Saturday, December 22, 2012

Patriarchal Order

(Note: these are mostly my raw notes from a class I attended at BYU Education Week. I haven’t included much of my own insights and feelings, so feel free to chime in with some of your own observations, and quotes, etc from other sources I haven’t mentioned)

(EDIT 1/20/2013: A fellow blogger, Heather @ Women in the Scriptures recently posted an excellent piece about what it means to "preside" which I think goes hand in hand with the ideas in this post, and would be an excellent read if you are looking for more of what that means: find the post here

The priesthood structure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is patriarchal. That is exactly what it is, and it is designed to be that way by God. But what that means is sometimes confusing, and leads a lot of men (and women) to think that men are somehow superior to, more important than, or the “ruler” of some kind – basically that men should lead and women should follow. This understanding is an inaccurate understanding of what patriarchal order means in the Church.

Last summer I attended BYU Education Week and attended a class about the patriarchal order and leadership in marriage. I haven’t typed up my notes for the blog yet, and I figured I should since I learned a lot of good things.

The instructor talked about three doctrines involved in the understanding of patriarchal order. We talked a little bit about other doctrines that have to be taken together to get the whole picture – for example, grace and works, justice and mercy, etc. If you look at only one of the doctrines, then you miss the picture and you get an incomplete understand of the full doctrine.

In order to understand the patriarchal order in the Church, we have to look at three doctrines:

1.) Men Preside
2.) Men and Women are Absolute Equals
3.) Gospel Leadership Means Service

Men Preside

The first doctrine, “Men Preside” at first sounds like men are in some way above women. The Merriam-Webster definition of preside states “to exercise guidance, direction, or control.” I think the first two are the most suitable in this situation – that a father presides to exercise guidance and direction, not necessarily control. The definition also includes “to occupy the place of authority.”

Elder Deal L. Larsen said, “In the Lord’s system of government, every organization unit must have a presiding officer. He has decreed that in the family organization the father assumes this role. He bears the priesthood ordination. He is accountable before the Lord for this leadership.”

Our instructor also mentioned that the patriarchal order has its divine spirit and purpose. We may not know exactly what that is in this life. We may know ever really know why men preside and not women, but we know that’s the way the Lord has instructed us to do it, and I do not think that it takes something away from women to not preside. I think it’s more about order.

Some responsibilities associated with presiding are
- lead with love, gentleness, and kindness
- preside at family prayer, family meals, and family home evening
- teach correct principles
- give father’s blessings
- conduct father’s interviews
- participate in children’s discipline
- sacrifice for the well being of the family
- set a good example
- live a family centered life

I don’t see anything in this list that would suggest that a man is “above” a woman in presiding. It is simply the order of things. And just because something is in this list does not mean that women cannot also do it. Even presiding at family prayer, family meals, and family home evening – at times a mother may preside in these instances.

Presiding implies taking initiative. The husband, in presiding, initiates gospel living in the home. He should not be the one dragged along by his wife or children.

Satan takes a lot of divine things and twists them around. He takes things that are sacred and beautiful and makes them profane and obscene. He has done the same thing with the patriarchal order and convinced men (and women) that since a man presides over his family that somehow means that he is more important than his wife, or he has the final say, or his wife’s input is not as important.

If we look only at the doctrine that men preside, our doctrine certainly appears chauvinistic and oppressive. We can’t stop here, we have to look at the other very important doctrines.

Men and Women are Absolute Equals

The second doctrine in the patriarchal order is “Men and Women are Absolute Equals”.

Elder L. Tom Perry said,

Remember, brethren, that in your role as leader in the family, your wife is your companion. As President Gordon B. Hinckley has taught: “In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are coequals.”  Since the beginning, God has instructed mankind that marriage should unite husband and wife together in unity. Therefore, there is not a president or a vice president in a family. The couple works together eternally for the good of the family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.

While the husband may preside spiritually over the family (which really just means that he has a responsibility to guide and direct his family – basically show his family how to live the gospel and how to return to Heavenly Father), the wife stands by his side at the head of the family. She is not like the husband’s child. She is to stand with him, united “as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit.”

We talked about a few different kinds of “leaders” in a family.

The Dictator – there are actually two different types of dictators. There is a tyrant, who terrorizes his wife into doing what he wants her to do. “You will do this.” And then there is what our teacher called the “benevolent dictator”. This is the man who comes to his wife when it is time to make a decision on something, such as buying a new car, and says “Honey, what kind of car do you think we should buy?”, listens politely, and then goes out and buys whatever he wants to buy.

Reluctant Leader – this is the man who doesn’t really want to lead a family. He would rather let his wife take care of everything while he goes out to play (or stays in to play, as the case may be). The wife has to step up and lead the family because her husband won’t.

Figurehead – this is the leader who gets pushed out of the way by her wife. He appears to be the leader in the family, but the wife takes everything over without even consulting him (this, I might add, would be when the wife is the dictator). This man may want to be the leader in the home, and when questioned the wife may actually say he is the leader, but in reality she does it all. A lot of times this comes because the wife has an attitude of “I can do it better than you” rather than letting the husband lead the way he knows how, and encouraging him. In Father, Consider Your Ways, the twelve apostles counseled husbands (and wives) that fatherhood and the associated leadership “is not a matter of whether you are most worthy or best qualified, but it is a matter of law and [divine] appointment.” I think a lot of women might do well to remember that. It’s not about our husband’s being the best at being a husband or father, it’s about them being called. Just like it’s not about the Relief Society President being the best for the job – it’s about the Bishop having called her to be the president, and us sustaining her in that calling.

But none of these types of leaders are in harmony with gospel doctrine. The doctrine says that we should be equal partners. So what does that look like?

Equal Partners – both partners have veto power. Decisions are unanimous. If husband and wife don’t both agree, then the issue is tabled until they can agree. Honestly this is hard because sometimes it means that nothing gets done. Look at the United States Congress – and they don’t even have to have a unanimous vote! But that doesn’t change the fact that in order to be equal partners you must both agree. And sometimes that involved compromise (which is not a bad thing). Marion G. Romney reminded us that “Neither [husband nor wife] should plan or follow an independent course of action. They should consult, pray, and decide together.”

Another example our instructor used was that of two signatures on a check. Every decision requires two signatures – the husband’s, and the wife’s. He also mentioned that this is how the quorum of the twelve apostles works – all decisions have to be unanimous before the decision is official.

Gospel Leadership Means Service

The third doctrine we have to consider is that “Gospel Leadership Means Service”. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Christ presides over His Church this way – as our servant. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught us that we should be a “leader-servant”. The question a gospel leader should ask is “How can I help?” rather than “How can I help myself?” The father, as the leader of the family, is this “leader-servant”.

It’s almost important to remember that the presiding done by a father in the home is a spiritual leadership, rather than a governmental or political leadership. That is what Elder Perry meant when he said there is no “president” in the family. There is a man who is a spiritual leader, which means he is a “leader-servant”.

Joseph F. Smith taught men how to treat their wives, “Parents … should love and respect each other, and treat each other with respectful decorum and kindly regard, all the time. The husband should treat his wife with the utmost courtesy and respect. The husband should never insult her; he should never speak slightly of her, but should always hold her in the highest esteem in the home, in the presence of their children.”

President Boyd K. Packer also taught men about serving their wives and children.

It was not meant that the woman alone accommodate herself to the priesthood duties of her husband or her sons. She is of course to sustain and support and encourage them.

Holders of the priesthood, in turn, must accommodate themselves to the needs and responsibilities of the wife and mother. Her physical and emotional and intellectual and cultural well-being and her spiritual development must stand first among his priesthood duties.

There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not his equal obligation. The tasks which come with parenthood, which many consider to be below other tasks, are simply above them.

Those outside the Church think that ordination to the Priesthood means “power” in the worldly sense. The true meaning of the Priesthood in the Church means service and protection. President David O. McKay described Priesthood power like the power of a reservoir of water,

We can conceive of the power of the priesthood as being potentially existent as an impounded reservoir of water. Such power becomes dynamic and productive of good only when the liberated force becomes active in valleys, fields, gardens, and happy homes. So the priesthood, as related to humanity, is a principle of power only as it becomes active in the lives of men, turning their hearts and desires toward God and prompting service to their fellowmen.

…I say that because the priesthood you hold means that you are to serve others.

The Priesthood has no power until it is used to serve others.


How have you seen the principle of patriarchal leadership twisted by Satan? What blessings come to families when patriarchal leadership is practiced correctly, when husbands and father are servant-leaders and equal partners with their wives? Do you feel like patriarchal leadership is practiced correctly in your home? In your ward?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Waiting for More Light and Knowledge

I was re-reading Sister Burton's talk from the most recent General Relief Society meeting and I loved what she said here:

The part that stood out to me, especially in light of recent events, was her final concern, "we feel [Heavenly Father] would have us work in unity with the other auxiliaries and with our priesthood leaders, striving to seek out and help those in need to progress along the path."
I remember sitting in the meeting and feeling as if Sister Burton understand and sees the struggle some wards have with counseling together, and specifically counseling with the sisters in the ward.
Her topic for the rest of the meeting was fantastic, absolutely needed, and of course the perfect foundation for discussing covenants and unity. But I found myself anxious to hear her speak more. That was when I realized that I hadn't even studied her first talk. How can I want more when I am not appreciating what I have?
So I am going to study Sister Burton's talk multiple times so that I will be prepared for the next time I hear her speak. I think she is going to have some inspiring things to say. I just wish I didn't have to wait so long for her counsel!
Patience. That thing I struggle with.
What are you excited to hear Sister Burton discuss? Have you studied her talk from September? If you could hear more from Sister Burton what format would you like to see? A podcast? A blog? Articles in the Ensign?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Cup Runneth Over

photo (7)Remember the Lie of Perfection? I read an excellent post about the same principle written by Kathryn over at Daring Young Mom called Drops of Awesome. It was really beautiful. I especially loved her story about walking her son to the bus stop. You’ll have to head over to her blog to read that and more of her Drops of Awesome.

As an object lesson … I gave [each girl] each a small dropper and I put a 2-quart bowl on the table. I told them that throughout the lesson they would get the chance to put drops in the bucket for every Drop of Awesome they could think of that they’d done. I promised them that we would fill the bowl to overflowing by the end of the lesson.

With about 5 minutes to go, we had barely begun to fill the bowl and the girls were looking around at each other nervously. The promised overflow did not look likely. Were they not awesome enough?

At that point, I pulled out a large pitcher labeled ATONEMENT and poured water into the glass bowl until it was spilling out all over the table and the towel the bowl was resting on. The class went silent.

Read the whole post here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Separating Culture from Doctrine: The Lesson Handout

This is the first post in a new series called “Separating Culture from Doctrine”, where we talk about places where culture has been mistaken as doctrine among the members of the Church. I wanted to start with the dress code myth, but I decided to let that issue cool off a bit before I tackled it again. So I’m starting with something a little less controversial (I hope!) and somewhat lighthearted, but I would like to eventually tackle some things that are harder to separate. Do you know of a part of Mormon culture that many members of the Church mistake as doctrine? Have you heard of something in the Church that people make out to be doctrinal, and you’re not sure if it is? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email or a post on Facebook (see “Subscribe and Connect” on the sidebar for links) and I will do the research and find out how much is doctrine, and how much is culture.

When I was in the Young Women program (the Church’s youth program for 12-18 year old girls) I kept a binder with a bunch of pages inside of sheet protectors. Whenever I would get a handout in Young Women or Sunday imageSchool I would glue it to one of the pages in this binder. I kept the for years, but I never used it, and eventually I scanned all the pages into my computer (which I haven’t look at since – until today when I was writing this post and wanted to include a picture of one of the pages).

Obviously those handouts had a huge impact on my life. Or not.

In fact, I don’t even remember the lessons they went to (not specifically). The lessons did make an impact in my life, and in the building of my testimony, but I don’t associate the handouts with those lessons. In fact, I remember every one of my YW and Sunday School teachers from my time as a youth, but I couldn’t tell you what any of them taught me. What I could tell you is that each one of them was an amazing example to me and the fire of their testimonies lit a fire in me.

They didn’t need the handouts to do that.

And neither do you.

Mormon Myth #1Handouts are an integral, and even necessary, part of a lesson. They help the class members remember the lesson, and are part of your calling as a teacher.

Truth: Preparing handouts can take precious time away from study and prayer that is an integral and necessary part of a lesson. The Holy Ghost teaches class members, and the Holy Ghost helps class members remember the lesson – not you, and not your handouts. As a teacher your focus should be on prayerfully studying the lesson material and listening for inspiration to know what questions will elicit the most beneficial discussion for your class members.

Our Church Web site now provides access to all of the general conference addresses and other contents of Church magazines for the past 30 years. Teachers can download bales of information on any subject. When highly focused, a handout can enrich. But a bale of handouts can detract from our attempt to teach gospel principles with clarity and testimony. Stacks of supplementary material can impoverish rather than enrich, because they can blur students’ focus on the assigned principles and draw them away from prayerfully seeking to apply those principles in their own lives. (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Focus and Priorities, April 2001 General Conference)

I hear women say that their callings are wearing them out or that they don’t have time to serve. But magnifying our callings does not mean staying up all night preparing handouts and elaborate table decorations. It does not mean that each time we do our visiting teaching we have to take something to our sisters. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Let’s simplify. The message of a good lesson comes through spiritual preparation. Let’s put our focus on the principles of the gospel and on the material in our study guides. Let’s prepare to create an interesting exchange of ideas through discussion, not through extra, invented work that makes us so weary we come to resent the time we spend in fulfilling our callings. (Sister Kathleen H. Hughes, Out of Small Things, October 2004 General Conference)

Dedicating some of our time to studying the scriptures or preparing to teach a lesson is a good sacrifice. Spending many hours stitching the title of the lesson into homemade pot holders for each member of your class perhaps may not be. (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Forget Me Not, 2011 General Relief Society Broadcast)

Mother was a great teacher who was diligent and thorough in her preparation. I have distinct memories of the days preceding her lessons. The dining room table would be covered with reference materials and the notes she was preparing for her lesson. There was so much material prepared that I’m sure only a small portion of it was ever used during the class, but I’m just as sure that none of her preparation was ever wasted. …What she didn’t use in her class she used to teach her children. (Elder L. Tom Perry, Mothers Teaching Children in the Home, April 2010 General Conference)

I’m sure no one’s soul was damaged in the preparation of the handouts my teachers made for me in Young Women and Sunday School, and I am not passing judgment on them and neither should you. This isn’t about judging people. It’s about talking about what is culture, and what is doctrine.

The Mormon culture encourages us to spend a little time on the praying and studying part, and then a lot of time on the handout part. This same principle can be applied to Young Women and Relief Society programs that get so involved the spirit is missed, and the only thing people remember are the cute decorations and handouts. They don’t remember the spirit they felt (if they felt the spirit at all) and they don’t remember the lesson taught.

We should be so careful to focus on what really matters.

I want to tell you about our Ward Christmas dinner. The dinner was fantastic, homecooked, gourmet food, and the decorations were intricate and handmade. The cultural hall felt like a winter wonderland. The atmosphere was lovely, the music was touching, and the company was wonderful, as usual. If I didn’t know the sister who was in charge I may have been tempted to think it was a little over done. But I know this sister and I know that she took great pleasure and joy in creating a beautiful environment for us to enjoy a delicious meal. She was very good at it, and I know that she didn’t stress out about it at all. In fact, I bet planning and preparing for that ward party was the most relaxing thing she has done in a while.

I related this story so that you can know that we should not be judgmental of sisters who make elaborate handouts for Relief Society lessons. Nor should we be judgmental of sisters who don’t make elaborate handouts for lessons.

(as a side note – if you give me a non-edible handout in Relief Society I will probably dispose of it in my recycling bin as soon as I get home – I do not like paper, and I despise clutter – handouts, in my opinion, are frequently clutter – and I do not want your little decoration you made for me. It probably doesn’t fit into my décor. These are things to think about as well when you are thinking about preparing a handout. If the handout is edible I will most definitely eat it.)

Let us please keep in mind that the Spirit is the real teacher when we “teach” a class. The handouts are cute, but most of them end up in the trash anyway. Save a tree – use the Spirit.

For more instruction on teaching the gospel, see the Church’s handbook, Teaching, No Greater Call. There are no handouts – just in case you were wondering.

How do you use the Spirit to teach your class? Do you use handouts? Have you ever spent too much time on the handout and not enough time on your lesson? Can you think of ways when a handout might be appropriate?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Of Action Groups and Sunday Pants

When I first read through the Facebook event description of the Wear Pants to Church Day event sponsored by the action group All Enlisted, I wasn’t particularly alarmed. imageReally, I agreed with most of their intentions. In fact, just last night I was talking with my husband about how most members of the Church frequently mistake Church culture for Church doctrine.

I have said before (simply echoing Church leaders) that the doctrine of the Church is actually very limited. Anything beyond the true doctrine is policy, policy we believe is based on an understanding of doctrine and revelation. Policy we sustain in General Conference twice a year as we sustain the leaders who we trust to make the policies Heavenly Father feels are best for our time (which means they – the policies – do change).

The Fight Against Cultural Myths: A War Worth Fighting

Back to my first impressions of the Wear Pants to Church Day event. I loved much of what the sisters said on the Facebook page. I think what tempered the whole description for me was their first paragraph, the reading of which almost caused me to shout “Amen! Hallelujah!”

Did you know that church leaders have not discouraged women from wearing pants since 1971? … After many reports of overt or silent judgment, a group of LDS women decided it was time to stop the perpetuation of the cultural myth that there is something wrong with women wearing pants. (emphasis added)

I felt that they were actually acknowledging that the problem in the Church (judgment over women wearing pants/people wearing jeans/tennis shoes/colored shirts/etc to Church) is a cultural myth, rather than some Church policy. And before you start tossing out quotes from General Authorities counseling us to wear this or wear that, let me remind you of Elder Christofferson’s most excellent and timely talk in April 2012 General Conference during which he appropriately reminded us,

…it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.

So you can erase your comment with a quote from some apostle or prophet that said you should wear a white shirt while passing the sacrament. That’s great, if you have a white shirt. If you want to wear a white shirt. Owning a white shirt or having a desire to wear a white shirt is not a prerequisite to being ordained to any priesthood office, or performing any priesthood duty. If you feel like you should wear a white shirt to perform your priesthood duties, great for you. If you don’t think it matters, good for you. What matters is that you are worthy to perform those duties – which has more to do with the heart than the outward appearance.

The sisters describing their demonstration kept getting more and more points with me as the description went on –

“The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women’s or girls’ dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing.”--LDS Church Presidency (1971)

“Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ. Generally, church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the savior, but we don't counsel people beyond that.” –official church statement December 12, 2012

Why, this is most excellent! Someone is helping educate the masses about how dumb we all are for thinking that cultural norms (even Church culture ones) are somehow what the doctrine of the Church mandates. Or even Church policy. Obviously, women wearing skirts is not Church policy, and I thought these great women did an excellent job explaining that.

The Bait-and-Switch

I must have skimmed through the rest of the description because no red flags went off until I read the post a second time.

This event is the first act of All Enlisted, a direct action group for Mormon women to advocate for equality within our faith. … we do want the LDS Church and its members to acknowledge the similarities [between men and women]. We believe that much of the cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS church today stems from the church's reliance on – and enforcement of – rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality.

Wait a minute! You just told me that your goal was to correct a cultural myth, but you’ve just pulled a bait-and-switch on me! Now you’re telling me that you want “equality within our faith” and you see “doctrinal inequalit[ies]” in the Church, perpetuated by “the church’s … enforcement of … rigid gender roles.”

I had so much hope – this was almost a group I could stand behind. I was excited that someone was trying to address the cultural myths that seems to be endlessly perpetuated in the Church. These cultural myths are not perpetuated by the General Authorities, or by Church policy. On the contrary, I have heard the prophets and apostles constantly hounding us in General Conference, urging us to give up the culture and live the doctrine. It’s the members of the Church falling short of the counsel of the prophets that perpetuates cultural myths.

Stoning People for Their Sins

My thoughts went immediately to the new Church website, Love One Another. Nothing found on that website is news. There are some great personal stories, which I think are very effective in breaking down culture – when people can see what happens in cultures outside their little bubbles, they are more appropriately armed to take down the culture in their own bubbles. None of the doctrine on the Church’s new website is different from anything that has been preached previously. Since Christ walked the earth we have been counseled to love one another regardless of our differences, regardless of the sins of others. It was Christ himself who said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, the adulterer.

It is not our place to stone people to death, literally or figuratively, for their sins.

A Misguided Discussion

The purpose of the Wear Pants to Church Day demonstration was not the only thing that bothered me about the entire situation. The comments that have been elicited have been equally as disturbing. Comments such as,

“What if these women have received revelation that this change needed to be enacted?”

“I'm offended you would ask me to wear a colored shirt, one that I shouldn't be wearing while performing priesthood ordinances.”

“maybe … the ones that have left will come back knowing that the church is finally putting action towards attitudes”

“the Lord has told us that dresses are a sign of reverence and he has asked us to wear them..its not a commandment … but we are to listen to the Lord and to our prophets”

“I feel sadness for the sisters that feel hurt and confused enough to feel they need to participate in this, because it means that they have not yet gained a true testimony of the divinity of womanhood in the Lord's plan of happiness, and how ESSENTIAL we are to that plan”

“To me, their reasons are that they don't understand the basics of the gospel. They don't understand the priesthood and womanhood. And that this is the Lord's church. They don't understand the symbolism of the temple.”

I have problems with all of these comments. People are either continuing to perpetuate the cultural myths by spouting their misguided understandings of Church policy (the colored shirt comment) or they are confusing culture with doctrine.

People who are helping to perpetuate cultural myths need to stop it, and people who are confusing culture with doctrine need to stop it.

And all of us need to stop judging each other. I said to my husband that it seems like the people who think you should only wear dresses are judging the women who would like to wear pants, and the women who would like to wear pants without being judged are judging the very women they accuse of judging them.

Let us please apply Uchdorf’s Hammer: STOP IT!

An Action Group For Cultural Change

Where does this leave me?

Wanting to form an action group for women who want to promote charity and the doctrine of the Church. Women who want to break down the cultural myths and replace them with kindness, love unfeigned, boundless compassion, and non-judgmental attitudes.

So I thought to myself “Why not form one?” An action group – dedicated to these very things.

Our motto would be “Charity never faileth.”

And then I remembered – there is already an action group for that.

It’s called Relief Society.

The Savior Himself has organized the women of the Church into an action group. One that should be at the forefront of breaking down cultural myths. A group that should be at the forefront of compassionate outreach to women who feel marginalized and pushed aside.

It is a worldwide sisterhood, but at the same time, it is a grassroots movement. Each ward has a Relief Society specifically and specially equipped to deal with the issues in that particular ward. Why? In my ward, the women in my Relief Society, the women who need my help, are my neighbors. I live, work, and play in the same places as them. I see them on a regular basis. If I am doing my job as a disciple of Christ, I am listening to the pain in their hearts. I can see if they are being ostracized by judgmental skirt-wearers. I should be observant and recognize when they feel left out because their husband is blessing their baby and no one gives them the accolades they deserve for gestating, laboring, and delivering that beautiful baby. If I am doing my duty as a real Christian, I will be reaching out to include the broken hearted, those who are different in whatever way – whether it be homosexuality, divorce, single motherhood, whatever makes them different, I can be the one who reaches out and helps them feel unity and love under the umbrella of compassion and charity.

So I have no need to start an action group. The Savior did that already. But I am renewing my membership. I am gearing up to be the best member of this action group I can be.

Who’s with me?

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