More Christ At Church

HawkgrrrlAsides, Beatitudes, christ, christianity, Culture, curiosity, diversity, faith, General Conference, history, inter-faith, Jesus, LDS, Leaders, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, orthodox, parables, prayer, questioning, sacrament meeting, scripture, Sermon on the Mount, spirituality, testimony, theology 36 Comments

The mission of the church is to bring people to Christ (it is not the tri-fold mission of proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints and redeem the dead).  Yet many members feel that the focus on Christ is missing in our weekly worship.  So, what’s the best way to bring Christ back to the center of our Sundays? trend is probably to some extent backlash against the histo-centric year we are having with D&C as focus of GD class and JS manual in RS.  There may also be some desire to reaffirm our status as Christians when other religions often stigmatize us as not being Christian.  So, what would it look like if Christ were the center of our worship?  Here are some possibilities of how lessons & talks might be more Christ-centric:

  1. the atonement of Christ; his role and divinity
  2. how to apply Christ’s teachings:  how to be followers of Christ
  3. stories from the life of Christ, events that happened to him in his lifetime
  4. the parables of Jesus – sharing and elaborating on these messages
  5. how to develop a personal relationship with Jesus; understanding Jesus’ nature as a personal friend

Have I missed any major angle above?  It occurs to me that these topics might get stale if covered for 3 hours every week.  Also, if speakers only focused on 1 or 2 of the 5, it would get very repetitive.  I also notice that as I look over the list, I don’t find them equally appealing.  Personally, I would prefer them in this order:  2, 4, 3, 5, 1.  What order would you prefer?  I think the order in which they are usually focused at church is the order I listed them above:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Do you agree?

Do you feel that Church should be more Christ-centered or that it is sufficiently Christ-centered?  Which of the above focuses would be of the most interest to you?  Are there some ways of focusing on Christ that you don’t find appealing?  How do you think our focus (especially by topic) compares to other Christian churches?  Discuss.

Comments 36

  1. Wait, what…am I missing something. Why such the great dismissal of the trifold mission? I mean, of course, the united goal make sense too, but I liked the three-parter…

    I dunno, but I think that the church kinda…I dunno…snubs the New Testament. Of course, BoM and D+C are very important, but especially living in the Bible Belt, it is most important to have a grasp with the NT. And when this isn’t as emphasized (except for a year in seminary or with selected quotations in lessons), I guess that can lead a lot of people to feel there is not as much Christ in church.

    For example, I would think that strategically, 1 has to become *first*. There are already many people who doubt how Mormons view grace in the equation, so if this could be strengthened and solidified so that members could know exactly where grace and the Atonement fit, then perhaps this would spill into how Mormon theology is perceived in general.

    And then 5 is also important…a while back, I blogged about a guy who believes that Mormons can’t be Christian because…get this…Mormonism is a religion and Christianity is not. So, he proposed that Christianity is *simply* the relationship with Christ and God.

    Not saying that we always must cater to the criticisms of other people, but I just thought it strange, Hawkgrrrl, that you would put 1 and 5 *last*.

  2. Not to throw cold water on your post, which I agree with. The Sacrament meeting IS Christ-Centered. The sacrament itself is Christ-Centered and every thing is an appendage of it. It seems that if members speaking to the congregation were aware that all topics should be delivered as Christ-centered, we might have some improvement. Service is Christ-centered, Tithing is Christ-centered, Priesthood is Christ-centered, self-reliance, etc.

    What topics are not Christ-centered if they are presented that way?

  3. You are correct in stating that the mission of the Church is to bring people to Christ. BUT the three-fold mission is the program and SO “what we have here is failure to communicate”. Rather than focusing on Christ, we tend to focus on the programs (i.e., how do we get so and so to the temple or into the waters of baptism…how do we find the names of our kindred dead, etc.). This then leads to using talks and lessons to teach how to succeed in these programs. Add to that the “prophet” worship aimed at strengthening our commitment and it sometimes feels to me as though “I belong to the Church of Latter-Day Saints”.

    I know that sounds a bit negative, but I’ve been feeling lately like Christ is lacking in our worship service as a whole (from GC down to weekly services). I would love to see a switch from talking about temples and how they (the temples) bring us to Christ (where temples are the focus) and talk instead about coming to Christ (i.e., “becoming”) and work the temple into that discussion.

    FWIW, I would choose the same order that you did!

  4. Hawkgrrrl,

    I would also add a few more points of emphasis about Christ. I think we should also emphasize:

    6. Christ’s divinity
    7. Christ’s humanity
    8. Christ’s resurrection

    As I was preparing an Easter post, I heard a theologian remark that Easter was the worst thing that happened to the Resurrection Story. He said the reason is because people view Easter as a one-time event to be celebrated just once a year, instead of focusing on how it is personal to our lives. The resurrection story was really the event which makes Christianity different from every other religion, and I think far too many of us take that for granted.

    On another note, I’ve been listening to a Presbyterian Seminary talk about all the early church councils discussing the nature of Christ–trying to understand the true nature of God and Christ. The Western church emphasizes Christ’s divinity, while the Easter church emphasize his humanity. I think many of us don’t view Christ as human, subject to the same temptations and weaknesses we do, and hence, I think we fail to fully appreciate that he was a real person. We read his stories as myths, instead of true stories. We take for granted the divinity of Christ, and downplay his humanity.

  5. MH – that’s interesting about the difference between RC and Eastern Orthodox as to focus. I would prefer Eastern Orthodoxy based on that description.

    Personally, I find talks about the divinity and the atonement focus too much on the distance between Christ and us, and our dependent role on him – making us sad-sack losers. I’d rather see Jesus in his humanity, as someone relatable who lived on the planet earth. To me, that brings him closer and elevates me by association which is IMO the point of religion – to elevate humanity, not to deify God (who is already divine).

  6. I choose the hymns for my ward. Although many people never pay attention to the hymns, many of them are very Christ centered, some might be considered less so. So, it depends on what hymns are chosen. I recently performed a piano solo during sacrament meeting and played Tell Me the Stories of Jesus and Trying to Be Like Jesus. I figured most of the audience would know at least one of those and might think about the words while I played the music.

  7. I guess we sometimes go to far as a church when its Easter or Christmas and we focus on Joseph Smith.

    But on the other hand if this is suppose to be Christs Church and he is living he may not want us constantly going over the New Testament but apply living scriptures from apostles prophets etc in our time.

  8. Focusing on Christ can produce wonderful results. I’ve seen it in my home ward. My top priority would be how to become more Christ-like.

  9. Yes, Hawgrrrl, the more I learn about Eastern Orthodoxy, the more I really like it. One of the stark differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western (ie Catholic/Protestant) is that the image of the crucifixion. In the West, the dying Christ is depicted in all his bloody suffering. However, in the East, Christ is often shown as a glorious, triumphant, resurrected King, come to redeem the world. This image is much more aligned with LDS views, IMO.

    I don’t want to take away from your topic, but I did a post comparing Eastern Orthodox beliefs in theosis, and Mormon exaltation. There are some really cool similarities.

    Frankly, I think we as a church could emphasize the Good Samaritan much more than we do. I think it is one of Jesus’ best parables, as it not only pertains to service and charity, but discrimination and judgment as well. If the world behaved like the Good Samaritan, it would be a much better place.

  10. I just had a 3 hour conversation with a good friend of mine who is also our gospel doctrine teacher. I mentioned how I used to edit YM lessons quite liberally to cut through the faith-promoting stories and get to the heart of the matter, focusing on how the topic related to our relationship with Christ. He said that he consistently tries to view the D&C lessons through the lens of Christ and the atonement. I’ve noticed that this really does come out in his lessons. But he also said that it is often a struggle to connect the dots and get from what is in the lesson manual to a lesson about Christ.

    I believe Ray has occasionally mentioned how his ward has consciously made successful efforts to keep this kind of focus. I believe that anyone with the desire to preach the core of Christ’s message can do so in almost any class or lesson. But I do wish that the lessons more naturally leaned in a Christ-centered direction.

    (On a side note, I’m actually glad that Joseph Smith was so obviously and thoroughly flawed. Otherwise we might really struggle against a “Praise to the Man” culture. I think we do already, but it would be way worse if JS had been better.)

  11. I’ve heard, I believe, a GA or member of the 12 say something to the effect that we should not focus on developing a “personal relationship with the Savior.”

    Can someone confirm or deny?

    I have always thought the phrase was a bit strange. We are taught not to pray to Christ, so how does one develop a personal relationship with him? To me, it seems like a buzz phrase people like to use but that doesn’t mean anything.

  12. I agree with jjackson that an improvement could be made in the manuals. I’ve been teaching out of the Gospel Principles manual for over a year now. I’ve been a bit perplexed at times about the allocation of time and space given to topics that I personally consider to be of significantly lower priority than others. For example, while there are actually four lessons about end-of-days related topics (signs of the second coming, gathering of the house of Israel, second coming, millennium), the life of Jesus Christ and the Atonement each get one lesson. Or you have three lessons on temple-related topics (eternal families, eternal marriage, temple work and family history), while Charity gets one lesson. Or you have two lessons on the priesthood and the priesthood organization, and another two lessons on the church of Christ in former times and the church of Christ in modern times, but one lesson on Faith. See here for further examples:

    So the question I find myself asking myself over and over again is: if we were to rank the relative importance of each of these topics, have we devoted the most time and space in our Gospel Principles manual to the most important topics?

  13. Scottie (11),

    that was Bruce McConkie who ripped into George Pace in 1982 at BYU. Pace had written a well intentioned book that advocated developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A summary of the controvery is at

    Hawkgrrl, I have sat through too many sacrament meetings where, once the sacrament ordinance is done, the name of Christ is mentioned only to close talks. I think it’s easy to make a case that our church worships Joseph Smith and the church organization at the expense of getting to know Jesus intimately. No matter how many inspirational stories can be told from our church’s history, if we leave out Jesus we’re worshipping our church, not our savior.

    I agree with MH (4) that Christ’s humanity is greatly overlooked in our church. As I look to Christ as an example of God willing to submit to the human condition as a way to teach and lead us, I find myself drawn closer to him and finding a more intimate response to his teachings. I’m influenced by the Catholic writer Henri Nouwen, who wrote extensively and eloquently about Christ but rarely if ever mentioned the atonement. Nouwen focused on Christ’s humanity, and drew comparisons that give all of us imperfect humans hope in our attempts to become more like Christ. For me, too many Mormon talks are all about how great we are, not how deeply we all need Christ’s atonement. In my experience there’s a singular lack of humility in Mormonism that needs to be corrected.

  14. In my experience there’s a singular lack of humility in Mormonism that needs to be corrected.

    Sorry, but I have to quibble with that one a little. I agree totally that too much on the practical level in too many units focuses on program things to the detriment of worshiping God, but there is a difference between that and “Mormonism”.

    If “humility” means complete debasement and a denial of our eternal potential, no thanks. If it means denial of our divine nature, no thanks. That’s the Protestant result of the unbridgeable gap, and I don’t want it. Otoh, if it means recognition of our unworthiness and reliance on Christ, with a stronger focus on His life and “mortal” teachings, I’m all for that.

    There’s a difference between what is taught “in Mormonism” and what gets to the end of every row – and I think it’s important to separate the two and tackle them appropriately.

  15. No-man: Thanks for your comment. The idea that we are worshipping our church and not Christ is something that has been nagging at me for a while. Just listen to most of the testimonies on Sunday and see which entity gets the most attention.

  16. Elder Bednar, if I remember correctly, asked that every Sacrament meeting talk include some reference to the Savior’s atonement when he was a bishop. I long to hear more about the Savior when I attend Sacrament meeting. I would love to hear more about his lovingkindness, his goodness, obedience, longsuffering, kindness, compassion and mercy. I wish the Church would come out with more guidelines for bishops and stake presidents to make our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ more central to our worship at Sacrament Meeting.

  17. I have heard more inspirational and consistently Christocentric messages about the Savior at the occasional Episcopalian service I attend than I have for a long time in any LDS sacrament meeting.

  18. no-man, that George Pace story is very troubling, especially in light of the Mormon Doctrine incident. Pace was one of my teachers at the Y, after his incident with BRM.

    I agree with Ray that we should focus on both the humanity of Christ and our own potential which is far more appealing to me than the “God’s Pets” version you get in most Protestantism.

  19. The Pace incident deserves its own post, from the discipline that McConkie received over it to the problem he was sent to resolve which involved a culture where people were insisting that if Christ wasn’t in the other room darning your socks for you and setting the table, you had failed as a spouse in your duty to bring the Spirit into your home.

    But I really liked George Pace, compared to some who wanted to be empire builders.

  20. Ray (14), your correction is what I intended to say (“recognition of our unworthiness and reliance on Christ, with a stronger focus on His life and “mortal” teachings). I don’t subscribe to the protestant denial of our eternal potential. What I do object to is that, given our much more expansive eternal view of our own potential, it is easy to lapse into a false sense of security: if I am a Melchizedek priesthood holder and have been given callings of some importance, I may well start believing that everything I do and say is in harmony with God’s will, and I may stop questioning myself as to my own worthiness or my dependence on God. I know that’s not generally the case, but it happens.

    I’ve been listening carefully to General Conference the last couple of years with this focus, and many of the general authorities share deeply meaningful things about how important true humility is. On a more local level, I find that it is more likely that “humility” is a showy kind of attitude that is as much back-door bragging as anything. There’s a difficult balance between sharing a positive, energetic enthusiasm about our eternal potential and setting ourselves up to rejoice in the worldly accomplishments that we attribute to ourselves because we are “righteous” and therefore deserving of “blessings.”

    A common theme in Henri Nouwen’s writing is that our pain and suffering (he likes to call it our “brokenness” or woundedness) is a blessing because it brings us into contact with a level of humility that pushes us toward God. Jesus Christ is our example in that he submitted to all levels of woundedness to show us the way to God. I admit it sounds like you could take that to some unhealthy extremes, but really it’s an admission that we all have wounds and should be willing to care for each other in our service. I find that many Mormons don’t want to admit to being wounded, so they tend to keep a superficial “I’m OK, you’re OK” and focus on earthly accomplishments and eternal glory rather than an honest level of humility.

  21. No-man,

    “I’ve been listening carefully to General Conference the last couple of years with this focus, and many of the general authorities share deeply meaningful things about how important true humility is.”

    I think that President Uchtdorf’s talk “Lift Where You Stand” from Oct 2008 was aimed right at that issue of humbling serving where you are called.

    Hawk and others: I love George Pace. i have his books and tapes. I though his description of being with Christ in the Garden and witnessing the atonement was very moving and inspiring. I imagine he was a great teacher and a fine example. I thought the BRM rebuke was a shame.

  22. I think #10 identified the key: “focusing on how the topic related to our relationship with Christ.” Every lesson, every talk, every testimony could include this, and (in my opinion) needs to. Whether the topic is the W of Wisdom, priesthood, temples, JS or any other, the speaker should relate it to Christ, his life and atonement.

    I agree with Hawkgrrrl that Christ is too often missing from our services, but it would be so easy to correct. Ah ha! Finally something for the Sunday School presidency to do! 🙂

  23. The idea of a George Pace post is a good one. It’s sort of heartbreaking, though. I also had his son for French.

    I appreciate the comments about tying our existing lessons to Christ. I’ll be honest, though, the JS RS/PH manual is tough to do that with. Some lessons are easier than others, but probably 50% of the lessons, while they may have other merits and practical value, are a huge stretch to make a relevant connection to Christ work.

  24. Could it be that Christ is missing more from our thoughts than our lessons and talks?

    Just wondering. I have a post for that next week.

  25. Post

    Stephen – it’s been over 15 years since I had him for French, so I must confess I don’t know. But I got an A in his class.

  26. I count the Savior as my friend. I wish I could be a better friend, but I’ve experienced His love and forgiveness and can echo the words of Nephi to a certain extent when he said:

    He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 4:21)

    As I read the comments above, I didn’t come across the word repentance. If we are to know Christ, on a personal level, through a personal relationship, each of us needs to understand our need to repent, and be born again–and receive a remission of our sins.

    His gift to us is the Atonement, our gift to Him is our repentance.

    Church is essential, but it is ultimately insufficient to bring us to Christ. We come to Christ, when we call upon Him in mighty prayer and seek Him with a Spiritual energy that causes the channels of communication to be opened and His grace flows to us and we are baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost.

  27. I’ve heard Elaine Pagels on NPR talking about the Gnostic gospels. I enjoyed the way Christ is apparently portrayed in the Gospel of Thomas. Has anyone else heard the interviews or read her book? Do we put any stock in the Gnostic Gospels? Can I if I want to?

  28. Jared, my comment #8 dealt directly with repentance – since repentance (both reactive and proactive) is the heart of becoming more Christ-like.

  29. Darb,

    I love listening to Elaine Pagels–she is very interesting. The Gnostic Gospels are very interesting as well. One of the main differences between Gnostic Christianity and Orthodox Christianity is that the Gnostics didn’t believe Christ was resurrected, and it fact believed it wasn’t important at all. The Apostle Paul’s letters were written to counter this argument.

    Another thing about Gnosticism is that they believed in 2 Gods–a good god, and a bad god. The bad god had the name of Jehovah, and Jehovah created the world. Jehovah ruined much of everything. Gnostics believed that one needed to obtain gnosis or “secret knowledge”, and get rid of the body in order to be reunited with the good god. They actually believed that Judas helped Jesus get rid of his body, that Judas was the good guy, and all the other 11 apostles were dumb and evil. (The Gospel of Judas is a gnostic gospel.) Gnostics also praised Cain, who slew Abel. In their view, Resurrection is an unwanted aspect, and not part of the gospel of Christ. One should aspire to get rid of the body, not regain it through resurrection.

    Anyway, they have many other strange beliefs. Their emphasis on gnosis, or secret knowledge, is really interesting, but some of their other beliefs are quite foreign and heretical to us, even to a heretic like me! Many believe that the Gospel of Thomas predates our 4 gospels, and that it may be the source of Jesus’ words in the 4 gospels. The Gospel of Thomas has many things similar to what we read in the 4 gospels, but completely ignores the resurrection story. Gnosticism is interesting, but I’m not sure we really want to introduce it at church….

  30. It would be awesome if most church members were so focused on following the Savior as their model that when they show up at church their personal feelings for Him would automatically be infused into their talks and lessons. It’s pretty sad when we have to do things like count the number of times Jesus is mentioned in a sacrament meeting to determine how Christ-centered (or not) the meeting was. Even if He *is* mentioned often in a meeting, it is still somewhat contrived if it is not in our nature to do so freely and automatically.

    Food for thought: When you went out home or visiting teaching last month were you trying to do it the way Jesus would if He had the same assignment ? Or did you get out and do it so that you wouldn’t disappoint somebody ?

    When you prepared your talk or lesson, did you rely enough on inspiration that you could feel that at least part of your a message was custom-tailored by the Lord for the group you would be teaching ? In other words, you were a partner with Jesus in fulfilling that assignment ?

    I certainly don’t always serve in the way I have cited in the above examples, but I think that is a big part of why so many of our meetings are not Christ-centered. The words we speak in church are a (subconscious?) reflection of our thought patterns and behaviors – what we focus on – when we are *not* in church.

    I would think that until we see miracles as often as did Jesus and his Apostles in the New Testament, then we have plenty of room for discussion in our meetings about the personality, teachings, accomplishments, power, and life of Christ.

  31. I think a large portion of responsibility rests on us to develop our relationship with Jesus during Sacrament meeting. Especially when we’re taking the sacrament we can prepare our minds before we get there much like the Nephites in the Book of Mormon did before Jesus came. If we prepare our hearts, pray for a spiritual experience and then remain open minded during Sacrament I’m confident we’ll experience Jesus if we’re open to it. If someone is giving a talk that isn’t uplifting, we can think Christ-like thoughts for them and pray for them to know Jesus.

    Most importantly, if our ward is really bad, we can share our concerns with the Bishop and also ask if there is a way we can help…perhaps through prayer or offer to give a talk on how to speak.

    Sitting back criticizing in our minds won’t lead to any progress.

  32. To me, this is something I criticize in my mind, but haven’t talked to the bishop, instead try to bear a 20 second testimony on Christ as my savior and sit down, or make comments in GD to bring it back to Christ. When you add the time in church we take to go over announcements and other administrative or social needs, there is already little real preaching and learning going on, and even then, it is not about Christ nearly as much as it should be, at least in my experience.

    Its not just that Christ needs to be mentioned in talks and lessons, it needs to be studied. We should talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. -2 Ne 25:26

    Lesson on tithing – Christ makes it possible for us to enter heaven, we only are asked to pay 1/10th to our brothers and sisters who need our help

    Lesson on Charity – The focus isn’t that this helps us feel good about ourselves, it is how Christ loved us, and if we can’t possess that quality, nothing else matters.

    Lesson on Joseph Smith – he testified of Christ

    Lesson on Priesthood – Christ is the great High Priest – it is His priesthood.

    ….all lessons can and should start with this focus and end with tying all church practices to this focus.

  33. As a mother who is still raising her children, I am often suprised at how often we are taught “practical” lessons on how to raise children. Interestingly, so often our RS lessons (and even those in GD) regarding raising children focus on the tasks that we seem to love focusing on in the LDS church. We teach that we ought to “lead by example” – which is almost always in regards to completing a task (i.e. Family Home Evening, VT/HT-ing, attending meetings, etc.) It seems that we applaud parents who DO all the things they are supposed to. We use them as (local) examples of following the Savior.

    The problem that I see with this is the emphasis on what I call “the checklist” of Mormonism. We seem to focus so much on the tasks that are involved in being considered a “good Mormon” (in whose judgment?) that we neglect the principles that lie at the foundation of those “rules.”

    Children’s brains are growing and developing at phenomenal rates from about age 11-17. They are truly building the foundation of who they will be. Research suggests that this time span is equivalent in brain development as it is during those toddler years where young children learn to walk and talk!

    If we are only teaching our children how to “do” the Gospel, but not live it – and it does seem that our focus is on DOing the Gospel – then we are doing a huge disservice to our children. Because we stress “leading by example” we tend to preach our own “goodness” to our children – we turn ourselves into martyrs. If we do not feel we are “worthy” then we might in secret belittle another who does appear to be accomplishing all the tasks (the checklist of Mormonism) to console ourselves – but that doesn’t help our children achieve (another task oriented term) either.

    It amazes me that we will occasionally give lip-service to the Savior, but focus very little on the relationship we can have with him. Have you ever met someone who was truly saintly? I have had the privilege a couple of times in my life. You know the thing they had in common? They had true charity. They were honest – with themselves, they accepted who they were, and they were meek. They were accepting of every person – they felt compassion for all of their mortal brothers and sisters. Most importantly, they had a true relationship with the Savior – and one could feel the intensity of that relationship.

    As a mother, I believe the most important thing I can do is teach my children to build their relationship with the Savior. We teach our children that He is the one to know. We teach them that though we love them more than life itself, we are not perfect and can not atone for them. We teach them that the most important relationship they can have is with the Savior – that if they build that relationship, they will never be alone, and they can always feel Love. We rarely, if ever, teach our children that they need to be good examples or good Mormons. We rarely, if ever, teach our children that they need to be rule followers – and when we do, we explain the reasoning behind it. We rarely, if ever, teach our children that they must do what we say and be obedient. We try our teach our children to recognize the Spirit and to build a relationship with Jesus Christ. We try to teach our children the importance of principles so they can BE who they were born capable of being.

    Teaching the children what it means to know the Savior is far more valuable than teaching them to look at men and what men have accomplished. Men are fallible. Jesus Christ was much more about BEing than DOing. Imo, we (as a Church) are far too focused on DOing to the detriment of ourselves and more importantly, our children. Focusing so much on the tasks (or dare I say “works”) keeps us too focused on this plain of existence. If we could practice enough faith to teach the children to truly follow the Savior, I believe many more would keep the faith (not fall away) and that we would be a truly joyous society. By living the principles of the Gospel, we will be truly fulfilled. By living the principles of the Gospel, we will find a relationship with our Savior that can steady us for any storm. By focusing on the Savior, we need not worry about the checklist – the checklist items will be taken care of. Perhaps a bit more faith (in the Savior) would bring about greater change for good. Perhaps a bit more focus on the Savior would bring about greater faith. Perhaps a bit more focus on teaching the children about the Savior, and how to gain a personal relationship with Him, would bring about happier, stronger, harmonious and loving families. At least, that’s my opinion.

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