies are many, actual evidence of those strategies working, few. It seems that what works is an intentionality and an ability to interpret, read, exegete the congregational and communal culture of a place and begin to ask questions about what God might be up to in that place.

So as I begin again, we are always beginning in some ways. I am recognizing that a key aspect of my leadership is to “make space” for discernment, story telling, and conversations around what God might be doing in our midst. What is God calling us to? What are the gifts we bring, the passions that fuel us? Why are we here? Why do we worship like we do? Go to Sunday School? Attend the administrative meetings? Who is our neighbor? Why does it matter? What are we working towards? What does it mean to be the church in this place at this time?

These are only some of the questions being asked. I rather not get quick answers, instead I want all of us to think about it, to reflect on it, and to begin to “make space” for the answers to emerge among us. As we look around and recognize our “place” many other questions arise, we begin to see our corner of the world in a new way.

There is also much hesitation. Space making makes many of us uncomfortable. How “large” is this space going to be? Who will it include? What about us, are we going to be cared for, nurtured, be primary to the emerging vision? What about our history, our traditions, our ways of living life together, will those have to change? If they change is it still us?

Making space allows for the question of identity to surface and I think in the end this might be the most important to the life of the church. Who are we as a gathered body? Why do we exist? What does it mean to be present in this place?

Leading into discernment takes time, presence, and as Edwin Friedman puts it, it takes nerve (I’ve been reading his book A Failure of Nerve). There is no “quick fix” that can turn our mourning into dancing. Pastoral leadership relies on relationships that need the strengthening of time, shared stories, and of “walking with.” Shining a light and “seeing” what others might not see demands action that at times might be unpopular but in the end necessary to our life together.

It is easy to discern what is comfortable and familiar. It is extremely difficult to be open to adventure, dream, visions, risk, and the possibility that we as a community of faith need to be converted to our baptismal call. That somehow we must be re-shaped and born again into a new vision of life together.

Making space for this way of life together takes leadership that is willing to de-clutter, to re-arrange, and to prioritize. When leadership moves in these ways it can be unpopular. Most of us are happy in our clutter, used to our arrangements, and comfortable with our priorities. Yet the Christian narrative calls us time and time again to examine our lives, to let go of the old self, and to be open to the Spirit that makes all things new.

I pray for wisdom as I continue the work of leadership in a Christian community. I pray for clarity that I may shed a light on what God is doing around us, that I may have the “nerve” to call the church to its mission time and time again. I pray that I can be a faithful interpreter, reader, and exegete of the gathered baptized community called the church. I pray that through my leadership space is made for God’s work in creation to be made present through our ministry together.

Rapture Fail

It should not surprise us that another attempt at figuring out, reading the tea leaves, guessing, has failed. It seems that from the very beginning people connected to the Christian faith have been tempted to figure it out, to give a date, to make sure that people have an opportunity to prepare. We might begin our exploration of this phenomenon in the New Testament where in the book of Thessalonians where its author tells the church:

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

(Thessalonians 2:1-2, NRSV)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

From the very beginning, there has been a hope, a fear, a mystery around events leading to the end of time.

This latest “prediction” has brought about much press, mockery, and satire. It is embarassing that each time it is mentioned, the word “Christian” is connected to it, as if all Christians were somehow connected to this latest false prophet.

This morning my main concern is not about the Christian tradition getting a bad name (after all we have done that to ourselves many times). What is rolling through my mind is that we are people who believe that God will make all things right in the end through Jesus. The Christian hope includes an understanding that death does not win, evil is not victorious, nor illness, nor pain, nor poverty, nor injustice. Someday there will be an end to things as we know it and a new day will dawn, a renewed creation, a new heaven and a new earth.

My prayer is that in the midst of another crazy false prophet, we in the Christian faith don’t easily give into the desire to reject Christ’s final in-braking in the world. Maybe occassions like this one could become another reminder to take the words of our liturgy seriously when we pray, gathered around table,

By your Spirit makes us one with Christ, one with each other, in ministry to all the world. Until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

(The Great Thanksgiving, Word and Table I, The United Methodist Hymnal)

There will be no rapture . . . but Christ has promised to come again, to make all things new. May we as God’s people continue the work of God’s kingdom, deepening our discipleship, gathering to be empowered by the Spirit, being agents of God’s Spirit for the transformation of the world, Maranatha! (Our Lord, come!)

A Suffering Savior: Lenten Blog Tour 2011

6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him
all our crimes.
7 He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate-who will think about it?
He was cut off from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion,
9 His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.
10 But the Lord wanted to crush him and to make him suffer.
If his life is offered a as restitution,
he will see his offspring;
he will enjoy long life.
The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light,
and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
will make many righteous,
and will bear their guilt.

Isaiah 53:6-11 (Common English Bible)

"Crucifixion" by Giotto Assisi

We have all wondered away, says the prophet, done what we wanted to do, lived the way we have wanted to live, made decisions. Maybe we have not realized that we have wondered away, our lives might not be full of self-determination, or the ability to choose differently. We have lived separate lives, “each going its own way.” One way or the other humanity has not lived up to the wholeness of God’s intent, to the possibility of new creation.

Who shall rescue us from such a place?

According to the writer of Isaiah, it is not who we might suspect. This “savior” is not coming with power like we are familiar with: violence, manipulation, control, intimidation. Our return to God’s place is dependent on one who carries our brokenness, who suffers our fate, and who takes our sin.

Sin is not something we are comfortable talking about. Missing the mark is something we would rather mention about someone else. They need salvation, they need repentance, they need to be restored. We are not good about “bearing each other’s burdens” or suffering on behalf of others. At this point, Ash Wednesday, with our confessions, I’m sorry’s, and promises, seems so long ago.

Now we are reaching a point in the story we can no longer ignore. We have been focusing on our own practices, learning about the meaning of discipleship, and preparing for Easter. But before we can celebrate we have to once again face our mortality, face our brokenness, and acknowledge that God became one of us so that we could be restored, so that we would not have to die. We also need to remember that the call of discipleship at its core is a call to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.

Maybe this is what caught the attention of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). A savior who is a suffering servant does not make sense. “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this?” asks the eunuch. Thankfully the Christian community had already answered the question for themselves. They had mined the wisdom of the prophets and had interpreted the utterances in light of their experience of Jesus. Philip, as a follower of the way, proclaims the good news and the eunuch immediately wants to receive baptism.

There are many today who might read this text and wonder who the prophet is talking about? What kind of savior is this? As we enter these last days, the most difficult days, of the Christian salvation narrative let us not miss an opportunity to tell the story, so that others will be able to be rescued from sin and death, so that others will be able to find their way home.

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It has been a blessing to be part of CEB‘s Lenten Blog Tour. Do not miss yesterday’s post by Tracey Bianchi & tomorrow’s by Jennifer Grant.

Bible in 90 – Day 81: Fighting

My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people have me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul.’ ‘I belong to Apollos,’ ‘I belong to Cephas,’ ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name?

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Is good to know that Christians have always struggled in their life together. Sometimes we have idealistic views of those early days, all seem perfect, all of God’s people working together, if only we could go back to that “golden age!”

Reading through Paul’s letters quickly bring us back to reality. People are people, today or two thousand years ago, it is still people and all of us struggle to lives as one.

What struck me about this passage today was that the community was fragmented in “factions of faithfulness.” Each of them were claiming to be right, to be righteous, to be the heirs of the real message because of who had baptized them, who they identified with. People had chosen to “label” themselves in order to claim their identity in the right camp. They belonged to these camps but did they belong to Christ?

Today as God’s people we are tempted to label ourselves. There are so many issues, positions, and causes that it would be easy to align ourselves as a way of identity and belonging. It also makes it easier for us to know who we agree with (so that we can align with them) and who we disagree with (so that we can avoid them).

Can we hold positions, struggle with issues, and speak on behalf of causes without confusing those with our real identity as baptized people?

I know this is difficult teaching. It would be so much easier to draw the line and exclude those with whom we disagree. I sense though that the message of Jesus calls us to a primary identity of love in the world. This love is not the romantic/idealistic/superficial feeling that we are familiar with. Instead is the covenantal/difficult/deep affection of the Christian life.

Love then calls us to stop the infighting, engage each other as brothers and sisters, and work together for the life of the world. After all we were not baptized in the name of our causes, nor have our issues died for us, instead Christ lived, died, and was raised so that we as a diverse creation could become one once again.

Bible in 90 – Day 78: Us & Them

If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?

Acts 11:17

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

It seems to me that the Christian church is so polarized today. We are divided in denominations, ethnic groups, political ideology, and theological position, just to name a few. I understand that some of these “divisions” are part of the diversity of being human. We have our ways of thinking, acting, and doing, and our churches reflect those.

What bothers me is the constant negative criticism, finger pointing, and judgment as to which “group” is right, is the faithful carrier of the Christian tradition.

Reading through Acts reminds me that this is not the first time that the Christian church has struggled with this issue. In fact some of the early decisions of the church could guide us today as we seek to be one, to be many, and to be faithful.

At the core of the decision making was a discernment about the common Spirit that the Christian church claimed as the mark of the believing community. This common Spirit was known by the fruits of the believers in a place. Were they proclaiming the Lordship of Christ? Were they agents of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation? Was love a guiding principle?

The fruit spoke of the Spirit’s presence and it spoke of the need for unity. This unity did not mean uniformity. Not all Christians were going to look the same, worship identically, follow the same rituals, or speak the same language. Their presence as a diverse community across the known world spoke of the diversity of God’s own creation and work among people beyond the Jewish community.

I wonder if we could commit not to see each other in an us and them way?

We are going to have disagreements. After all we are different people with different experiences but have found a common Lord and have claimed him as our own. I guess my hope is that we can disagree without demonizing the other or putting into doubt another’s faith in Jesus Christ, in the importance of Scripture, and in the commitment to God’s kingdom.

In hoping for this way of being together, am I being naive, a fence rider, or uncommitted? I don’t think so, I just don’t think there’s an us and them, but only an us, but I’m willing to hear differently . . .

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