Author Archives: Paul Inglis

About Paul Inglis

Paul Inglis is a long time member of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Australia. He recently retired as the Community Minister for Dayboro and Mt Mee Uniting Churches, just north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He accepted an invitation to become the Queensland's first Uniting Church Community Minister and continued in that role for more than 10 years. Previously he had been a State primary school teacher, school principal for 11 years and then Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology for 25 years. He has served on UCA Assembly, Synod, Presbytery and Congregational Councils. In retirement he is actively involved in family, church, and community. His commitment to 'progressive' Christianity emerged from contact with the late Professor Rod Jensen who founded the Lay Forum in 2004 and from his experience in ministry with people seeking an authentic faith. Paul's PhD from the University of Queensland is in Adult Learning.

Something different in a worship event

The 9:30am service on Sunday 18/11/2018 at West End Uniting https://www.westendunitingchurch.org.au/, corner of Vulture and Sussex Streets, Brisbane is advertised as an All Ages Service – it will follow the theme:
The wonder of God who comes close to us.

Guest present is Peter Marshall. He will give a Nature based kid’s address plus a personal reading relating to this theme which will be delivered in the time space where the Message would usually be given by the Minister. 15 mins of the service following his section will be for discussion, journaling, quiet time and craft activity (people attend their preference).

Peter has made the following reflection on our review of Peter Gunson’s God Ethics and the Secular Society to the UCFORUM as he prepares for this Sunday:

Like many books or précis of books I come across in very recent times they seem to echo my own thoughts. Generally I find them to support my world view, but in so doing usually do not provide any challenge for me. Of course there is inherent challenge within my world view so perhaps I expect too much in wanting books such as John Gunsons to provide more. At any rate I will be sharing something of my world view at the West End Uniting church on Sunday 18 November at the 9:30am service. I will be most interested to see how my sharing of personal experiences are received and am of course quite nervous about the outcome. But given I am not a minister or even a church member, I think it quite courageous of the West End committee to take a chance on turning quite a large proportion of the service over to me. I hope to bring people to a sense of great wonder through sharing personal experiences of nature and ecology that maybe are very foreign to many churched members. Oh well, gotta take a chance sometimes.

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Book Review: God, Ethics and the Secular Society

Does the Church have a Future? by John Gunson

Just how much are we prepared to be challenged? How far can a critique of the Church as an institution rather than a community be explored? John Gunson takes the reader on a ride that calls for a total rethink of what it means to follow Jesus. This is a no compromise, no apologies, intensely argued case against religion and in favour of a Jesus movement that is centred on ecological ethics and shared responsibility for the future.

Like all great journeys it will stay in the memory and forever affect the subconscious of the reader. For John Gunson the key question is not ‘What is the meaning of life?’ but ‘How should we live?’.

A Jesus ethical ecology will always go further than living for personal meaning – it is to live primarily with ‘the good of all’ being the goal – a pursuit of the greater goal … ‘acting from the point of view of the universe’.

This is a comprehensive coverage of the evolution of religious and theological thinking that has grown around ‘theories of God’ and the parallel growth of scientific thinking that provides alternative answers to developing doctrines. The author is not soft on supernatural theism and also does not see ‘panentheism’ the favourite of many progressives, as the answer. He describes a ‘third way’ – ‘God’ as symbol for the highest and the best that we know or can conceive, a symbol of goodness, truth and love. In doing this he accommodates a scientific world view. He rejects a dualism of the sacred and scientific and sees integrity of personal experiences explained realistically rather than by ‘faith’ and ultimately asks whether Christian theology is worth keeping. What do we lose if we throw out orthodox Christian theology? Is the world any poorer by rejecting scripture as literal?

But John Gunson argues for the retention of much – our urgent and desperate need to overcome self-centredness; our embracing of the Jesus Way as freeing us from self and being for all; the Jesus community as agent for nurturing and sustaining life; a world society where we can live out Jesus’ way of love.

He conducts a splendid survey of contemporary scholarship about Jesus that reveals much that we never had access to in our learning of orthodox theology. He critiques Paul, the dogmas of the Church, the historical perspectives that shaped the Church and makes the case for ‘ethical ecology’ as a basis for constructive living – the core message of Jesus. Ethical ecology asserts that the rational person’s knowledge of the world, and of self, can lead to understanding that the good of each depends on the good of all, and that our capacity for love and good can direct our energies towards successful ecological outcomes. A Christian (or rather a Jesus ecological)ethic will go one step further – lead to living primarily with good of all as our goal, and will need us to sacrifice our own good in the pursuit of that greater good. He presents an Ethical Manifesto to support this argument.

is it time to discard ‘religion’ as a primitive stage of human development – to challenge human maturity and responsibility for all of life and walk softly on the earth rather than have dominion over it? This calls for a new way to be Church. When Paul wrote to various churches that he had founded in Asia Minor, he was addressing the small Christian communities or fellowships in each place – not referring to a building or an institution. The Church should be like these small communities – places for discussion about ethical ecology – the radical ethic of Jesus.

But we are still trapped in Platonic thinking if we think that goodness, truth and love are discreet realities, separate from our thoughts and actions. At the same time Cosmology as a philosophy has outlived its usefulness – so how do we understand the meaning of life? For John Gunson it is through psychology, ethics and above all science.

And lest we fall into the trap of ‘resting’ in our search for understanding – Gunson manages to put under critical focus the major influential writers of this era and none are free from his assertion that they are individually faulty in their claims.

We are a people of new scientific thinking and should give greater credence to our own abilities to interpret the meaning of life.

Highly recommended reading.

Paul Inglis 5th November 2018.

This book is available in print (Morning Star Publishing)  and e-copy (Amazon Australia Kindle)

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Discussion: Panentheism

St Catherines Anglican Middle Park PAX (Progressive Anglicans) are having an advent dinner on 11 NOV 2018 at 6pm. During the meal there will be discussion about George Stuart’s writing on Panentheism. He has encapsulated this understanding of God in a nutshell and gives some answers to the difficult questions that are logical and form a solid understanding of God.

If you are interested in attending, contact Denis Freeman   dfreeman2006@hotmail.com            0409 640 637

43 Macfarlane Street, Middle Park Q 4074

There is plenty of parking at the church—the driveway is located between the church and the Guide Hut next door.

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Opinion: A Progressive/Radical Church for Today – Getting Started

by John Gunson (see some bio details at the foot of this article)

[Comments are welcome using the “Reply” option above.]

John is the author of God, ethics and secular society (2014) which will be reviewed on the UCFORUM soon. This piece is a timely challenge to progressive thinkers about the need to demonstrate change beyond just conducting a discourse. We hope Explorer groups and individuals will use this paper in some practical way.

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Progressive Christianity has lost its way. And it seems to have ground to a halt. Why? While it has been a wonderfully enlightening and liberating movement for Christians within the churches, and some who have left, it has failed to recognize its two fundamental blind spots.

Progressive Christianity has focussed on reforming and restating the church’s mythological, supernatural theology, and recovering the original Jesus Way before Jewish, Greek and Roman influences reshaped it into what became formalized and forever fixed at Nicea.

It has done this because it now has to exist in a secular world, especially in Europe, the USA, and above all in Australia.

Its first blind spot is that it doesn’t really understand the secular world’s attitude to the church and to religion itself. The average Australian isn’t simply put off by either the church’s theology or its boring Sunday worship, but by the church itself, and by religion generally (except for recent migrants), regardless of theology.

Reforming theology can be liberating for existing church members, but is irrelevant to secular Australians. They will not be attracted to the existing churches, no matter what we do. To them, the church as institution or God-worship centre in the main street is a discredited and irrelevant anachronism from the past.

The second blind spot is Progressive Christianity’s failure to understand that the existing historic church itself is part of the “Constantinian” theology that must be left behind. Under the Constantinian settlement churches were defined by large buildings (worship-of -God centres), clergy, hierarchy and theology, and as part of the establishment rather than the counter culture. This church has to be left to die, not modernised or reformed.
The future church has to look nothing like the existing church, and because the membership of the existing church is largely over 70 years of age the new and future church must be started from scratch from “young” secular Australians currently not only outside the church, but from among those either hostile or indifferent to it in its present and historic form.

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Something Special: Drama and Poetry from Caloundra Explorers

“Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”

written by John Everall.

Based on the fascinating research by Jesus Seminar Fellow, Professor Arthur Dewey in his book How the Death of Jesus was remembered – Inventing the Passion, we will become part of a Panel of Inquiry as “A Further Inquiry Reviewing ‘The record as to the death of Jesus of Nazareth’ under the title “ Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”. Think Banking Inquiry but with our seven actors testing and reviewing Professor Dewey’s proposition.

In a very ‘different’ Gathering, we will firstly explore some of the wonderful senses and sentiments that the “spoken word” can convey in meditations and poetry from our 21st century culture, and then , through the medium of Drama in a play, compare this with 1st Century Jewish culture.

All Explorer and our Regional Friends are especially invited to this Gathering at 5.30pm -7.30pm

Having our Presiding Officer (Zoe McLachlan) put a Roman Envoy (George Thomas) , a Jewish Scholar (Alan Hindmarsh), a refugee from Jerusalem’s sacking (Glenwyn Carson)and a New Testament Biblical researcher (Rev. Brian Gilbert) into the limelight through questioning by our Counsels Assisting,(John Everall and Margaret Landbeck) this should give our Gathering “Panel” an enjoyable and highly instructional night.

That Panel (played by YOU!) takes part in actually weighing up ‘the evidence’ and forming a ‘consensus’ opinion as to “Does Professor Dewey’s proposition have resonance in the ‘progressive journey’ for many of today’s active Christian explorers?

Having enjoyed challenging thoughts, indulged in both chuckles and straight out laughter, and maybe a little tear with our Jewish refugee, we also add in for you a byo light finger food meal in the context of a 1st Century Didache Syrian community shared meal, and, finally, round off the evening with a return to beautiful 21st Century thoughts through Rev. Bruce Sanguin’s work for “concentrating one’s thoughts”.

Caloundra Explorers Group is never afraid to offer something that is not only ‘inspiring’ but also a bit ‘challenging’ to our journey!

Why not join in this rather special, and different, evening Gathering.

Our actors have been in rehearsal for over four weeks, and they would be delighted if you could accept their personal invitation to ‘come along’ and be part of ‘the action’ on Sunday night, 21st October, in the Caloundra Uniting Church Hall.

Enquiries: Email contact

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Book Review: Two Elephants in the Room by John Bodycomb

Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership, John Bodycomb, 2018, Spectrum Publications Pty Ltd, Richmond, Victoria.

John Bodycomb clearly has a long experience at the workface of the church and its ministry. His sociological, teaching and ministry skills are obvious in this short thesis on the two most significant elements challenging organised religion. He also demonstrates a wonderful sense of humour that ‘thinking’ readers will enjoy. He needs to be heard and responded to.
The two elephants:
• The future of organised religion in western society, and
• The future of professional ministry
are apparent at a time in Australia when the consensus is moving towards ‘no religion’ in their lives. Indifference to organised religion is steadily increasing. At the same time many young people still believe there is more to life than the material and view being ‘spiritual’ with its multiple meanings as a transcendent dimension that takes them to a higher experience of life.

Drawing on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and motivation research, he explains why some people stay with the church and that here is a key element for church leaders to note when looking for answers to how to grow the church. What has intrinsic worth in our lives today is very different from that of previous generations. This includes ‘ethical axioms’ that no longer produce this ‘transcendence’. Nevertheless, Bodycomb is able to identify real benefits to people engaging with organised religion. He offers 12 fascinating ‘benefits’ that effective churches demonstrate, including:
• Developing proficiency in relating socially – getting along with others
• An aid to an effective ‘inner gyroscope’ – enabling one to preserve a placid interior, undisturbed by outside buffeting
• Bringing ‘inklings’ of transcendence through music, philosophy and theology.

But Bodycomb emphasizes that the intangible benefits for ‘living life to the full’, in the sense of Jesus’ teaching, is dependent on the inventiveness of the local church. The church needs to be a thinking institution. He sees the greatest risk to the church is its tendency to discourage thinking. Theology needs to be re-invented, re-defined. ‘God talk’ has been manufactured. Doctrines need to undergo close critical deconstruction and theological colleges need to open up this discourse and encourage it.

Whilst Bodycomb has seen the expiration of the church as we know it, he insists that the great ‘existential’ questions will still exercise minds e.g. Is there anything to describe as ‘transcendence’ beyond what we can physically see? “Is G-O-D a fantasy or …. a reality?” What is G-O-D? Like Spong, Bodycomb sees the imperatives for change – without evolution we will witness extinction of organised religion. Evolution has been going on since the European Renaissance and the Reformation, but change has always been met with counter movements to restore the ‘authority’ of the church. This is no longer working. Consequences of massive socio-cultural changes are no longer able to be stopped. The ‘back to orthodoxy’ movement is alive but now only impacting on a slim minority.

Bodycomb identifies the key adaptive responses as cerebral and visceral with the former being adopted by ‘progressives’ and the latter by those who are still holding onto unquestioning fundamentalism. He has a long history of asking questions about theological education and has challenged the theological colleges with learning lessons from Tillich and others who knew the value of pastoral ministry over having the ‘right’ theology. His ideas about church today should be heard and acted on. What he says makes so much sense and, if acted on, would re-connect the church with the secular world. His 10 disincentives and 10 incentives to consider when going into ministry today are critical lessons to all church teachers and ministry mentors. His model for moving ministry into a sphere of relating to the world and its pressing needs stands as a credible guide that should be informing training programs.

This thesis could have been titled – Asking the Right Questions about the Church and its Leadership. It has convinced me that the church enterprise needs urgently to move from its ‘maintenance’ model to an urgent energetic response to a world that needs help with massive life-threatening problems.

The author: Rev. Dr John Bodycomb is a Melbourne-based minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. He retired in 1996 after forty years as parish minister, Christian educator, University Ecumenical Chaplain and former head of the Uniting Church’s Theological Hall in Melbourne. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his promotion of religious freedom and to fostering ecumenism.

Reviewer: Dr Paul Inglis, 8th October 2018
Retired UCA Community Minister
Retired Academic, QUT Faculty of Education
CEO UC Forum – https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

Where to purchase: Spectrum Publications

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Report: Visit of Glennis Johnston to the Caloundra Explorers.

Glennis Johnston will be remembered by many of those present at the Explorers 8th Annual Seminar for her fascinating insight into Process Theology, plus adding in a bit more with quantum physics, a touch on the concept of time, of course throwing in resourceful meditation, and all themed through an interesting introduction using some church history to put everything into our modern perspective; … how could we not be fully engaged and delighted!! Intriguing discussion as to ‘our dark side’ and much, much , more. Glennis’ new book “ A New Spiritual Tapestry” should give considerable thought to many readers.

And of course, being Caloundra, a fabulous spread for morning tea, and Subway excelled themselves in providing the basis for our lunch ;as always! Great credit to the Caloundra Explorers Team….. why would you buy sausage rolls for morning tea when you have the best ‘home grown sausage roll maker’ in town volunteering as part of the Team!

Our 8th Annual Seminar was a resounding success….. but we are now exhausted!

Of course, all will change by the 21st October when we have our final 2018 Gathering of Explorer and our Regional Friends at 5.30pm on the Sunday night.

We will firstly explore some of the wonderful senses and sentiments that the “spoken word” can convey in meditations and poetry from our 21st century culture, and then , through the medium of Drama in a play written by one of our members, compare this with 1st century Jewish culture. Based on the fascinating research by Jesus Seminar Fellow, Professor Arthur Dewey in his book “ How the Death of Jesus was remembered – Inventing the Passion”, we will become part of a Panel of Inquiry as “A Further Inquiry Reviewing ‘The record as to the death of Jesus of Nazareth’” under the title “ Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”. Think Banking Inquiry but with our seven actors testing and reviewing Professor Dewey’s proposition. Having our Presiding Officer put a Roman Envoy, a Jewish Scholar, a refugee from Jerusalem’s sacking and a New Testament Biblical researcher into the limelight through questioning by our Counsels Assisting, this should give our Gathering “Panel” an enjoyable and highly instructional night as they weigh up ‘the evidence’ and form an opinion as to “Does Professor Dewey’s proposition have resonance in the ‘progressive journey’ for many of today’s active Christian explorers?” We also add in a byo light finger food meal in the context of a 1st century Didache Syrian community shared meal, and round off the evening with a return to beautiful 21st century thoughts through Rev. Bruce Sanguin’s work for “concentrating one’s thoughts”.

Caloundra Explorers Group is never short of something or other ‘inspiring’ to our journey! Why not join in this rather special, and different, evening Gathering.

Contact: John Everall

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God, the Trinity and Panentheism

by George Stuart (see bio details at the end of this article.) 

Note: Following posting of Rodney Eiver’s article Our Father Who Art Up There, George has kindly given us this chapter from a book he is currently drafting. George Stuart has crafted the popular series of songs and music entitled Singing a New Song .

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I am in the process of writing my theological autobiography entitled, ‘Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus, Starting all over again’. One of the sections has to do with my concept of God, my version of the Trinity. It is rather long but you may be interested.

I begin by saying that my present beliefs are panentheistic. I understand panentheism as the belief that God is ‘in’ everything and everything is ‘in’ God. This sets a completely new path for me, from which to view reality, the cosmos, humanity and the meaning of everything, including Jesus and his cross. This supersedes any anthropomorphic (human like) image of God. It replaces what I understand to be, the misleading idea about the separation of God from humanity – God, a separate entity, being away and distinct. It also precludes any violence in God. God being in control also becomes irrelevant. These are all built on anthropomorphic images and ideas.

This is so, so different to what I have believed previously, however, I still have connections with the Bible, with church teachings and some of what I experience in the current church services I attend.

I replace the anthropomorphic images of God with more complicated, mystical images of spirit and energy. These are somewhat abstract, and thus maybe more difficult to embrace. I am reminded of teaching in a gospel conversation that Jesus has with the woman of Samaria.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24.)
Certainly not the easiest to comprehend. In this quotation, God is not ‘a spirit’, but ‘spirit’. For me, the two are different and the quote points beyond the dominant biblical images of God.

The quote includes, ‘those who worship him…’ (John 4:24.)
This falls back into anthropomorphic talk which, for me, is a pity. God again, becomes a ‘him’
I do not find the word ‘energy’ in my biblical concordance, so I’m not sure that this concept is present in the biblical way of thinking. Energy is not a first century concept but it is central to modern thinking, particularly with the explosion of scientific information and the current way of understanding the cosmos.

I also find it significant that God is referred to as ‘love’, see 1 John 4:16a, and not ‘a loving person’. Again, the two are very different for me. The first is mystically abstract but the second sounds very anthropomorphic.

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Report on today’s PCNQ seminar

It is fast becoming the norm for our gatherings of ‘progressives’ to be strong on fellowship and meaningful discourse. Today was no exception. The discussion about Bessler‘s third and contemporary quest for the human Jesus was preceded with a sharing of individual thoughts on the current state of the church, society, theological studies, leadership in a time of challenge to the very notion of truth seeking, and much more. This highlighted how comfortable we are with shared conversations rather than traditional dogmatics, with learning from each other as well as the literature and enjoying the tension of contested ideas.

Participants were invited to leave notes for the committee to consider future topics for discussion. This invitation is extended to everyone. Just send your thoughts to Desley.

We are currently looking at having either the October or the November gathering on a Sunday afternoon so that people who cannot make it to weekday sessions have this option. Watch for details coming soon.

Paul Inglis 26/09/18

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Reflection – Our Father Who Art “Up there”.

Rodney Eivers
22nd September 2018

“God” had a big press in Australia in mid-September!

This came about from the headline news that Bill Hayden, former Governor-General and a proclaimed atheist, had returned to Roman Catholicism.

It has made many people very angry judging by the comments in the newspaper letter pages and social media. Some people, though, have been heartened that a prominent person would make such a declaration. One curious thread for me from the remarks of the angry people is that Bill Hayden should not have allowed, or promoted, his decision as a front-page item. He should have kept it to himself. Another thread was that he became baptised because he wants to be sure of a place in heaven with his likely death in the next few years.

Now I can’t speak for Bill Hayden as to what his real motives were. If you take him at what he has publicly said, it was because, through the example of human beings known to him. Their care and compassion, was linked to their professed Christianity so it became a club he wanted to join. We do not have any detail of the finer theological rationale for the decision nor of his concept of “God”

This brings me to what prompted this reflection. Some months ago I offered some comment to “Judith” who had responded to a website article on the UC FORUM .She was distressed that after 60 years as a faithful Christian she still had not found the answer to “Who or what is God?”

I threw in some thoughts on how other people had responded to this question. Some would see God as being the still inner voice in our minds when we talk with ourselves when pondering life or needing to make decisions. At the other end of the scale some would see God as the sum total of all the probabilities and chances which came together from the Big Bang. From this followed the formation of the stars and planets, the evolution of life and ultimately to the churning over of ideas and emotions going on in our human brains. Some are satisfied to say God is a symbol for what is. Symbols for Life and love, if you want to pin it down further. Perhaps the Hebrew scriptures were putting it something like that (Exodus 3:14) when Moses had the same problem as Judith.

Going on a bit further, though in my reply to Judith, I put the question, “Was the supernatural a reality for Jesus?” My answer to that rhetorical question was, “Most likely, because everyone of that era, including Greek philosopher, Socrates, accepted the supernatural as a reality.

I commented further that because Jesus is identified with the Lord’s prayer, starting with “Our Father which art in heaven” then we can assume that he had some supernatural place in mind, perhaps up in the sky, where God lives. (Isaiah 40: 22)

Just this week, however, I discovered a new slant on this perception, something I had not been aware of before.

The new information was a comment which I have summarised and extracted as follows:
The New Testament of the Bible was written in the Greek. Jesus is said to have spoken in Aramaic. Greek culture had a strong concept of “heaven” as the home of the gods – something separate and distant from us mere mortals on Earth. In Aramaic however, the equivalent word can mean something quite different. The Aramaic phrase “Our Father who art in heaven” elicits the image of creation, of giving birth to the universe. At another level it presents the image of the divine breath (spirit) flowing out of oneness, creating the whole diversity of forms. The equivalent word for “heaven” conjures the image of light, sound and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence then “heaven” is conceived not so much as a place outside this world but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere. The above translation is in dispute by some professional linguists. They quite rightly argue that as the language of that period is no longer in use one cannot rely on current versions of a language to accurately describe past events. Can one apply the English spoken during the Roman occupation with what is spoken in the British Isles today? Chaucer from a much later period is difficult enough to follow
Nevertheless, the exercise does demonstrate that we are well justified in seeking alternative interpretations of Bible passages. It may be true that, I was on the wrong track in using the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer to certify that Jesus was a supernaturalist. Perhaps he did have a vision of an entity which was not tied to Greek assumptions about heaven as the home of the gods. If so, perhaps we can take some comfort in imagining God not as being away up there, far from us, but as an ever-present component of our humanity and of our daily life here on earth.

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Note: We welcome further reflections on this reflection. Just go to the “Reply” spot at the beginning of this entry and post your thoughts.

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