Famed theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann says humans must stop spoiling the Earth’s natural resources or face consequences

 Dr. Walter Brueggemann got his Marquette, Michigan audience involved in his talk about the bible and the environment often resulting in laughter and stunned silence - hundreds turned out for his talks at Northern Michigan University and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan

Dr. Walter Brueggemann got his Marquette, Michigan audience involved in his talk about the bible and the environment often resulting in laughter and stunned silence – hundreds turned out for his talks at Northern Michigan University and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan

Biblical scholar warns proposed U.P. sulfide mine is losing idea that puts economic interests over environment & local concerns

At the Northern Michigan University Lutheran Campus Ministry house, Theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann shows an Earth Keeper Shirt he was given while sharing a laugh with Marquette Baha'i Spiritual Assembly leader Dr. Rodney Clarken, one of the 10 Earth Keeper Initiative faith communities.

At the Northern Michigan University Lutheran Campus Ministry house, Theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann shows an Earth Keeper Shirt he was given while sharing a laugh with Marquette Baha’i Spiritual Assembly leader Dr. Rodney Clarken, one of the 10 Earth Keeper Initiative faith communities. 

Dr. Walter Brueggemann describes consequences of greed, overindulgence, and abuse of the environment

(Marquette, Michigan) – Noted theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann warns that the proposed sulfide mine in northern Michigan is a losing proposition that puts economic interests over concerns of local residents and the environment.

In an interview following his Upper Peninsula visit, Brueggemann said while he doesn’t know the all the details about the proposed sulfide mine near Lake Superior in Marquette County he has done “some reading on the crisis of the proposed mining initiative” in northern Michigan.

Opponents of Michigan sulfide mine are worried that the Salmon-Trout River in Marquette County will be polluted like another sulfide mine did to this river (Save the Wild UP photo)

Opponents of Michigan sulfide mine are worried that the Salmon-Trout River in Marquette County will be polluted like another sulfide mine did to this river (Save the Wild UP photo) 

“It is obviously a case in which the well being of the environment and the well being of the neighborhood are being subordinated to economic interests,” Brueggemann said.

“In the bible, the economy is, according to the Torah, kept subordinated to the well being of the neighborhood,” Brueggemann said. “This seems to me a case in which economic interests want to overpower the concerns of the neighborhood.”

Biblical scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann, who is known for dramatic hand gestures while speaking, delivered passionate messages in northern Michigan including at Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming

“From the perspective of biblical faith, that is always a loser,” Brueggemann said.

On Monday night, a standing room only crowd clapped when he tied abuse of the environment to the proposed sulfide mine by stating abused land will not produce in the future.

“What this poet knows is that absentee ownership and agribusiness – and you can extrapolate the word mining – I don’t know much about it but I know that much – will simply refuse to produce when the land becomes a tradeable commodity and is no longer caressed, and honored and treated with its own particular creation magic,” Brueggemann said. “The land requires ownership that is partnership and without such partnership creation loses its interest in fruitfulness.”

Speaking this week to packed audiences at two northern Michigan events, Dr. Brueggemann warned that today’s world should change its ways because the “creator will not tolerate the ultimate despoiling of creation.”

Brueggemann’s talks were co-sponsored by Lutheran Campus Ministry, the interfaith NMU EarthKeeper Student Team, the NMU departments of Philosophy and English, the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming.

Northern Michigan University Earth Keeper (NMU EK) Student Team Project Director Jennifer Simula spoke during the event at NMU

Northern Michigan University Earth Keeper (NMU EK) Student Team Project Director Jennifer Simula spoke during the event at NMU

Brueggemann’s visit “was another way we like to continue our (environmental) work and invite other people into our community so that we can learn from them and continue to grow in our knowledge about theology and creation and the environment as well,” said Jennifer Simula, the NMU EK project director and a student leader with NMU Lutheran Campus Ministry.

Northern Michigan University Earth Keeper (NMU EK) Student Team Project Director Jennifer Simula turns podium over to Professor Don Dreisbach of NMU Dept. of Philosophy who introduced biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann

Northern Michigan University Earth Keeper (NMU EK) Student Team Project Director Jennifer Simula turns podium over to Professor Don Dreisbach of NMU Dept. of Philosophy who introduced biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann

Understanding the audience was filled with supporters of the environment, Brueggemann said he is “aware of the work of the Earth Keeper’s Covenant and so I already know that you are into these issues” describing his talk “simply as a reinforcement footnote to what all of you have already thought.” Earlier in the day, Brueggemann was given an Earth Keepers shirt.

Noted author and Bible scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann holds an Earth Keeper shirt at Lutheran Campus Ministry on Monday Oct. 8, 2007

Noted author and Bible scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann holds an Earth Keeper shirt at Lutheran Campus Ministry on Monday Oct. 8, 2007

Speaking to over 400 people in Ishpeming and Marquette, Dr. Brueggemann said historically greed, disregard for the environment and “the violation of the ten commandments will lead to the dismantling of creation.”

An expert and prolific author on the Old Testament, Brueggemann quote numerous biblical verses and described the prophets of the time as “poets” who warned about the greedy abuse of nature because people must “view the environment as God’s gift that requires responsible management.”

Bringing humor and simple explanations to complex scripture, Dr. Brueggemann’s animated translations invoked passion, laughter, and stunned silence that was often punctuated with crescendos, whispers and dramatic gestures like a fist in the air or hands clutching his head.

“Every national security state works itself to destruction – never learning in time the limits to acquisitiveness and giving full rein to satiation,” Brueggemann said Monday night (Oct. 8, 2007) at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

 Dr. Walter Brueggemann got his Marquette, Michigan audience involved in his talk about the bible and the environment often resulting in laughter and stunned silence - hundreds turned out for his talks at Northern Michigan University and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan

Dr. Walter Brueggemann got his Marquette, Michigan audience involved in his talk about the bible and the environment often resulting in laughter and stunned silence – hundreds turned out for his talks at Northern Michigan University and Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan

Dr. Brueggemann’s ecumenical public talks are reflected in his personal life. Brueggemann is a member of the United Church of Christ, teaches at a Presbyterian Seminary, and worships in an Episcopal congregation.

Speaking to about 200 people Tuesday night (Oct. 9) at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Brueggemann said in the New Testament Jesus fed people with loaves of bread warning his followers about the evil ways of greedy pharaohs.

The pews of Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan were packed as Dr. Walter Brueggemann delivered talk on the Bible's message about the importance of protecting environment - your

Brueggemann said “for the sake of the common good – for good health care policy, good schools, for better housing – the work of the neighborhood depends upon the power of the dream to dream outside the pharaoh’s regime of anxiety.”

“One way to understand the worship of the church, is every time we gather – we gather to dream the dream of God’s abundance that powers us to the neighborhood,” Brueggemann said.

Rev. Warren Geier, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, said in all Dr. Brueggemann’s talks the theologian “highlighted that God’s intention for the world, as articulated in the Ten Commandments, is that we live in relationship with God and with the neighbor.”

This can’t be done without respect and care for the ‘neighborhood’ which is the earth, God’s gift of creation,” said Geier, who organized Brueggemann’s U.P. visit.

Brueggemann “emphasized the need the tell the truth, not to deny reality and pretend things are other than they are,” Geier said.

Rev. Warren Geier, right, who organized Dr. Walter Brueggemann's northern Michigan appearances, takes notes during the theologian's talk at Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan

Rev. Warren Geier, right, who organized Dr. Walter Brueggemann’s northern Michigan appearances, takes notes during the theologian’s talk at Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan 

“This is done in order to get to hope, the realization that there is another way that counters ways that seem unchangeable – to use Dr. Brueggemann’s words: ‘The data on the ground is not the final truth; it’s outflanked by the fidelity of God. There are new gifts to be given’,” Geier said.

Describing a story about land abuse in the book of Isaiah, Brueggemann said the text warns about coveting land and “exercising eminent domain and buying up the property of neighbors until there is no one left but you.”

“You are left to live alone in the midst of the land – woe you,” he said.

An Atlanta resident, Dr. Brueggemann said a verse that states “these many houses shall become desolate – large beautiful houses without inhabitants” reminds him of the once prosperous southern cotton plantations.

“When I read about large beautiful houses that become desolate without inhabitants I think of Tara in Gone with the Wind,” Brueggemann said in Marquette. “You know that the cotton industry in the south was the wealthiest economy in the world and nobody paid any attention.”

Lutheran Campus Ministry Director Rev. John Magnuson, right, talks with author/biblical scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann who visited with students and boards members at the LCM home on Oct. 8, 2007 near Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI

Lutheran Campus Ministry Director Rev. John Magnuson, right, talks with author/biblical scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann who visited with students and boards members at the LCM home on Oct. 8, 2007 near Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI

Describing an agricultural economic crisis, Brueggemann said “the text goes on in this poem to imagine that when the land is organized so that it destroys a neighborhood that the land simply refuses to produce.”

“God has said to the land ‘be fruitful’ and the land simply says ‘I won’t do it – I won’t grow anything’,” Brueggemann said.

Dr. Brueggemann said you know when the poets (prophets) are about to make a point – and interject “moral passion” – when they use words like “therefore” or “alas.”

“When you read a ‘therefore’ in this poetry you must duck,” said Brueggemann – in one example of his wit that evoked laughter sometimes adding levity to an intense Biblical lesson.

“I believe the gap between consumer indulgence and the consequences of that in our society has to be filled with moral passion and not with explanation,” Brueggemann said.

The poets, Brueggemann said, warned of the possible outcomes of human behavior and were used in the Bible “as an interface between the power of acquisitiveness – on the one hand – and the poetry of alternative on the other hand.”

“All through the heady years of Jerusalem there were ad-hoc protests and dissents and warnings,” Brueggemann said of the poets who today would be considered liberal.

The poets were “not social action liberals – which they were – they were poets – they wrote poetry so that the world could be imagined outside the domain of (King) Solomon.”

In the book of Hosea, “the Lord has an indictment with the inhabitants of the land,” Brueggemann said.

“The inhabitants of the land are abusing the land so Yahweh (God in the Old Testament) is taking them to court,” he said.

Brueggemann crafts his messages to have a direct bearing on today’s world while sticking to Biblical history – thus causing the audience to think and draw their own conclusions of time.

“Here is the indictment – see what this makes you think of,” Brueggemann said leading the audience to a purposely indirect point. “There is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery, bloodshed. What does that make you think of?”

An audience member said: “Iraq?”

“I meant in the Bible – I don’t want to get into anything contemporary,” said Brueggemann – delighting the crowd.

“There is lying, stealing, killing, adultery – the ten commandments,” Brueggemann explained bringing home a Biblical lesson with contemporary impact. “The indictment is – Israel in its acquisitiveness has violated the ten commandments.”

Dr. Walter Brueggemann speaks at Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Michigan

“Now from what I have told you – what do you think comes next – ‘therefore’,” Brugeggeman said. “Therefore the land mourns – this is a Biblical idiom for drought.”

“When you violate the ten commandments you get a drought.- and then it says – because of the drought – the beasts and the fields and the birds and the air and the fish in the sea – What’s that supposed to make you think of ? Creation is perishing. This is an extraordinary three-verse poem.”

“The indictment is you break the ten commandments – the connection is the therefore – and the threat is that creation will be undone and won’t grow anything anymore,” Brueggemann said. “The logic of the poem is that the violation of the ten commandments will lead to the dismantling of creation.”

“The poet only knows that the land that is being abused is God’s creation and the poet knows there are limits to be honored and respected, restraints to be exercised and trusts to be cared for and when self indulgence overrides limits, restraints and trusts – creation has a way of circling back and bringing death,” Brueggemann said.

“I heard a Rabbi once say – that in Auschwitz all Ten Commandments were systematically violated – and then he (Rabbi) said ‘whenever you violate all ten commandments then you get Auschwitz’,” Brueggemann said.

“I would not suggest that our ecological crisis is of Auschwitz proportion – however you have got to believe that the violation of God’s commandments eventually jeopardize and risk the good gift of creation,” Brueggemann said

During a meeting at the Lutheran Campus Ministry house, Brueggemann said the American “Christian community has been overly pre-occupied – for a long period of time – with personal salvation and redemption – and the result of that is that we have reneged on the Creator – Creation question.”

Brueggemann said “you can’t just turn it (the environment) into a commodity”

“I believe that our work in scripture study and teaching is to reread the Bible away from those personal questions toward the large questions of creation and creator so we learn to view the environment as God’s gift that requires responsible management,” Brueggemann said.

Dr. Brueggemann at Lutheran Campus Ministry in Marquette, Michigan

Noted author and theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann at Lutheran Campus Ministry in Marquette, Michigan

With the exception of noted Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler, Brueggemann said that “Lutherans are notorious for not having had a very vibrant Doctrine of Creation.”

Brueggemann said many fundamentalists just “want to talk about me and Jesus, and being saved by the blood and all that kind of business.”

Fundamentalists “have no understanding of creation at all” and don’t “understand that our reception of the reality of God also has to do with honoring the Earth differently,” Brueggemann said “Those categories have almost been lost in the way the church conducts its teaching.”

Many churches refuse to face antisemitism and past religious violence and instead are “sort of pretending” that Christian-related atrocities did not happen, Brueggemann said.

“I think we invite people to engage in wholesale denial about their own lives,” Brueggemann said.

As a result of denial, the communication to churchgoers, Brueggemann said, is “well if you feel violent – talk about it somewhere else – don’t do that here because we are all nice people here’ .

It is “better to say we have a long history of antisemitism – we’ve go to own that,” Brueggemann said. “I think that good recovery of the Bible is like good psychotherapy.”

At Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Brueggemann said one of the saddest quotes by Jesus is in the New Testament book of Mark.

After Jesus feeds ten thousands people at two events with loaves of bread to spare – he’s out in a boat with two disciples who don’t understand his frustration over why they forgot the bread, Brueggemann said.

“The paragraph ends with what I think must be one of the saddest statements of Jesus in the new testament – Jesus says to them ‘do you not yet understand?’ He says to his disciples ‘you don’t get it, do you?’,” Brueggemann said.

“What’s to get – is – wherever Jesus is – the power of anxiety has been broken – and there is an abundance that lets us get our minds off ourselves,” Brueggemann said “So the disciples – the church – is invited to get its mind off itself – off its scarcity – off it’s narrow budget – off its parsimony.”

The disciples “did not understand that Jesus is in the bread business,” Brueggemann said.

“Watch out for the bread of the Herodians and the bread of the pharisees – he says watch out for the bread of the pharaoh because if you eat the bread of the pharaoh your stomach will be filled with anxiety,” Brueggemann explained.

Brueggemann said Jesus then “gets a little reprimanding and he says to them ‘do you have eyes and not see – do you have ears and not hear and do you have hearts and not understand – don’t you know what we have been doing’?”

Brueggemann added that Mark says Jesus “took the bread, he blessed the bread, he broke the bread, he gave them the bread.”

Crowd shots at NMU

NMU talk 

It was standing room only at NMU for the talk by scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann 

“These are the four great verbs in the church for abundance – he took, he blessed, he broke, he gave – these are the four verbs of the Eucharist,” Brueggemann said. “These are the verbs whereby the gospel takes the stuff of the earth and transforms it into a wondrous abundance.”

“So what Mark is telling us is – that the disciples know the numbers but they haven’t any idea what the numbers mean,” Brueggemann said.

Additional background on Dr. Brueggemann:

Brueggemann participated in Bill Moyers acclaimed PBS television series on the Book of Genesis. A graduate of Elmhurst College, Professor Brueggemann studied at Eden Theological Seminary, receiving his Doctorate of Divinity from Union theological Seminary, New York, and a Ph.D from Saint Louis University.

Brueggemann was professor of Old Testament at Eden before joining the faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1986. He is currently William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia.

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About yoopernewsman

I am a news reporter, writer and investigative journalist and began my career about 40 years ago as a young teenager in Augusta, GA after moving south during the middle of high school. I'm a news reporter, writer & investigative journalist specializing in street news, plus Indigenous, civil rights & environment reporting. Currently volunteer media advisor for numerous American Indian & environment related nonprofits that include the Navajo Lutheran Mission in Rock Point, AZ & its executive director Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard, the nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute (CTI) in Marquette, MI & its many projects founded by Rev. Jon Magnuson, Author Joy Ibsen of Trout Creek, MI, Celtic Christianity Today (CCT) founded by Rev. Dr. George Cairns, the Turtle Island Project founded by pastors Hubbard & Cairns. In its third summer, the CTI Zaagkii Wings & Seeds Project & its volunteers built a16-foot geodesic dome solar-powered greenhouse that was built in this summer at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) in an effort to restore native species plants to northern Michigan. It's located at the tribe's Natural Resources Department north of L'Anse along Lake Superior. During the summer of 2010, Zaagkii Project teens built & painted 25 beautiful reliquaries that are boxes made from pine & cedar that are used to store seeds for planting & included samples of Native American medicine including sweetgrass, cedar, sage & tobacco. From April-June 2009, I promoted the EarthKeeper Tree Project that planted 12,000 trees across northern Michigan. Co-edited "Unafraid," the second book by Author Joy Ibsen of Trout Creek, MI that was printed in May 2009 based on her father's handwritten sermons she found in shoebox. I edited numerous videos for nonprofit CCT. Began career 35 years ago as teenager in Augusta, GA after moving south during middle of high school. I was co-coordinator of the 1986 original James Brown Appreciation Day in Augusta, GA, where the Godfather of Soul was always trashed by local media who didn't report anything positive about the music icon. Mr. Terence Dicks was the other co-coordinator & most recently served as chair of the Augusta Human Relations Commission and serves on the Georgia Clients Council. Mr. Brown taught us to "fight the good fight" by battling all forms of racism & evil while not uttering a bad word about those who try to block justice, respect, fairness & kindness to all. As a child, I lived in the Harbert, Michigan home built by late poet Carl Sandburg, where the legendary author penned some of his greatest works including his Chicago works & Lincoln papers. The four-story home had a sundeck on the top & a cool walk-in safe in the basement. The neighborhood (Birchwood) has numerous cottages used for other purposes by Sandburg like the milk house where they milked goats. My parents remodeled fourth floor of the home that stands atop the Lake Michigan sand dunes/bluffs. They found items that belonged to Mr. Sandburg concealed in the walls including prescription bottles with his name, reading glasses, & a small, thin metal stamp with his name. I've worked for dozens of newspapers & radio & TV stations in GA & MI. I'm volunteer media advisor for several interfaith environmental projects involving Native Americans across Upper Peninsula of MI including the Turtle Island Project, The Zaagkii Project, the Interfaith Earth Healing Initiative, EarthKeeper Initiative & the Manoomin (Wild Rice) Project. The Zaagkii Wings & Seeds Project restores bee & butterfly habitat to help pollination of plants following death of billions of bees. Keweenaw Bay Indian Community youth & Marquette teens built butterfly houses, planted/distributed 26,000 native plants to help pollinators. The Earth Healing Initiative assisted EPA Great Lakes 2008 Earth Day Challenge. EHI helped organize interfaith participation across eight states for the 100 plus recycling projects (April 2008) involving recycling millions of pounds of electronic waste & proper disposal of millions of pills/pharmaceuticals. EPA goals were exceeded by 500%. Under an EPA grant, EHI provided free media services for the cities/groups/tribes including videos & press releases. The EarthKeeper environment projects include an annual Earth Day Clean Sweep (2005-2007) at 24 free drop-off sites across a 400 mile area of northern Michigan that collected over 370 tons of household hazardous waste. The 2007 EarthKeeper Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep collected over one ton of drugs plus $500,000 in narcotics in only three hours. Some 2,000 residents participated & many brought in pharmaceuticals for their family, friends & neighbors. In 2006, 10,000 people dropped off over 320 tons of old/broken computers, cell phones & other electronic waste, all of which was recycled. In 2005, residents turned in 45 tons of household poisons & vehicle batteries. The Manoomin (Wild Rice) Project teaches teens to respect nature & themselves by having American Indian guides escort them to remote lakes & streams in northern Michigan to plant/care for wild rice. The teens test water quality to determine the best conditions for the once native grain to survive. The Turtle Island Project was co-founded in July 2007 by Rev. Lynn Hubbard of Rock Point, AR (Ex. Dir. of the Navajo Lutheran Mission) & Rev. Dr. George Cairns of Chesterton, IN, United Church of Christ minister & research professor for the Chicago Theological Seminary. TIP promotes respect for culture & heritage of indigenous peoples like American Indians. TIP is a platform for American Indians to be heard unedited by whites. Rev. Hubbard says whites don't have the knowledge or right to speak on behalf of Native Americans. I specialize in civil rights, outdoor, environmental, cops & courts reporting thanks to my late mentor Jay Mann (Jan Tillman Hutchens), an investigative reporter in Augusta, who lived by the books "Illusions" & "Jonathon Livingston Seagull." Love to fish, hunt, camp & skydive. Belong to Delta Chi national fraternity. I was active in Junior Achievement, band played cornet. With my dear friend, the Rev. Terence A. Dicks, we were the co-coordinators of the 1986 original James Brown Appreciation Day in Augusta, GA, where the Godfather of Soul was always trashed by the local media who found no reasons to print or report anything positive about the music icon. I am honored to help the human rights activist Terence Dicks - with some of his projects including the nonprofit Georgia Center for Children and Education - and the economic initiative he founded titled "Claiming A Street Named King." I am the volunteer media advisor for several environmental projects across Michigan's Upper Peninsula including EarthKeeper II - an Initiative of the nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute in Marquette, MI. EarthKeepers II is an Interfaith Energy Conservation and Community Garden Initiative across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Goals: Restore Native Plants and Protect the Great Lakes from Toxins like Airborne Mercury in cooperation with the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, 10 faith traditions and Native American tribes like the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Previously known as the Earth Keeper Initiative - that project included many environmental projects including an annual Earth Day Clean sweep at two dozen free drop off sites across a 400 mile area of northern Michigan. The target of the 2007 Earth Keeper Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep are all kinds of medicines. In 2006, some 10,000 people dropped off over 320 tons of old/broken computers, cell phones and other electronic waste, all of which was recycled. In 2005, residents turned in 45 tons of household poisons and vehicle batteries. The Manoomin (Wild Rice) Project taught at-risk teens (just sentenced in juvenile court) to respect nature and themselves by having American Indian guides escort them to very remote lakes and streams in northern Michigan to plant and care for wild rice. The teens conducted water quality and other tests to determine the best conditions for the once native grain to survive. I have always specialized in civil rights, outdoor, environmental, cops and courts reporting thanks to my late mentor Jay Mann (Jan Tillman Hutchens), an investigative reporter in Augusta, who lived by the book "Illusions."
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2 Responses to Famed theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann says humans must stop spoiling the Earth’s natural resources or face consequences

  1. David says:

    I find this talk very insightful and inline with much of my own reasoning. Kentucky has a major issue with Mountain Top Removal coal mining practices. I have a site on environmental abuse and alternatives ways of thinking. It would be great to have a link to this talk. see http://speakingoutworld.com

  2. Pingback: “You can’t turn creation into commodity” « Where Soul Meets Body

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