A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to See “Get Out”.

la-et-hc-get-out-horror-peele-20161004-snapI have been wanting to see Get Out, Jordan Peele’s foray into horror/race relations cinema, for some time. It was my fortune that my best friend suggested we see it, on what is becoming “our day” to hang out.  I arrived at the theatre (St. Anthony Main), where I purchased the tickets, and—at the suggestion of my bestie—sauntered into the neighborhood bar to order drinks. As I waited for my friend, I picked up on an interesting conversation at 3:00 (to my right). What appeared to be a couple on a date, a white man and a black woman, immersed in conversation about the film they were about to see, which happenstancely happened to be Get Out. At the same theatre, James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro was playing, and the discussion eventually centered around the subject.

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James Baldwin. Have we met?

“What?! You don’t know about James Baldwin?” the young white man exclaimed. The black woman admitted her ignorance, wherein the white dude went off on a veritable lecture on the merits of James Baldwin. “You know, the film does good about James’ works on race, but it doesn’t really focus in on him as a homosexual (sic),” and so on and so forth.  As I sat there in horror over the conversation, I was rescued by my friend. Thus, we ordered our beverages and retired to the theatre, which was packed by a rainbow of diversity, yet all gathered in one mission to watch a film. Touching.

Now, the horror I felt while sitting at the bar—this I must explain. Namely, anytime I pick up a conversation between people on a date is a terrifyingly awkward encounter. Why—in fact—a couple next to me (at 9:00), where in deep discussion about the man’s new “entry level job” at a charity foundation associated with a certain fast-food joint. Horrors upon horrors. If it wasn’t the awkwardness of being a single person forced to listen in on conversations that contribute to my detestation of dating, it was the subject matter that was engrossingly trivial. But no, the conversation at 3:00 was much more intriguingly disconcerting.

As I am wont to do, I post about this circumstance to Facebook, and go on my merry way into the theater. I join in with the audience to watch the film. It’s a wonderful film, as many—especially white folk—would agree, because of the paradoxically subtle and blatant exploration into race relations. An interracial couple travel to meet the white girlfriend’s family, where at first the awkwardness of meeting the parents descends into the offensiveness of stereotypes, and finally crashes into the horror of racism and general ‘evil.’

After the film, the encounter at the bar enmeshed with my experience of the film, and to the replies I received on Facebook about my post, I felt moved to expound on the experience.

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A wild SJW appears

An archetype that I have long struggled against is that of the social-justice-warrior (SJWs), and particularly from the entitled perspective. What is an SJW?  An SJW is ardently vocal about social justice issues to the point of ad nauseum. Now, I suppose we all should be ardently vocal about social justice issues, but a problem I have is what I suppose to be the subconscious (or perhaps more aptly, the unconscious) motive for a SJW to identify as such.

Let’s parse this out through psychoanalysis and speech-act theory.  On a conscious level, an SJW makes it known that they are for social justice by vocally demonstrating: “I am for social justice.” This is the locution; it’s what the SJW says.

On a subconscious level, there is an intent for the SJW to make known their “for-ness” for social justice. It can also be their intent for themselves to identify as a person who is ‘for social justice.’ Or, it can be—as I am oft to witness—the need for the individual to identify as corresponding to a certain category of their desire. This is the illocution.

But my suspicion lies within the unconscious intent for the utterance of “I am for social justice.” What is the person ‘really’ trying to explain by exclaiming that they are for social justice? Or, more aptly, what is the response the SJW desires from the recipient of the locution “I am for social justice,” (the perlocution)?

It is my belief that the perlocutionary intent of the utterance is the problem. As I’ve witnessed, interpreted, and intuited—time and time again—is that the intent is the need for the utterer to have the listener view the utterer as someone who is relatable/desirable because of an affinity that they are attempting to make, however authentic or inauthentic it may be. Thus, here is what I perceive some SJW speech-acts to be:

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So, in the event at the bar, when the white man evoked his knowledge of James Baldwin to the black woman, here could be the speech-act he was creating:

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Now, let’s talk about bias. Biases become explicit through the locution, but they remain implicit through not only the illocution, but especially the perlocution. In the example above, the bias is the inconceivability that a black woman would not know about another black person. Parsed out, the bias becomes a knowledge disparity:

“I know more about black people than you do, even though you’re black.”

But the bias becomes explicitly implicit (or is it implicitly explicit) in the perlocution:

“Because of your lack of knowledge about this black figure, I need to educate you in your culture, and by doing so, I’m demonstrating value and relatability to you as a white person who likes black people. So, I’m safe. I’m cool. Sleep with me.”

This kind of speech act is the heart of the white consciousness. As the dominant white consciousness engages with the other (any other race), whitefolk may go through different stages of engagement.

On one end of the spectrum, they may engage in an outright antagonism (“White Power! White Power!). A little down the gamut, they may engage at arm’s length (“Yeah, you’re black and I’m white; let’s leave it there.”).

Even further down the gamut, they may attempt to universalize as a means towards some relationality (“You know, I don’t see color. To me, we’re all human”). This minimization of the differences between whitefolk and not does nothing to address seeing the persons of color as culturally significant; it blends POC significance into the already confirmed significance of whitefolk.

Now, just a step down the gamut is a reversal. Once encountered with the other, the dread of the whitefolk’s racist legacy against people of color is realized, and so the weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues (“I love your culture so much! I wish I were part of it. I’m not like other white people. White people are so cray! Yaaaaaass!”).[1] The appropriation of the other’s culture is enacted while—at the same time— one’s own culture is repressed for the sake of the appropriation.

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Don’t Tread on Me! I’m just celebrating cultures!

My contention is that this kind of reversal is exactly what is occurring in the speech act outlined above. In fact, we see reversal at its most extreme in Get Out. The white family’s fascination with the black man progresses from desiring to relate to him to (and without making any explicit spoilers) desiring to becoming like him.

The investment into the culture-other, as a means of reconciling the conflict of the white consciousness, wherein encounter with the other results in perlocutionary bombastic boasting against the perceived ignorance of the other, is the kind of sick shit I was upset about. There, I said it.

Now, was this exactly what was going on in the consciousness of the white man with the black woman? Fuck, I don’t know. I can’t know. But I can interpret. I can intuit. That’s about all I can do.

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Talking about these things is so hard!

Now now, why do I bother writing about this anyway? Could it be my own white consciousness working out its own conflicts? Is my perlocutionary intent for you, dear reader, to see me as a valuable and relatable voice, wherein I can teach you something you don’t know? Or is it to demonstrate that I, as a white person, have given serious thought to the issue of race, and I want you to see me as someone who thinks seriously about race, and as someone who would never, and I say NEVER, speak that way to a black woman? Even moreso, is my critique of SJWs simply coming from my place of privilege?Perhaps.

If it is any of these (or other unconscious biases) at play, then I guess I will leave you, dear reader, with one final thought. Regarding my perchance for disenchantment with SJWs, my sentiment is asking whether we can be and do social justice without invoking the words of social justice. Let the speech acts speak for themselves, and be left open for interpretation.


[1] Now, I’m not going to get into the topic of “Yas” as cultural appropriation, even though I would love to dive right into it. An illuminating yet aggressive conversation about this took place on the Queer Exchange of Minneapolis/St. Paul group on Facebook. At this time, I’m not sure to what degree the moderators have censored the conversation, so I won’t bother to link it here.

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Why God Why? A Brief Conclusion

We ended the previous post  introducing what queering religion can do to the problem of reconciling faith and gender/sexual identities. Now, a brief conclusion.

As you may have seen from the logic of my conversation, I like the idea of queering religion a lot.  However, a problem with queer theology is that it still remains inaccessible to many people.  It was born in academia, and people like to hide it there and hide in it there.

In fact, it seems that it’s necessary for queer theology itself to come out of the closet.

So, here are a few things to look for and a few questions that need to be addressed if queering religion is to actually happen:

  1. Because queering religion tackles religion as institution, what is the role of place and space in queering religion? Queer religion is going be less tied to institutions as physical and metaphorical structures.
  2. Because queering religion tackles religion as ideology, it will have to consciously avoid becoming systematized. This means that everyone comes to queer religion with their own truth and openness to other truths. Queer religion is going to be less tied to certainty of beliefs.
  3. Because queering religion is all about deconstructing cisheteronormativity in religion, what will it construct in its place? What is the importance even of this question?
  4. Because queering religion comes from the experience of queer persons, what is the role of cis and hetero folks in fostering and flourishing queer religion?

These questions as all open, but I hope that you, your family and friends, and organizations like PFLAG will help create opportunities for this to happen.

Thank you.

Liked this series? Start over at the beginning!

 

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Queer Studies is an ivory tower. It shouldn’t be.

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Why God Why? Queering Religion

We ended the previous post illustrating paths of reconciliation between faith and gender/sexual identities through developing good hermeneutics and good principles of faith. Now, let’s throw that all out and queer it!

I am going to make a radical assertion that I believe to be true and that I invite you to wrestle with: there is a difference between a faith in the closet and a faith out of the closet. And so the process of remaining in faith gets tricky when one comes out. So even what one thinks about the love of God in the closet is subject to change and adapt upon leaving the closet.

The closet just doesn’t have devastating impact on the gender/sexual identity of a person, but also to their faith (and really everything!). Even with exiting the closet— being free of the oppression of guilt and shame—if the door is left open, then the cisheteronormativity of the closet can still haunt the newly excloseted person.

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“Queer Christ” (http://assets.vice.com). An example of the transgressive act of queering religion.

This leads to a third option – queering religion. I make the distinction between gay theologies and queer theologies because the term itself can mean several things. In one sense, queer can be understood as an umbrella term for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or other persons who do not identify within the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality. However, queer can also be understood by its transgressive element, where it functions as a disruption of normative sexualities, which may include gay, lesbian, and otherwise homosexual identities. Finally, borrowing from its eponymous discourse, queer can be understood as the deconstruction of the boundaries of gender and sexuality themselves.

 

Queering religion comes from the experience of queer people of being at the margins and liminalities of gender and sexuality. It means critically reflecting on one’s faith and breaking down the boundaries cisheteronormativity has set up.

We’ve already begun this work with good hermeneutics, but we need a hermeneutics of faith to help us reflect on whether or not the whole belief system is working. And we’ve actually done that already, with the model of the hierarchy of ultimates.

However, in unmasking the cisheteronormativity, queering religion takes us a step further by even questioning the role of ultimates; the role of having to pick and choose an ultimate that explains everything. One of the most important insights queering religion has given us is that we don’t have to think monochromatically any longer.

  • With the opening of queer sexualities, we no longer have the straight and gay binary any longer.
  • With the opening of queer genders, we don’t have the man and woman binary any longer.
  • With the opening of queer faith, we don’t have to rely on hierarchies (actually, a cisheteronormative construct) to explain what’s important to us.
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Did you know that quantum computing could allow a bit to be both a 0 and a 1 at the same time? Pretty queer, huh?!

All of this is to illustrate a problem of religion-as-ideology. A problem I’ve seen with LGBTQ persons of faith (in particular Christian) is that they invoke the hierarchy of ultimates in this way: it’s ok to be gay as long as your identity is solely and ultimately in Christ alone, and that your gender/sexual identity are subject to that.

Queering religion recognizes that identity is fluid and interconnected, not hierarchal. Because of this, this frees up religion to be dynamic and accessible to queer persons who don’t buy into the instructions of religion or the ideologies of theology. Queer faith is indeed liberating.

Next: Conclusions

 

 

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Why God Why? Repairing Bad Faith with Good Hermeneutics

We ended the previous post illustrating the scenario of atheism as a means of reconciling faith and gender/sexual identity. Now, we look at some another path of reconciliation.

For LGBTQ folks who find ways to reconcile the seemingly unseemly conflict between their faith and sexual/gender identity, they are the ones who find the bad links in the chain.

There are two strategies I want to present that help LGBTQ people of faith preserve the relationship between faith identity and sexual/gender identity. The first addresses these bad links in the chain. A lot of these bad links can be addressed through good hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation.  It’s basically the strategies we use to figure out what something means. Even though it’s a big word, everyone is a hemeneut. Here’s an example.

Consider the statement:

I will pay you back.

What does this say? What does this mean? I mean, it could mean all sorts of things. It could mean that a person has expressed the will of a good faith effort in creating a reciprocal transaction of funds wherein previously a transaction of funds was produced to the utterer of this statement.

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Or, it could mean this.

However, do we know in fact that there was a transaction of funds, or was it some other method of currency (like apples, or something)? All the more, it could also have a more malice meaning to it, as if the utterer intends ill will unto the receiver of the statement.

All of this is to illustrate that we have no idea what the statement means just from the words written/uttered. We need contexts to understand what is the intended meaning of the statement.

See? You just participated in hermeneutics. Now, here’s another example:

“Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.” – Leviticus 18:22, New Living Translation

So, what does this say? What does this mean?

A few things about this passage.  First: It’s a horrible interpretation. A better translation is “And with a male you shall not lay [as the] lyings of a woman.”[i] The specific reference here is to sexual intercourse between males.

The Hebrew תּוֹעֵבָה (to’evah) is translated into “detestable sin.” According to the phenomenal resource that is the NET Bible, this “refers to the repugnant practices of foreigners, whether from the viewpoint of other peoples toward the Hebrews[ii] or of the Lord toward other peoples.[iii] It can also designate, as here, detestable acts that might be perpetrated by the native peoples.[iv]” So, assumptions were made concerning the meaning of the Hebrew term תּוֹעֵבָה.

Second, and this point may be a little difficult to grasp, but I’m going to try: homosexuality did not exist back then!  I refer to a previous post where I clarify this point:

“However, the anomaly of homosexuality (as we understand it today) only became abnormal at the earliest with the invention of sodomy as a category of sin within the medieval Roman Catholic Church or at the latest with the invention of heterosexual and homosexual categories in the late 19th century. Sure, men fucked men and women fucked women since time immemorial, and a lot of people thought it was weird or gross or wrong, but it wasn’t homosexuality.”

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The men of Sodom and Gomorrah most likely fucked each other, but it wasn’t gay. And it sure as hell wasn’t the reason the Bible gave for why God destroyed the cities…

So, LGTBQ folks who have integrated their faith identity and sexual/gender identity have been an invaluable resource for those coming out.  They have helped to rewrite and reinterpret the misbeliefs that have been reinforced from bad hermeneutics and bad consequently ‘bad faith.’

That piece about bad faith leads me to the second strategy: reframing and reasserting the ultimate. The most common manifestation I’ve seen is when LGBTQ folks of faith reassert the belief that the love of God is their ultimate. Even though there are theological machinations involved in the translating of holy texts, this is an explicitly theological strategy. To come to this conclusions [that the principle of the love of God is an ultimate], a person would have to synthesize multiple sources (including but not limited to Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) to come to this systematic conclusion.

The resuscitation of the love of God as the defining ultimate interpretive principle for a theology is indeed a noble practice. I think this is a good strategy, but I don’t see it as an end point. I see it as part of a path in the reconciliation of faith and gender/sexual identity. In fact, I would question the need to reconcile itself. In order to do this, we need to reimagine the whole point of not only reconciling faith, but faith and religion itself.

Next: Queering Religion

 

[i] (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 123).

[ii] (e.g., Gen 43:32; 46:34; Exod 8:26)

[iii] (see esp. Lev 18:26-27, 29-30)

[iv] . (it is used again in reference to homosexuality in Lev 20:13; cf. also its use for unclean food, Deut 14:3; idol worship, Isa 41:24; remarriage to a former wife who has been married to someone else in between, Deut 24:4).

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Why God Why? Taking “God” Out of the Picture

We ended the previous post  with understanding the difficulty LGBTQ persons of faith have in the reconciliation of their gender/sexual identity with their faiths.  Now, we look at some paths of reconciliation.

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In the future South Park, atheist otters rule.

In the face of this seemingly unseemly conflict, there are two well-known responses people have when it comes to reevaluating the relationship between their faith and the gender/sexual identity. Namely, they are the choices whether to remain in faith or not to remain in faith.

A difficult task for the family and friends of LGBT folk is that they must accept the scenario that a person may ‘lose’ their faith when coming out.

Perhaps it is better that we reframe this situation. We want to avoid deficit language like “losing,” as if a person going through a faith transition results in a detriment to them. It may be a detriment to family and friends, but it may not be to the person coming out. I prefer using spatial metaphors such as “away” or “towards.” It recognizes that faith and non-faith are locations that have paths to each other, and often times the paths intersect.

However, the transition away from a faith tradition can be—and in my experience/observation is usually—a painful procedure. This is because faith communities expand the definition of family for its participants. Because such communities share a common faith tradition, the bonds of community are reinforced by faith. And when communities come together around an ultimate, the bonds of community are often prescribed by that ultimate.

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Shun the nonbeliever! Shhhhhhhuuuuuuuunnnnnnn-nuh!

All the more difficult is that the move away from faith is more often caused by the community of faith itself than the faith and theology of the person coming out. But why do communities of faith reject LGBT folk?

It would be easy to simply assign bigotry and chauvinism as the reasons, but reconsider this through the lens of religion as the organizing principle of that which we consider to be ultimate.

If anything were to threaten the integrity of that ultimate, it would be perceived as a legitimate danger. In particular evangelical communities, that ultimacy is tied up in the idea of the inherent inerrancy of the Bible. The absolute integrity of the truth statements in the Bible is a key to understanding an evangelical’s ultimate. The absolute trust and reliability in the church’s doctrine as truth is a key to understanding a catholic’s ultimate.

All of this is to illustrate a problem of religion-as-institution: are these really the ultimates that these faith communities unite around?  There is a problem with an ultimate when it means rejecting your own family or friends in its name.  This happens when there are bad links in the chains of ultimates.

Next: How to Repair those Bad Links in the Chains

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Why God Why? – Faith Coming Out

Regardless of whatever you believe or whether you believe in anything at all, I see ‘coming out’ as a religious experience.  To understand this, let me give you a framework of what I mean by religion. But first, I’ll explain what religion is not.

 

  • Copy-Nintey-Five-Thesis

    In a purely post-Protestant fashion, religion is neither the top picture nor the bottom picture

    Religion is not church, synagogue, mosque, gathering place, or any other space or
    institution. That “I” word is very important when understanding religion.

  • Religion is also not the set beliefs, tenets, ethics, rules, or any other ideologies. That other “I” word is also very important for understanding religion.

Religion—as a discourse, conversation, dialogue, or ideation—is a way we talk about things that we paradoxically consider to be of ultimate concern to us while also being beyond ourselves.

By ultimate concern, I mean that which is of the most importance to us. It is the thing that we consider to make sense of, account for, hold together, ground everything.

By beyond, I mean it as a metaphor. Religion is metaphor. It is a whole discourse situation of metaphors used to help us express that which is of ultimate concern.

In fact, faith, this thing of trust in something, is a metaphor of ultimate concern.

Think about what is most important to you. Then think about what is more important to that. Then think about what is most important to that. Keep going back and there you have your ultimate.

So, what’s your ultimate?  Here’s an example of this working out.  Let’s say right off the cuff that ‘family’ is the most important thing to you, whether or not you believe in a God that is responsible for it all.

D155-467Why is your family important?

You may say it’s because it’s important for people to be together.  Why is being together important? Well…

You may say it’s because security is important.

Or maybe you say it’s because a sense of belonging is important.

And this is important because…

You have a fear of dying.

Or of being alone.

And this is important because…

You recognize that mortality exists

or because you value the principle of love.

And this is important because…

You assume that life exists

Or you assume everyone feels and needs love.

And probably, at this point, you have reached an inexpressible ultimate for why it is important that existence is and that being loved is. You still following along?

But if you think about this hierarchy of ultimacies, at some point you will have expressed necessary needs, unbearable situations to avoid, and virtues to be exemplified.

And before you get to the end, you will usually make the claim that either everyone must feel or think this way or at least under some conditions people feel and think this way.

Now, if you’re still following along, I want you to think of theology as the conversation that makes sense of these ultimate concerns, and that religion structures them in such a way that they meet people’s necessary needs, prevent unbearable situations, and exemplify virtues as best as they can.

But how religions and some philosophies work sometimes is that they cut out the middle people, saying that what is of utmost importance to you is that there is or isn’t a reason for things to be important.

That brings us to talking about faith in the coming out experience.

Like I said earlier, I believe that the coming out experience is a religious experience. It is a moment (or series of moments) where we come to actualize a part of ourselves that we consider of utmost significance <<dare I say, ultimate>> to ourselves. So, you can understand why coming out can be difficult for LGBTQ persons who consider themselves people of faith: it’s a battle of ultimates!

The next few illustrate what happens in this battle royale, so stay tuned!

 

 

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Why God Why? Faith in Coming Out (A Series)

When someone comes out, it’s world-changing moment for them, their family, and their friends. No matter what level of support there is in the coming-out process, it requires everyone involved to reflect on their role and relationship to the person coming out. For families coming from faith perspectives, this includes reflecting on their relationship with their communities of faith, to the teaching and values they’ve held, and to the God or gods in which they believe.

I recently led a conversation at PFLAG Twin Cities about the role of faith and religion in the coming our process. Here’s a little bit about PFLAG:

pflag_4c_nsFounded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization. Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality and full societal affirmation of LGBTQ people through its threefold mission of support, education, and advocacy.[1]

While the Twin Cities chapter of PFLAG is not affiliated with any religious organization they do believe that people can make a difference and that treating others with kindness and patience are great virtues.

It was an open and respectful discussion about how religious beliefs change, adapt, or disappear in the face of coming out. To kick off the talk, I wanted to give the audience a different framework on how to look at religion. This was necessary to do before we delved into the way faith impacts the coming out process. I talked about three paths that the role of faith can take in the coming out process:

  1. Atheism – It was important for the people attending this talk to know that leaving faith is a natural, expected, and valid option of coming out. With this, we talked about the reasons why people leave faith and how to view it with the new framework I provided.
  2. Open, Affirming, Accepting, Embracing Faith – While some leave faith after coming out, others find it as a new source of transformation. These folks have reconciled various beliefs with their sexual/gender identity and found ways of integration.
  3. Queering Religion – I assumed that this would be new to my audience, so I took time to explain what I was offering. Basically, queering religion means that the fact of being queer means something for religion; it means a uniquely new way of looking at religion that comes ‘straight’ from the experience of queer folk. I offered questions to be considered if queering religion is really showing up in congregations, communities, and families.

So, I invite you along in this series of exploring the impact of faith in the coming out process!!!

 

[1] http://home.pflag.org/pagee8a0.html?pid=191

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