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A Generous Society

I am away today and have not prepared a piece of my own for this blog, but I have been considering what sort of society God wants for my country. With that in mind I share some reflections from the daily study ‘WordLive’ for 22nd April. WordLive is produced daily by Scripture Union.

History shows that a selfish society will usually behave badly towards the poor. This was not God’s vision for the Israelites, about to put down their roots in the Promised Land. As you prepare to read, think about the ways in which your own society matches up (or not) to this blueprint.

The study is called, “A Generous Society” and can be found here:

If you want to listen to this study the podcast is available here:

God bless,


Why does this surprise you?

I’ve just been to the most amazing place. I’ve been to a spring. A pool with water bubbling, and gurgling up at the centre. It was hypnotic watching the silt stir and settle. It felt almost magical to watch (see photo below). Strange really given that I know a little about ground water hydrology. I know about water sinking through permeable rock and being held by clay or impermeable rock until flows out again. I know all that, but it was still a wonderful surprise to see, to really see with my own eyes.

It was very like the first time I inspected my hive and found honey being piled in. I had only been beekeeping for a few months, and I’d had my own bees for less than that. But there it was; beautiful golden amber coloured liquid. I know it seems stupid – that is what bees do – they make honey. But my bees were making honey. Honey that ran onto my fingers and dripped as I inspected the hive. Why was I surprised – I don’t know. Perhaps despite all the obvious evidence to lead me to expect the bees to do what they do, it was still amazing to see it happening for real and to me.

‘Why does this surprise you?’ These were Peter’s words to the puzzled people who had just seen a crippled man healed (Acts 3.12). In the power of Jesus, Peter was able to bring this about. I suspect that there were a few secret smiles among the disciples when they heard Peter speak. It was only a short time since they were surprised themselves (Peter too though I suspect he tried to hide it!) – surprised by the sudden appearance of Jesus in their locked room. They were not just surprised, they were terrified!

What a turn around. They had been hiding and felt utterly defeated. Now here they were walking boldly up to the temple. A crippled man has just been healed and Peter talks to the people as though this was no more amazing than water bubbling up from a spring or bees making honey. Why are you surprised? God has raised Jesus from the dead, so why are you surprised by the mere healing?!

Why am I surprised still when amazing things happen in his name. When I see or hear of people being healed today: Why am I surprised? I shouldn’t be. I have all the evidence of the Bible that God can do amazing things. But that all seems to be for special Christians. Not an ordinary man like me. Why would God do something like that for me or even for me to see? This is even more stupid because I know that the Spirit can act in power, I’ve seen it myself.

So really the question should be, ‘Why wouldn’t he?” Why would the Holy Spirit suddenly stop doing the things he has been getting on with doing for the last 2,000 years? I know God heals. He healed my daughter when she was little. He has done amazing things in my life. He has guided me clearly to where I am now and he continues to guide me. I know his presence in me, working on me, loving me into being a full Spirit filled human being.

I know all of this but still I doubt at times. I listen to the doubters and the mockers and then a cold starts to seep into me like cold water into clothes. They seep in and make me go cold inside. The doubts seep in and I stop seeing and hearing all of the good things that God is doing. To change the metaphor; it is like walking from a sunny day into a cold damp cloud.

Then, thankfully, the Spirit comes to help. The Spirit dries me off; lifts the weight of those doubts and I begin to see properly again. I feel like a soggy dog being blow dried! Or like being led to walk back out of the cloud and into the sunshine once again.

Then I think again, ‘Why was I surprised’? Why was I surprised by God’s actions? I see community being built here where I live and minister. I see love beginning to grow. I see lives being transformed and healed by the presence of the Jesus.

I smile and feel as though the sun is shining brightly on me. Then a cloud comes over again. Some unhealed sickness, or untimely death, or bitterness and harshness between people of God. Then I’m tempted to question God’s power again. Then the Spirit comes down again – The Son comes out.

Why am I surprised? God’s action and healing are as natural as bees making honey:

Why are you downcast , O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. Psalm 42.5

Why, why indeed? Said now with a smile and a laugh in my voice. Why indeed?20150418_101728

Honest Thomas and the picture

Thinking about Jesus’ appearing to Thomas and showing him the wounds of the cross (John 20.19-31) made me think of a picture that I had at a prayer meeting about 2 years ago. In this picture:

I was nailed to a cross like Jesus and so were lots of others. Then a hand came into view to help me off the cross. I went to take the hand and found that my hand came away from the nails as I did. I was lifted off the cross, well most of me was. All that was good, all that was holy in me, came off the cross; this part of me looked bright and red like living flame in the picture. All the rest looked black and oily, and that stayed nailed down to the cross. All the evil, cruelty and sickness that is in me was firmly nailed to that cross forever.

I really want to claim for myself what the Spirit showed me in that picture. I want to step down from my cross, free of all that is not of God. I want that so much but I know that there is so much of me that is not of Christ. I want to be full to the brim with trusting, loving, forgiving, generosity, but although God has planted these things in me, there is still so much that is wrong. I want to be full to the brim with that bright and living flame, but there is still so much greed and hate and petty anger, and cruelty and other evils lurking inside of me, trying to get out. I don’t want these things to be part of me but they are there. I want to pretend that I’m only full of the fruits of the Spirit but that’s a lie.

I want to lie, but in the end, who would I be trying to fool?

  • Others? How lonely is that? Then the lie will certainly come out in the end. It’s bound to. Until then I’d have to live a lie, always keeping myself apart, fearful that the truth will come out.
  • My self? Then how sad is that? If I try to fool myself then I’m not only living a lie – I believe the lie – I become the lie. And me, the person God made me to be, that person is left out in the darkness.
  • God? How futile is that? God created all things and sustains them moment by moment, including me. So God knows my every thought and emotion, even before I do. It’s not possible to hide anything from him. Believing that I am hiding my corruption from God is the ultimate self-deception.

So again, who am I trying to fool? And Why?

Why indeed? I read about Thomas not believing that Jesus had risen from the dead and I find my hero. Thomas didn’t pretend to believe when he did not. Thomas should be the patron saint of painful honesty – ‘Honest Thomas’. His is the sort of honesty that I beg and pray for. I know that with this honesty I will look stupid at times; I will look faithless at times. But with this honesty I can respond to Jesus’ words to me, and grow. With this honesty I can respond to the Spirit, say sorry, and be transformed. I need the honesty to let myself see the evil in me so that I can be repelled by it.

Without the honesty of Thomas, I will take the hand that lifts me off the cross and look back. I will look back and see, not my evil left nailed there, but my own flesh. Until I allow the Spirit to show me the evil in me, I will be unable to let Jesus’ hand lift me off that cross. I will be unable to leave my evil behind. I will be unable to allow Jesus to set me free. In the end, my lies will be the nails holding me to that cross.

I want to share that picture again:

I was nailed to a cross like Jesus and so were lots of others. Then a hand came into view to help me off the cross. I went to take the hand and found that my hand came away from the nails as I did. I was lifted off the cross, well most of me was. All that was good, all that was holy in me, came off the cross; this part of me looked bright and red like living flame in the picture. All the rest looked black and oily, and that stayed nailed down to the cross. All the evil, cruelty and sickness that is in me was firmly nailed to that cross forever.

Thank you Lord for that picture. Thank you for the wonderful example of ‘Honest Thomas’. Lord give me the courage to face my lies and my evil – let me be able to take your hand – let me be free.

He is risen indeed – Bon voyage!

There is something primeval about watching the sun rise and a new day begin. People throughout the ages have seen sun rise and understood it as a sign of new life beginning after the dark. This idea of new life after the dark is central to our Christian faith. Particularly Easter morning. This Easter morning I will see the sun rise, remember the women going to the tomb of Jesus and give thanks to God. This morning I will set out before the first light to rediscover my hope given to me anew.

But unlike those women, this is not my first time. I have been through the cycle of lent, then holy week then the joy of Easter, year after year. My task is harder than theirs, I have to somehow enter into the wonder of the resurrection once again. My task is to make that resurrection joy as real now as it was the first time I really celebrated Easter.

Now if I were trying to recapture a perfect Easter in the past, my task would perhaps be impossible. But that is not what I’m about. I have changed and grown since I celebrated Easter last year. So Easter needs to bring hope and meaning to the life I live today.

So I bring to mind events of the past year. The new things started. The things now stopped. The friends I have and those I have perhaps lost…… The life events: weddings, births, baptisms, and all the rest……

I bring to mind the things that I have done over the past year, events attended, the things that made me smile and laugh or made me cry…..  All the events, and memories that make me a year older and perhaps, just perhaps, a year wiser…..

Now I go back to our Easter story. I am at that tomb with the women; And Jesus is there too. I fall at Jesus’ feet. I worship him; as if for the first time I see and feel the reality of the resurrection. It is real; death, even death is not the end of hope. This morning the risen Jesus is standing here. He is here to bring hope out of the dark experiences of now and of the past year. The sadness, the fear, the pain can be resurrected into things of life and hope. Maybe here and now: Maybe later, but the risen Jesus is here to bring life, healing and hope.

Jesus stands here and brings meaning to the good times as well as the bad. Good things can be celebrated with a deep pure joy, cleansed from the stains of jealousy, or greed, or pride. The risen Jesus can transform my good times too. So, Jesus is here now. Standing by my side, holding my hand, even holding me tight. He will walk with me through all that the future has in store. Jesus brings resurrection joy and hope for the journey to come. In my mind I look at myself and my fellow travellers in Christ and say…

He is risen! He is risen indeed – Bon voyage!

Will You Hold My Hand?

On Palm Sunday I won’t be preaching. I will be leading a dramatised reading of the passion story, and letting that drama speak for itself. As I look forward to the week ahead, I know that I am in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions as Holy Week unfolds. This week will end with utter despair. With Jesus humiliated, dead and buried, waiting and hoping for the light to shine again. I want to rush past, to skip the pain and jump to the celebration to come. But that is to cheat myself of all that God wants to show me of his love. I must stop, sit and wait. As I wait I know that I need company, someone to hold my hand…

Will You Hold My Hand? ~ a poem for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – by Vivienne Tuffnell

Will you hold my hand?
Will you hold my hand
As I sit in the darkness?
Will you sit with me,
Make darkness less lonely?
Will you give my hand
A gentle squeeze,
Warm my cold flesh
With warmer skin?
Please do not tell me
About a light I cannot see.
I will not believe you
And the dark will be denser
For the lies I think
You tell me then.
My eyes are wide open
And I am not blind.
Will you hear my words
As we sit the long night out
Without disputing my right
To voice my thoughts?
Will you let me speak
My soul’s story aloud
Without interrupting
With unneeded reassurance?
Just take my hand
Sit with me in silence
Let the darkness be dark
And wait with me.

If I’m mad, then sanity is overrated!

Announcements are so common. At the moment I seem to be bombarded with political announcements – on the tv, the radio, the papers, online, it’s everywhere – “They promise that but we’ll do this!” – “You’d be mad to vote for them!” Lots and lots of hot air. I wonder how many promises there would be if party manifestos were legally binding!? There are so many political announcements that I have already started to filter them out, and the official election campaign hasn’t even started yet.

But some announcements are useful. I find the ones that direct you to a numbered till a little irritating but they are practical. There are announcements at the doctors – announcements at the station, sometimes they are even understandable! I remember having to travel through the Brussels Metro when there was a strike on. 2/3 of trains had been cancelled so it was crucial to listen to the announcements. Unfortunately, these were in French and Dutch not English. My French is poor and my Dutch non-existent, so I had to listen very carefully and be ready to take a risk on what I thought I had heard: Very confusing but I got through in the end.

God makes announcements too. Throughout the ages God has made announcements through the prophets. Occasionally, I read in the Bible of God speaking to kings like king David and less famous kings like Ahaz (Isaiah 7.10-14). But reading through the Bible it is odd to hear of God speaking to a teenage girl, like Mary (Luke 1.26-38). And this was no voice whispered in a dream. When God spoke to Mary he sent a royal messenger too – No ordinary royal messenger either – No God sent the Archangel Gabriel himself to deliver this message!

To think of an angel I need to remind myself to forget about sweet creatures with wings watching over little children. Angels are God’s incredibly powerful warrior messengers. So the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel would have been more like stealth helicopters appearing out of nowhere. Then a top general walking out to give me a message crucial to the future of the world. Waiting there for my answer – would I say ‘yes’, it might cost me my life! Could I say ‘no’, with everyone’s life depending upon it?

That is the position that Mary was in. She said, ‘yes’ and the new course of the world was set. An amazing woman, even as a teenager.

All of those stories were thousands of years ago. But the amazing thing is that because of Mary’s ‘yes’, Jesus came and through Jesus I can have personal access to God, right now; even me. Right now, God can speak to me through the Holy Spirit living in me. I’ve heard his voice so many times:

In big things – “Leave your good job and train to be a minister”, “I know you’re happy here but it’s time to move on to another place to minister”, “you need to sell your motorbike”, “you need to leave full time ministry”, “now give up your good job and come back full time again”…
In little things: “speak to her – she needs a kind word right now”, “help them”, “step back from that – trust me, it will be OK”, “he is in pain, pray with him”…

God speaks to me through his Spirit as I look at the work of the Creator all around me. God speaks to me, all because I belong to Jesus. God speaks to me, and I know that I’m not special and I’m pretty sure I’m not barking mad! Well if I am mad, then sanity is overrated!

What is God announcing to me now? What is He announcing to his people? What is he announcing to my church, my town, my country, this world?

Speak Lord, I pray your servants are listening!

A hobbit-style birthday gift


A Birthday gift from my favourite author!

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

It’s a well-known thing that hobbits give others gifts on their birthday, rather than get them.

Since today is my birthday, I am offering all my novels and my poetry for a reduced price. This is for a very limited time so if you were thinking of grabbing them, now is a good moment.

Happy Birthday to me!

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Happy Mothering Sunday!

As some of you know, mine was a difficult birth. I’m told there were lots of complications and I was a very long time in coming. My Mam obviously made me too comfortable!

When I finally arrived I was handed to my exhausted and traumatised mother with the words, “Here you are Mrs. Tuffnell, you have a lovely baby boy.” To which my mother replied, “I don’t care if its a rabbit, so long as its out!”

So I know that being a mother isn’t always easy, but sometimes all the love that a mother gives to a child can be turned into deep and bitter pain. The sort of pain that Mary must have suffered when she saw Jesus on the cross.

I have a memory that haunts me. It is the memory of sitting with a mother who had just lost her 6 month old baby. There was no real warning. They were in church one Sunday for her baptism and the little girl wasn’t too well, but nothing really alarming. Then I got a phone call to get to the hospital fast. I went as fast as I could, and when I arrived she had just died. What can I or anyone say to that mother and father; to the little brother and the two grandparents standing there?

I hugged them. I prayed over the little girl, commending her to God. I prayed with the family asking for the Spirit to fill them with the strength of faith that they would now need, to sustain them, even in the midst of that horror. The faith to know the promises of God that she was His child too and that she was safe with him. I prayed for comfort and peace.

What haunts me most is the empty look in her mother’s eyes.

That is how I imagine Mary to have looked as she watched Jesus slowly die on the cross. When Jesus was presented in the Temple as a small child, Simeon told Mary “and a sword shall pierce your own soul too” (NRSV Luke 2.35), now 30 odd years later that ‘blessing’ had come true.

When pain hits or tragedy strikes, we ask, ‘where is God’. We can’t see him anywhere around. He is not ‘around’ because he is in us. God is in us ‘laughing with in when we laugh’, and now, ‘weeping in us as we weep’ (see Romans 12.15). That is what we together discovered in that hospital room: God was in us. That is a hugely powerful thing for those with faith. But inevitably the question will come, ‘Why’, ‘Why didn’t You stop it happening’? From experience there is rarely an answer to why a specific tragedy happened at that particular time. But our Father God, our Mother God, has acted, and it cost Him dear.

Each pain in this world is a response to the sickness running through this world, as it groans waiting to be transformed, healed, made new (Romans 8.22-23). It is this sickness that Jesus came to cure. It is this sickness that the Spirit heals in us each day. It is this sickness that will go forever when the Father’s kingdom is fully recognised. It is a sickness that will be healed when our God gathers us like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.

Part of me is sorry for sharing these thoughts on Mothering Sunday. But a greater part knows that without hope in the pain, Mothering Sunday is just escapism. It is unreal. It has no roots deep enough for the difficult times. So I need to face the pain. And as I do I find that it hollows out more of me to be filled by love: Just as Mary was hollowed out by God so that she became the loving mother of our Lord who is famous even to today.

I know from experience that God weeps with me – it is an absolute Truth. And knowing that I can be confident that he also laughs with me, celebrates with me, parties with me, rejoices with me – makes it possible for me to say happy Mothering Sunday from the very depth of my soul.

Waiting to welcome?

I was born in an industrial town called Middlesbrough and came back their after I got married. Middlesbrough has some good points but it is not a pretty place. I remember waiting late at night on Middlesbrough train station for a friend. He was coming down from Scotland to stay the weekend with us so I was there to greet him. I wanted to greet him with a hug and a smile to take away a little of the grey of the town. I waited, and his train arrived, but no friend (name is deleted to protect the innocent!). ‘Perhaps he missed it and is on the next one’, I thought. So I sat down to waiting again.

The next train came but no friend. It was getting very late but I wasn’t worried. These things happen, he must be on the last train out of Edinburgh. About midnight I think it was when the last train finally arrived. But no friend. Now I was getting worried, what could have happened to him? This was before everyone had mobiles so I decided to dash home to find out whether there was a message on the phone.

I just turned to go when his face appeared out of the entrance tunnel. I was so glad to see him, explanations could wait, I was just pleased to see that I was OK. I ran, hugged him and spun him round. He was so embarrassed, it took him a long time to forgive me for that welcome! It turned out that when he missed his train he didn’t wait for the next, he simply hired a car and drove down!

Before Jesus the Jewish people were waiting for someone special. They were waiting for the Chosen One, the Messiah, the Christ. They knew to expect him and they were looking where they expected him to turn up. They expected a war leader who would make Judea great again, kick out the Romans and show the world that the temple in Jerusalem was THE place to meet God. They were looking so hard but like me they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking the wrong way so they didn’t recognise Jesus when he arrived.

But that is where the similarity with my story ends. Unlike me, when they saw Jesus they didn’t run to welcome their Messiah, their friend, who had arrived after the long wait. No they weren’t willing to accept that the Messiah could arrive how and when he chose. They had banked on the Messiah supporting the religious structure of the day. They weren’t ready for someone who would challenge all of that.

Jesus arrived and wasn’t impressed by what he found in the Temple at Jerusalem. They had got it so wrong that he lost his temper completely and drove out the animals being sold for sacrifice and threw over the tables of the money changers (John 2.13-22). He saw people getting rich at the expense of the devout pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship God – As he saw this he recognised that evil had corrupted the very heart of Jewish worship. The very place were God was supposed to meet with his people had been turned in a place where crooks make a bit of easy money. What was worse the religious leaders were in on it too, taking their cut of all the profits!

No wonder he lost it!

That anger of Jesus wasn’t wrong, it was essential. Some things should make God’s people angry. I get angry when I see religious people hiding Jesus today, or making money out of other people’s desire to meet with God. I get angry when I see cathedrals charging an entrance fee. Each is the house of God how can we have the nerve to charge people to come in? I know most will be just wanting to look at the fine building, but even so, how can anyone in all conscience charge people to come in?

I get angry. Then I look at myself and wonder. I wonder, “Am I any better”. I’m a full time, paid minister – do I live off other people’s desire to meet God? On behalf of the church I charge each time I take a funeral or conduct a wedding – Am I just making money out of people’s desire to come close to God at key times in their life?

I look hard and I pray. I think that I’m not quite the same. I earn a modest living, freely given by my flock. I have earned my own money and ministered; I could do the same again. The fees are generally designed to cover costs, and set centrally – I have no control over the amounts. Sometimes I think – the fees are OK, modest even when compared to the cost of a wedding reception or funeral director’s fees. Then I see some people paying more than they can really afford and I feel sick inside. I see Jesus twisting the cords and I fear that there is trouble to come!..

On balance I think Jesus understands, so far at least. But I need the fright. I need the warning. It is so easy to slip and become a modern day Pharisee or money changer. So very easy. I need to look closely at myself every day, open myself up to the Spirit, and be ready to welcome Jesus, however and whenever he appears.


I have a good and happy life. I want for very little. I have all the food that I need, and plenty more besides! I have a comfortable car and a fun motorbike. I have a lovely house, bees, ducks in the pond, warmth and the wonder of the internet. I have a family that loves me and I live in a civilised and safe country. I think I also live in one of the most welcoming and genuinely ‘nice’ towns in England. I am healthy and reasonably fit. Life is good!

Each day I start my prayers with thanks for all of these good things that God has given. I end each day in the same way and try to hold something of this thankfulness in between. These are wonderful blessings and I thank my Father for each one. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things of this world. Each one is a gift and as such should be cherished and celebrated, even in Lent.

All of these things are given to me as gifts, they are not earned, they are simply gifts. Yes, I work hard but I am no more deserving of luxury than some person struggling every day to live a life with profound disability, or someone working hard all day picking through a rubbish dump to find something to sell. I work partly because I must to pay the bills, but mostly I work because I love my work as a minister of Christ. It is a huge privilege to do what I do, it brings contentment and deep joy. Thank you Jesus!

All these good things are gifts from God to be celebrated. But each one can also be a trap. I know that the jaws of this trap are close when I read:

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8.34-36)

I read and I shout, I love my life as it is, I don’t want to lose it! I find myself putting my fingers in my ears and singing “La, la, la” so I can’t hear Jesus’ words. I want the bright things around me to dazzle my eyes so I can’t read the words. Maybe if I keep this up, Jesus will start to talk about love and peace and joy. My nice life will be safe then!

All the good things in my life are to be enjoyed as presents from God, but how easily they become a trap. How quickly they can become the foundation for my life: of my happiness. I blink and suddenly all these things are THE reason I get up on a morning. It’s dramatic but it all happens so subtly, gently even. I get used to a certain level of comfort. I then take this for granted. I then can’t imagine living without these things. My nice lifestyle become my gospel, my good news, my god. I find that I become addicted to my nice life. I am being drugged into a lifeless sleep, one from which, in the end, there is no waking up.

If you’ve ever watched the Disney version of The Jungle Book then its like having the huge snake Kaa, singing softly in my ear, “go to sleep… go to sleep… sleep… sleep”, as the coils slowly, gently even begin to wrap and tighten. A real and present danger. That is why I think Jesus shouts at Peter and calls him Satan (The Tempter):

(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ Mark 8.31-33.

Peter was falling under the spell and needed a good shake to wake him up. So Jesus does just that, effectively Jesus shouts, “Peter watch out! Wake up!”. Jesus loved Peter enough to be a little rough with him: Jesus loves me just the same so sometimes I need a jolt too. I need to be reminded that my only true source of contentment or happiness is Jesus. The only way I can be sure of being safe is by letting go and letting the Holy Spirit have his way. I need to let Jesus shake me and shout “Wake up!”, “Wake up and smell the sulphur!”.

I know this. I know it to be true but it’s though I’m half in a dream and can’t quite wake up. I know that I’m in danger but as I struggle to wake the soft words work even harder to send me to sleep again: “go to sleep… sleep… be a good boy… dream of your bike… running… nice food… family… have a drink… go to sleep… you’re so tired… just for a little while… go to sleep… that’s right…”

I’m sleepwalking to Satan. Then I feel the Spirit shaking me. I wake some more and laugh at the Tempter.  He can try but he can never win! I laugh again, thank God for his generosity, for the good things that he gives. I thank him too for loving me enough to give me a good shake to wake me up and I pray:

Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil. Amen


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