BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rise Up...and Build!

The following is adapted from a brief address given at the 2017 All People Conference in Columbus, OH. The theme for the event was based on Nehemiah 2:18--"Rise Up...and Build!"

UM Church for All People (C4AP) grew out of the relationships formed in the Free Store. It is through these diverse relationships of mutually and accompaniment that we believe we will come to know God better

And it was out of these relationships that the church was formed. Folks began praying together, and worshiping together. And so in 2002, C4AP was born. And it grew.

We host the All People Conference over a Sunday on purpose so that you can get take a deep dive into experiencing the palpable energy of the koinonia in this place. Our pastor is a bit of a Greek scholar so he uses words like that when describing C4AP. Best I can tell though, the literal translation of koinonia must just be “holy chaos,” because that sure can be what it’s like around here.

If you get a chance, I invite you to experience C4AP on a Sunday morning…and you got experience it to believe it. But I want to describe it a little bit for you here, in the meantime.

One of the other ways that’s reflected is in the worship music. We have an excellent band that can play hymns, Black gospel, CCM, Appalachian bluegrass, and much more. We worship with all kinds of music because we want to represent the full range of who we are, and indeed who we are yet to be become…either for the next visitor that walks through the door, or for when we join together with the heavenly chorus.

And this comes with it’s challenges. Rev. James Forbes notes that “a truly diverse congregation where anybody enjoys more than 75% of what’s going on is not thoroughly integrated.” If everyone’s always comfortable, that’s not integration…that assimilation. That’s cultural hegemony disguised as unity.

Too often the multicultural church owes its success to the people of color in the congregation simply willing to 'take it for the team' and give up their own beautiful heritage for the sake of white folks being comfortable.

So what are the rest of us willing bring as a sacrifice of praise?

This also means that if I’m doing my job as minster of music, no one is happy with me all of the time, but everybody is happy with me some of the time.

We are a Church for All People. But not all people like all people.
But we have to move from tolerance to acceptance, to affirmation, yes even to love.
We have to take these elements into ourselves and learn and grow from them.

The world will teach us tolerance…and that’s fine, there’s a place for that.
But the cross calls us to so much more.

When I come home at the end of the day I do NOT what my husband to say “baby, I tolerate you.”
Maybe that’s the truth. Sometimes tolerance is a good place to start.
But’s not what scripture says.

"Tolerate your enemies"
"Tolerate your neighbor as you tolerate yourselves."
"Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you."

No. Christ calls us to love.
But sometimes loving is hard. It’s uncomfortable.
Nobody said church was supposed to be comfortable.
It sooths, it nourishes, it comforts…but it’s not comfortable!

Here’s another distinctive element that sometimes makes our guests uncomfortable at C4AP: the sharing of joys and concerns. That’s right my friends, brace yourselves, we pass the mic! And that can bother our middle-class, and time-oriented culture friends in the room.

But let me tell you, it’s the high holy moment of the service. More than the sermon, sometimes even more than communion. It is a moment when folks that do not often get their voices heard. And they’re not voiceless...just unheard. But its a holy moment where those voices are lifted together in prayer.

It matters that someone can stand up and share that her gas is cut off, and winter is coming, and she's scared. And's she's not necessarily asking anyone to fix it, but asking for us to pray with her about it. And then the very next person may stand up and tell us that their last kid just went off to college, and their excited, but their also sad because now they're empty-nesters. And they know no one can fix it, but they're asking for us to pray with them about it. It matters that these two prayers are lifted equally before the ears of God.

And every week we also pray the Lords Prayer. That's not so special, lots of churches do that. And we, like you, pray “give us this day.” But I have to tell you tell you I don’t really believe that prayer. I never have. I believe I went to school, got a degree, got a job. I get a paycheck and go to the grocery store. I give me my daily bread. But it matters that I'm in a pew next to someone who doesn't necessarily know where dinner is coming from tonight, but for a fact that it's God that is providing it. And they're teaching me that it's just as true in my life as well.

I sit next to folks in worship that are diligent and practiced in relying on God, when all I know how to do is rely on myself. We worship with folks that know how to listen for God’s still small voice, and how to wait upon the Lord.

And so when my back’s against a while and I’m in my troubled times, I know who I’m turning to to ask for prayer. Every single person that walks through these doors is poor...some of us are just so poor that all we have is money.

So some folks come to C4AP because they don't feel welcome through the doors of any other church. That’s a travesty, friends. Some folks come out of deep desire to be of service for an under-privileged community. Which is good too.

Confessionally, I came for more selfish reasons. I have not come to serve the poor. I have come to sit at the feet of those that can show me the face of Christ. I come to C4AP out of a conviction that isolating ourselves among believers of similar backgrounds only deprives our own souls of God's majesty.

Rich, diverse community is how we will know who God is.
In that regard, I am really spoiled at C4AP.

Every Sunday morning, I have the privilege of worshiping with a beautiful body of believers.
We worship with old folks, young folks, wealthy, unemployed, folks who’ve done time, PhDs, GEDs, physical illnesses, mental illnesses, addictions, many races, many nationalities, many sexualities,
many backgrounds…And a whole lot of joy in the Lord. It’s holy chaos.

And I am convinced that in doing so, we draw nearer to God.
In a time when mainline denominations are wringing their hands about declining membership
and aging…buildings. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the answer is simple. I joined this church because it was a church actually, doing, the work of a church. Being what the church was supposed to be

In Rev 7:9 we see a picture of what heaven will be like someday, that "every tribe, every tongue, every nation" will worship before the thrown. So why not start now? Indeed, don’t we also pray each week, "let it be on earth as it is in heaven."

And our Triune God is our model: diverse, and unified as One. Isolation within our own groups is not what God would have for us.

My husband and I moved onto the block in a hard-living neighborhood on the South Side of Columbus to be in relationship with the surrounding community. And we adopted a value of downward mobility, not as a charitable endeavor, but as one fundamental to our own souls. And it is fundamental to life of Christ’s church on earth.

As Christians, we should be on the forefront of inclusively, not limping along in the rear.
What message does it send the world when we will not unite together to worship our Jesus?
What witness does it give when someone is more welcome on a street corner than they are in a pew?
What does it say about Christ if meth dealers are less discriminating than our churches?
What does mean when hate groups run better outreach campaigns?

As Christians, we all love Jesus.
But maybe we need to relearn what that means.
Are we Christians that love Jesus…as long as He sticks to our social norms, and knows how to behave? And knows how to put on a good face? And knows how run a meeting using Roberts Rules of order.

What about when Jesus smells funny, or speaks with a slur? Do we love him then?
Or when his music too loud, his clothes are too baggy, or his body is pierced….oh wait, it was.

Do we love Jesus when it puts our own egos is at risk?
When he ask us to lay down our own self-importance, our own desire to save the day?
Sometimes we just like to fix things, more than we actually like to love.
Do we love Jesus if we’re not called to fix it?

You may serve food at a soup kitchen, but have you eaten at the table as well?
You may pray for the poor, but do you ask for their prayers as well?

What I hope to convince you of before you leave the All People Conference this weekend is that community development is congregational development. Too often we separate service and salvation, as though that 'love thy neighbor' is something to do in the Church's spare time.

If your church disappeared tomorrow, would your neighborhood notice that you were missing?

It matters that nearly 1,000 people walk through the doors of our church each week. And it matters that we sit in in the pews together as we pray about what God has next for our community. It matters that it’s those same folks that are serving produce in our Fresh Market, and shopping in our Free Store, and working in our bike shop.

In a church where most folks make less than $20,000 per year, we see the widow’s mite go into the offering plate every single week. And it’s out of those pennies, and nickels, and dimes that we’ve done $60 million in affordable housing. We absolutely believe that. We just do.

We take the relationships that we have formed and we invest them in building the inclusive body of Christ, which then has an energy and a momentum, a holy chaos, that we are able to invest in whatever God is doing next.

We contend that we will draw nearer to God when we are in fellowship with the fuller range of God’s people. And when you draw nearing to God, powerful things start to happen.

Don't talk to me about the dying church. All this wringing of hands is driving me crazy. Let us live, and live abundantly! Isaiah 61:4 says "they will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

We’re at a critical moment in this neighborhood, indeed in this country. We’re being told it, can’t be done. That’s people cannot come together, cannot bridge the divided.
This is a moment for the Church

Th church can cast the vision for the diverse and inclusive body of Christ and then boldly live into it as a beacon to the world.

We can build a Church for All People, we can build a Columbus for All People, and dare I say it…an America for All People. Let us rise up...and build!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Local Elections: Vote!

Tuesday is another election day.
Are you registered? Do you know your polling place?

I've always made it a point to vote in all elections, local and national, that were available to me, just on basic stubborn principle. Recent years have emphasized to me how truly important local elections are, even as a matter of life and death.

In Ferguson, Police Chief Thomas Jackson was appointed by the elected mayor (via city manager). The St. Louis County Chief of Police, Jon Belmar, was also appointed by elected officials (county executive and city council).  In Beavercreek, the Ohio city where John Crawford was killed, the elected city council members, city manager, and city mayor were the ones to appoint the Chief of Police Dennis Evers and the ones who determine police budgeting allocations. These are the folks overseeing the police force chains-of-command that establish protocols, that train their officers, that give the orders, that the lead internal investigations, and that buy military equipment for their departments.

And state-level elections matter too. The special prosecutor for the Crawford shooting, Mark Piepmeier, was appointed by State Attorney General Mike DeWine. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was elected to office in 2008 before famously failing to convict George Zimmerman of murder, even while prosecuting Marissa Alexander to the fullest extent of the law. And it was Florida Governor Rick Scott who first assigned Corey to the Zimmerman case.


County executive? Attorney General? City Council? County Sheriff? State Attorney? When is the last time you paid close attention to who was elected to these offices? But these are the elected positions that had direct influence on the most prominent racial cases of recent history.

Though the narrative is sometimes convoluted, it's the local ballot elections that are at the center of most racial justice issues today. They determine who will be prosecuted under New Jim Crow laws, which legislatures might propose a new Kill-At-Will bill or a mandatory sentencing law. It's the county commissioners, governors, and state officials that determine how your local taxes are spent, whether on police militarization or on public transportation. It's the school board members that decide whether to feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline or to actively reverse systemic educational disparity. It's also these local elections that regulate housing affordabilityenvironmental justice, and discrimination laws--all decisions made at the local level, and with immediate consequences for racial justice.
Source

But as important as off-year voting is, it's not always made easy. Municipal elections are often held during odd-numbered years (as is the case in Ferguson and Beavercreek), those without major national elections, and thus with lower expected voter turnout. States may enact restrictive laws that reduce voter participation (see post: The Trouble with Voter ID Laws). While Ohio, like most states, allows for early voting, the law is getting more prohibitive, the Supreme Court having recently eliminated all evening voting hours and reduced weekend voting from 24 to 16 hours.

Clearly, laws such as these disproportionately affect working-class folk who hold one or more jobs to make ends meet. Of note, it is also elected local officials, like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who regulate the elections themselves.

Shouldn't we laud an increase in voter turnout rather than trying to suppress it? Shouldn't we want more citizens to become engaged in electoral proceedings, not fewer? How does decreased participation enhance the democratic process?

Perhaps there is a fear of allowing more people to vote in a democratic society. But if a political party makes gains from voter suppression, what does it say about that party’s platform? Clearly not that it is formed with the benefit all citizens in mind.

Years of disenfranchisement leads to a foundation of legal precedent and accumulated power that perpetuate disparity and injustice. It’s no coincidence that that the Senate is still 94 percent white. As Christians, we know God says to “choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13), but some groups are still embarrassingly absent from our leadership.

Christians have a legacy of electing leaders, and we have a responsibility to protect this right for all of our sisters and brothers. The early church decided that it would be good for them to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3). Indeed, we are to “select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). When we exercise the right to vote, we participate in a history passed down to us from both our political and spiritual forebears.

This year, make plans to ensure that you cast your ballot for local elections. Most states allow no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which means you can vote in your pajamas from the comfort of your couch (allowing you to research each of the names and issues that appear on your ballot as you go). As mentioned above, most states also allow for early in-person voting, which means you can find a time to vote that is convenient for your schedule. No excuses this year.

So, check yourself: are you registered? Is your registered address current? Do you know the ID requirements in your state? If you're all set personally, help ensure that your friends and neighbors also understand their voting rights and the importance of local elections. Organize a trip with your church to go vote together, or volunteer to help shuttle voters to the polls on election day.

As Christian voters we have an obligation to “discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good” (Job 34:4). We tend to pay attention to the Office of the President more than any other elected official. But our voices have the most influence on our own lives, and the lives of our neighbors, when we make sure to vote locally.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Fruit (11/3/17)

Image result for Altar de Dolores" , Maria IzquierdoOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Costumes

'Tis the season for a reminder...

There are plenty of articles about racially inappropriate costumes, yet every year folks perpetuate appropriationcaricature, and humiliation as Halloween sport. It is annual affliction, so I guess it's worth making the point yet again...

Using a culture, race, or ethnicity as a costume is not appropriate. Ever. 

On Halloween, we get the opportunity to disguise ourselves as something 'other,'something different from normal, something bizarre. That people of color might be one of these costume options is tragic and offensive.

As Lisa Wade notes, Halloween outfits basically come in three flavors: scary, funny, or fantasy. Real cultures shouldn't fit into any of these categories. By using people's identities as costumes, we imply that they are 'not one of us,' or not even fully human, belonging instead to the realm of ghouls and goblins.

In the U.S., we spend the entire year marginalizing people of color, maintaining low visibility on TV, in movies, and in the media, but then suddenly become hyper-interested in 'appreciating culture' for one offensive night (as though dressing as a Hollywood version of what you think a culture is has anything to do with appreciating it).

When we claim that it's all 'good harmless fun,' we reveal our privilege never to have to face the consequences of such stereotypes in our own lives. We reveal the power we hold to dictate who defines 'harmless' and 'fun.' We reveal how loudly our own voices are heard, even as we silence others. We reveal our capacity to imagine fantasy worlds for real cultures, while ignoring the historical baggage that makes us feel uncomfortable.

 Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University began a poster campaign to educate folks about the hurtful nature of racist costumes with the slogan "we're a culture, not a costume." All of the costumes they depict are real, and are perennially reprised. They get big props for concisely and clearly communicating what many of us have been frustrated with for years.


So, before dressing up this year, refer to Austin C. Brown’s guide to finding culture-appropriate costumes. And if you are looking for some clever alternatives, check out Take Back Halloween, and try some new themes this year.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Creation Myths: Christopher Columbus



What we now accept as the true history of the United States in reality is comprised of decades of creation myths. After the American revolution, having separated ourselves from the rich history of Europe (and having sneered at this continent's indigenous histories to the point of annihilation), the newly formed United States found itself without a heritage with which to construct its new civilization. We were left without a history, without heroes or cultural icons. And the void needed to be filled.

As a result, we now have a cultural reliance on several sacred stories of our foundation. We revere the country's holy texts, and ritualistically repeat the essential creeds to our children. The stories of Jamestown, the pilgrims, and Plymouth Rock can be piously recalled. Yet none of the modern tales match the actual reality of our past. James Baldwin notes, "what passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors."

And we have made heroes out of our cruelest ancestors, not the least of which was Christopher Columbus. After first encountering the Arawaks, Columbus realized "with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." Thus was born America's true founding legacy.

To take advantage of Columbus's 'discovery', Spain declared that "with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us."


The crimes that followed Columbus's landing set the stage for centuries abuse and atrocity, the legacy of which continues today. Much of these works were carried out in the name of Christ. Consider that the first English ship to carry enslaved West Africans to the New World was named JesusFor hundreds of people this was the first encounter with God's Son, He that had come to 'set the captives free,'

Many of us already know that the stories we heard in grade school are myths. But white America perpetuates and clings to them anyway. Why? Perhaps we are too afraid to look straight into the face of our generational sin. White Americans continue to benefit from our ancestors' actions, and it's time we owned up to the implications.

That Columbus is lauded as a hero is shameful and embarrassing. We need to rethink what stories we tell. Begin by watching this video, and consider who and what we celebrate on Columbus Day:


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Friday Fruit (10/06/17)

Black girl in black dress and sweater with gold necklace in front of teal background with light grey text and insigniaOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Appropriation of Protest

Image result for kaepernick vs trumpI first wrote about 'Taking a Knee' a year ago. That's when Colin Kaepernick began his now famous National anthem protest. He started it to challenge police brutality and racism. Not to make a point about free speech. Not in defiance of Trump.

Now, scores of players, as well as coaches and owners, are taking symbolic postures during the anthem. They're upset that Trump tweeted. They want to express their free speech. They're showing their solidarity. But Kaepernick is still out of a job.

Athletes of color have a long history of political expression, and an equally long history of receiving criticism for it. We want them to entertain us, to serve us, not to challenges us or make us even slightly uncomfortable with the system that put them there.

Abagond observes, "that making it about respect for the flag, or even free speech, draws attention away from what taking the knee is all about: protesting racial inequality and, in particular, police brutality."

Image result for jenner pepsi
And it's not the first time Black expression in the face of oppression has been co-opted by a white narrative. This is the legacy of Black blues, hip hop, fashion, and many other means of voice that were birthed out of a desire to call attention to the lived realities of life as a Black person in the United States.

There is a constant drive in white dominate culture to appropriate, and thus to tame, the expressions of oppressed groups. Indeed, the work of combating injustice itself functions this way. As months protects unfolded after the killings of Michael Brown, there were ongoing calls to “wait for the facts” from many moderate white progressives. Protesters were criticized and marches were deemed a waste of time.

These days, the controversial and “militant” phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is worn as a badge of honor by progressive social justice warriors that want to show they are truly ‘woke.’ Marches take place every week across the country for one cause or another. And now anyone that wants to feel like they're taking a stand...can 'take a knee.'

Image result for ironic protestToo often, people of color take the risk first, finding a new and powerful way to make their voices heard. Too often, white folks respond first with anger and skepticism, followed by dismissal, and ultimately finished by co-opting to the point of ineffectiveness or distraction.

It's not necessarily bad that more people have become aware, or have been willing to join a cause. But what if we didn't wait so long to stand up against injustice? What if, in particular, the Church were at the forefront of movements for justice, instead of limping along in the rear? What if we stood for the causes we were asked to stand for...rather than just appropriating the methods to our own ends?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sanctuary for Edith Espinal

Image may contain: 6 people, people standingThe Church is a place of sanctuary. This legacy goes back to the earliest days of our faith, offering refuge and shelter for those being persecuted. Will God's people offer sanctuary today? 

Edith Espinal has lived in Columbus, OH a long time. Her three children live here too, and two of them are citizens. Four years ago, she applied for asylum but was denied, as were her subsequent appeals. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) has given her final notice and she now wears an ankle monitor. On September 18, she faces deportation.

"I don’t want to leave behind my children"

Edith has no criminal record, she's never even gotten a speeding ticket. 

"I'm not a bad person. I've always tried to follow the law"

Columbus faith leaders, spearheaded by Columbus Mennonite Church, are asking ICE "to hear the plea of our neighbor, and join us in keeping her home with her family...We will continue to walk with Edith and her family in hope and prayer until she receives a stay of removal." Without this stay, Edith will be deported. 

How do we as Christians walk in accompaniment with Edith and her family? 
Theirs represents the thousands of other families in similar situations. Afraid of being taken from their home. Afraid of losing their loved ones. Afraid of what comes next.

These are real people. They have faces, they have names. 
Moreover, they are the face of Christ. Will we offer him sanctuary, or will we send him away? 


Luchamos al fin.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Dream on Dreamer

The following is adapted from a sermon originally given in honor of  MLK Sunday by Rev. Karen Cook. Today, it is reposted as a word of encouragement to DREAMers who face uncertain futures in these times. We love you, we'll keep fighting for you. Dream on.

He was one of the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, Joseph the dreamer.

How many of you dream?  What will it take for us to just let go and dream?  Why do dreams puzzle us?  What make a dream a good dream or a bad dream?  

Dream on Dreamer.   

Joseph had these two dreams and he made the mistake of sharing these dreams with his brothers. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” (Genesis 37:6-7)

I didn’t have brothers or sisters but I can just image with my minds eye some jealousy was rearing its ugly head. How dare Joseph have the audacity share this dream with his brothers, his half brothers at that.  Before Joseph’s brothers could recover from the shock of his first dream he told them about the second dream.  

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (Gen. 37:9) Not only did the brothers react but daddy had something to say this time.  “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?”  (Gen. 37:10) 

Dream on Dreamer.

It was on a hot Wednesday, August 28, 1963, that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed for all American and all of the world to hear: 
Image result for mlk
"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood... 
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."
Dream on Dreamer.  

Joseph’s half brother Reuben said, “let’ not kill him; let’s defer him.” Other brothers said, “Let’s sell him into slavery, and file him away in that part of the memory bank labeled deferred and forgotten.  
And we will see what will become of his dreams.”

Joseph’s brothers made a big mistake.  

Joseph tells his brothers about his dreamsThey didn’t know that the Dream-Giver was using what they meant for evil would be used to bring about the fulfillment of Joseph’s dream. They didn’t know that God was using the evil to fortify Joseph and his faith for that moment when Joseph’s own brothers would come to his doorstep begging for bread.  

Because Joseph waited on God, he had been allowed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Because he had trusted the God who gave him this dream; that same God had taken those same dreams that people said couldn’t and wouldn’t never be; and brought them to fulfillment.  That same God had taken those same dreams that folk said he was uppity for dreaming and had no right to dream and turned them into living realities.  I can see Joseph as he looked at his brothers and said, 
“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

What happens when a dreamer is attacked and his or her dream deferred?  I’ll tell you what happens. The same God who gave the dream uses those hardships, uses the suffering, uses the pain, uses the obstacles which were meant to destroy God’s servants.  Hear this beloved, God will use it as a means to fortify and strengthen the dreamer.  Beloved, I know it may not feel like it now but hold on dreamer, hold on.

The bible says, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

Complentative MLKHis body could be killed but neither Dr. King nor the dream itself could be destroyed because Dr. King had learned to trust the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of Joseph, the God of his mother and father, the God who had set his soul on fire and told him, “I have set thee a watchman on the wall” (Ezekiel 3:17)

Dr. King learned that in all things God’s grace is still sufficient and God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. (Hebrews 11:34)

Dr. King knew that no matter what people said about him or did to him he could not be discredited with God, who had put on his back the multicolored robe of mercy, redemption, salvation, love, and forgiveness which had been purchased by the blood of Jesus on Calvary’s tree.

What happens when the dreamer is attacked and his or her dream deferred?  If you trust God, he will let you see the fulfillment of your dreams.

Beloved, if God has shown you a book and it says authored by________, yet you don’t have a computer or a laptop, or an iPad, baby write that thing out long hand. 

Dream on Dreamer.

If God has put a song in your heart and a melody in your soul, yet you can’t play a lick, baby write down those words and keep humming that melody.  

Dream on Dreamer.

If you are the best cook this side of Parsons Ave. and you see yourself in your own restaurant, baby keep on cooking.  

Dream on Dreamer.

If God has called you to teach, yet you don’t have a degree don’t let that stop you, teach baby teach. Teach your children, teach your grandchildren, teach in Sunday School, teach a bible study. 

Dream on Dreamer.

There maybe one here today, your dream has been laying dormant for many years. If that is you, today starts your journey of fulfilling your dream. I need somebody to shout…I’m getting my dream back!

Dream on Dreamer!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Labor Day

Cartoon: Executive hanging a 'happy labor day' sign while standing on the back of a laborerOnce per year the USA celebrates Labor Day, a national holiday originating from 1800's celebrations of trade workers and the social/economic benefits they bring to our society. So, is this holiday only an antiquated excuse for an extra time to sleep in?

Let's use the day to examine the serious economic and labor struggles that still plague our country.

It is increasingly difficult for the average worker to support a family. In most states, minimum wage is well below the living wage (there is a big difference between the two). Ironically, thousands of folks will go to work on Labor Day because they need the money and can't afford a day of rest.

When folks are desperate for work, they will endure any number of abuses or indignities. They may work in dangerous environments, or be paid less than promised. Workers may be given insufficient training, leading to injury or embarrassment when they don't perform to standards.

A cartoon shark dressed as a loan shark
Employees may be held at work long after their shift is over, if that is what the boss deems necessary. Maybe they need to pick the kids up from school, but they don't dare leave and risk losing their jobs. Workers may be required to maintain an open schedule to be placed in shifts as is convenient for the company, but may not be told their schedule until the last minute, and so cannot line up child care or other jobs.

Folks may spend an hour on the bus to get to a job, only to arrive and find out they aren't needed that day. Or they work for two hours and then get sent home. "Try again tomorrow." And if they don't show up for that chance, they know they loose the opportunity for later.

There are serious consequences of this labor disparity. Workers skip meals so that their children may eat. Folks turn to loan sharks to make ends meet, entrenching themselves in a spiral of debt (see post: The Cost of Being Poor). Families make tough choices to cut out "non-essentials" like medicine (see post: Healthcare Reform), clothing, and nutritious food.

And as the nation bemoaned the 7% unemployment rate, unemployment in communities of color remains at 13%--the same racialized wage disparity ratio that Dr. King bemoaned in 1967. Indeed, while analysts fret about about the housing market, there continue to be huge disparities in homeownership across race.

Book cover: Nickel and Dimed
Take a close look at the words of Jeremiah 22:13-16. Woe to we that profit from injustice and gain economic security at the expense of others! We "who make our neighbor serve us for nothing and do not give them their wages." Jesus himself urges that "the workers deserve their wages." And yet, as more states put an end to collective bargaining, the wealthy receive a smaller tax burden now than they have in the last 80 years.

Part of our problem is that we have a very warped perspective of economic reality. Particularly since housing in the United States is largely segregated by economic standing, people look around themselves and feel that, on the whole, there is equal opportunity and prosperity for everyone.

PBS News Hour recently conducted an informal survey, asking people identify the sort of economy that exist in the USA. Their findings are telling. Also, Jon Stewart points out the huge economic disparities that most folks gloss over. Both of these videos are embedded below.

Take time this week to give thanks for your own economic security, no matter what level it is at.
For more insight into the issues mentioned above, read Barbara Ehrenreich's 'Nickel and Dimed' or play this excellent interactive game to see what choices you would make given some stark realities.




Thursday, August 31, 2017

Friday Fruit (09/01/17)

Lorna Simpson, candid. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:



These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Friday Fruit (08/24/17)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:


These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#Charlottesville

Image result for wake up and do somethingWhat else is there to say? Have we not convinced you?

Were you surprised at the images and videos this weekend?
Did you think we were exaggerating when we said the nation's demons were being released?

"I can't believe this is happening"
Aren't you persuaded yet?

Or maybe you are, but you're paralyzed. Feeling overwhelmed, helpless. Deadened.
But it is you that the movement needs. Your voice that must be heard.

Have you spoken up yet? At the dinner table, in the office?
Have you put a stop to snide remarks and crude judgements?
Have you done the hard work on your own heart?

It takes each one of us. Particularly those that haven't been vocal to this point.
Maybe you thought others were handling it. Maybe you thought it wasn't your fight.
Maybe you thought it was too controversial. But the reality is, it takes you.

Image result for charlottesville rally cartoonPeople of color fight these forces every single day, not just when it hits main stream news.
What are white folks willing to do?

What will you do?

And what about the Church? Our worlds' beacon of hope, justice, and mercy?
Has your church spoken up yet? If not now, then when?

Many laws have come and gone. It's the Church that is charged with changing hearts and minds.
How will the church respond when hate is perpetrated?--not in spite of Christian beliefs, but often because they are Christian.

We need a Church that will redeem us from our nation's sins, so that we don't have to relive it all once again. So that we don't have to go through this one more time. So we don't have to see these scenes yet again.

What will your church do?

"It is not the episodic marches and rallies that define white supremacy,
it is the ordinary, dull ways that society props up the racial caste system
that lead to the most egregious offenses."
-Jemar Tisby

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On Affirmative Action

In discussions about "reverse discrimination" the conversation often quickly slides to the subject of affirmative action. Dr. Tatum devotes an entire chapter to the subject, subtitled "I'm in favor of affirmative action except when it comes to my jobs." She notes that many white people wonder "Will I get the job I want or will it go to some 'minority'?" The implication being that the minority that got the job is inherently less qualified and only got it based on color.

Obama  acknowledged fears of white people in his A More Perfect Union speech:
"Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch...And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in  urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time..."
Particularly in this economy, it's scary to think that one might lose an opportunity because of skin color. But this is a  fear that people of color have  to deal with every day--and have been for centuries.

But two wrongs, don't make a right, so let me try to explain why I don't think affirmative action is a wrong.

Those that don't like affirmative action generally feel that through these policies their whiteness becomes a disadvantage. In fact, white privilege and systemic disparity acts to bolster white folks so much that whiteness can never truly be a disadvantage--affirmative action just makes it so we aren't so way out ahead (see post on so-called 'White victims of racism').

Forty-years of "advantage" cannot begin to reverse the 500 year head-start white people had (see post: Academic Admissions), or erase the economic and psychological mars that oppression has left on >40% of this country. There are still severe inequalities that prevent otherwise-qualified people from coming to the interview with a fair shot. We have a responsibility to rectify the discrimination in the classroom and in the workplace, as well as the historical head start white folks have had. 

One problem affirmative action faces is that it gets confused with quotas. Filling quotas and affirmative action are two different things. In my view, quotas are used to fulfill a requirement and then say "there. we're done. we can stop now. we have our token minorities." It is a system totally unrelated to merit or qualifications, which is why a lot of white people freak out about it. These practices are no longer allowed.

Affirmative action, on the other hand, when done well, is goal driven. That means the numbers can be exceeded and the policy acts to aid the company's success as well as that of the employees'. Remember that "seeking the empowerment of people of color is not the same as disenfranchising white people." The idea of proactive enrollment is that you decide what qualifications one needs to be successful, including a diverse background with an understanding of multiculturalism, and then you stick to those qualifications. You cast your net wide, advertising the position in Black Enterprise (or whatever applies to your field), and you remember that bringing diversity into the workplace is one of the job qualifications during the interview process. Keep in mind, there are many white people that fulfill this requirement and everyone has  the opportunity to gain a background in cultural diversity, but more people of color may have taken advantage of those opportunities (often can hardly help but to!) and so may be more likely to fit the job description.

Allow me to describe a situation where the model I describe might be relevant.

Applications for medical school are a tough business. What does it take to get in? It takes top notch grades for sure. Last year's Ohio State class had an undergraduate GPA averaging 3.7. The next biggest thing is the MCAT--OSU's average is a 33. So lets assume anyone with those numbers is fit to be a good doctor. Then what? OSU says you will need clinical and research experience, 'leadership,' 'volunteer service,' and 'extracurricular activities.' What exactly does all that mean? And how much is enough? who knows.

There are thousands of med school applicants with high high GPAs and MCAT scores. So in what activities could an applicant participate to make her application more attractive? Debate team? Orchestra? Baseball? What about becoming a member of a Diversity Roundtable, or the Multicultural Student Union. Attending a diversity retreat. Going to events where you are in the racial minority. These options promote the development of any number of important skills for med school: well-roundedness (so you don't go crazy in your first year),  cross-cultural understanding (vital for any doctor who wants to see patients outside her immediate family), relating to different perspectives (collaboration is the new hot trend in the research community), empathy, patience (hello bedside manner!).

Maybe a candidate has a 3.7 GPA AND was a member of the biology honors society, phi beta kappa, and graduated magma cum laude.  But so what? Those accolades are largely redundant. We already said a 3.7 makes you a good doctor, so stick to that qualification, and accept a student who brings other qualifications in addition.

Once we have determined when a student is academically smart enough to become a doctor, lets make another priority be that she is culturally smart enough to be a good doctor. If this were more a part of our rubric, I actually think a lot fewer white people would qualify. 

People that grow up in a similar way will think a similar way, will tackle problems in similar ways. This is not a good way to run any organization. We limit ourselves and each other. We have no idea what innovations we are missing by limiting ourselves to work with those like us. 

I cringe to think of how long ago we might have had the cure to cancer if we were taking advantage the all brilliant minds that, though historic discrimination, had to struggle through school while they worked part-time to help support their family (it is easy to get into college when you don't have to worry about the next utility bill). Or what about the inventor of an eco-friendly biofuel that couldn't get a job interview because she has a funny name? Or the broker of peace in the Middle East that got teased so much in high school that he didn't have the confidence to apply for college. It happens. And we are screwing ourselves over because of it.

Image result for cast a wide netLet's be clear though, our own evangelical and economic benefit is not the primary reason to rectify discriminatory hiring practices, it is only a fringe benefit.

The heart of the matter is recognizing that there is systemic injustice. And with it comes our responsibility to care for others and make sure that we work to right the wrongs that brought us to that place of privilege (you know...'love one another,' 'give the cloak off your back,' 'do justice, and love kindness').

Too many employers stop at the 'cast the net wide' part of creating an open interview process. They figure they will advertise widely and then just choose the best candidate. But this strategy ignores the systematic advantages that white people have to making it through the interview process (or even TO the interview process).

Many studies show that when resumes are close or identical in their content, black candidates are more likely to loose out on the job.  White folk have the right hair, the right cloths, the right accent. How must it feel to worry whether wearing your hair the way God put in on your head will keep you from getting a job? 

A couple of important points to leave you with. First thing to remember: just because someone is black in a predominantly white work environment does NOT mean that person got the job because of affirmative action. And even if she did, that fact has no bearing on her ability to do the job, or how qualified she is. Affirmative action is here to ensure that the many highly talented minority applicants get seen, heard, and hired, despite the  pressures in society to keep them invisible.

Second, those that have benefited for so long from an unjust system owe it to our workplaces, our churches, our sisters and brothers of color, and ourselves to make some sacrifices to reverse wrongs done. We have an imperative to fix the wrong that we benefit from, even if we personally didn't cause it to develop. 

Take a look at Acts 6:1-7, with the concept of affirmative action in mind. This is a story about how the church first deals with marginalized members of its community and how it uses affirmative action to remedy the situation. A minority group of Jews were complaining that their widows weren't getting their fair share of the food distributions. And what did the Apostles do about it? They promoted seven (fully qualified: "full of the Spirit and wisdom") Greek leaders to make sure rations were distributed fairly, not only to the Greek widows, but to everyone in the community. The apostles gave  full support to this 'equal employment opportunity' by laying hands on them and blessing them.

Notice that, after it was brought to their attention, the Apostles recognized and acknowledged that an injustice was occurring. They didn't dismiss the complaint, or claim that the Hellenistic Jews were just trying gain an unfair advantage. They didn't blame the victim, or claim it was a "Greek problem" to be solved by the Greek community. They stepped up a fixed the situation. And what happened? "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith"

I don't know how to right the centuries of racial wrongs that have compounded themselves. I don't know if the methods discussed here even come close-- at best they are indirect solutions that don't guarantee immediate equality. But it might help, and for now, it is all the law allows. And we have do something.

To close, Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates some good points in this article Black Privilege for The Atlantic:
There are some legitimate criticisms of Affirmative Action. I think this is one of the dumbest: the underlying premise is that society is generally fair, and no one receives a leg up ever, except black people. Or it assumes that such advantages exist, but negritude, in the nation of white leagues, black codes, and red lines, imparts the sort of boost heretofore unwitnessed. 
But the history of America, itself, is, in no small measure, the history of an Affirmative Action program for white people. Mitt Romney was born in a Detroit neighborhood where the deed read
"Said lots shall not be sold or leased to or occupied by any person or persons other than of the Caucasian race. But this shall not be interpreted to exclude occupancy by persons other than of the Caucasian race when such occupancy is incidental to their employment on the premises." 
In other words, the neighborhood, like virtually every nice neighborhood in Detroit, and many throughout the country, was a giant set-aside for white people who didn't want to compete with blacks. But no one feels that Mitt Romney achievements--or the achievements of white people in general--are tainted by red-lining. No one says, "Would Mitt Romney have succeeded without race preferences?"

...I've talked repeatedly about my concerns with race-based Affirmative Action. But none of those concerns involve ill-gotten goods. Who is the successful human who can claim that they have never, not once, been advantaged by society? And who, with honesty and intelligence, would seriously claim that, among those advantages, black privilege is king?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

We ARE the Body of Christ: #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for donita harrisThe following is taken from a sermon by Pastor Donita Harris on this the 10th anniversary UM Church for All People being in its building. Her scripture text for the morning was 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Today as we celebrate 10 years of ministry in this building, Apostle Pauls’ message aligns perfectly with the evolution of who we continue to become as a worshiping congregation.  Paul’s message to us today emphasizes the reality and importance of our diversity.

The basic point of the entire 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians, is that all the members of a church/ a faith community contribute to the over well being, the health of the church. No one in the church is an extra that the church can just as well do without. Paul will inform us that everybody is somebody because we’re in this together.

Paul is so intent on driving home this point of our oneness in the church that he refers to Christ as the church. Paul, has learned that every believer is a member of Christ’s body. Likewise, you and I are members of the body of Christ.  I chose a translation that uses the term parts instead of members to identify limbs and organs, to emphasize we are not as members of the Jesus club but as a part of a living breathing entity. He continues to drive this important analogy between the human body and the body of Christ, using the fearfully wonderfully connectedness of our human body.

Image result for church for all people columbus umI love the imagery! I don’t know if Paul means to be humorous, because he has a serious point to get across. However, I must admit after I read this passage a couple of times I thought about just one body part trying to do the Hokey Pokey. It is hard to picture this huge eyeball rolling around, or even better, a gigantic ear hopping about?  How can we dance with God if we don’t embrace all of God’s parts as valuable?

When Paul was writing his first letter to the Corinthians, he was dealing with a problem of division. It turns out the Corinthians had fallen into this worldly trap of creating a hierarchy where there was no need for one, and some people were setting themselves over and above the others. Others unfortunately, who lacked the more spectacular gifts of others were discouraged and began to ask whether they had any place or function in the church. The church was dividing not uniting.

When Paul refers to the foot and ear he speaks to members suffering “I am not good enough.”  Think about it if the foot could speak, it most likely would reveal a feeling of insignificance.  Hands seem to have such value. During a church vote, no one in a meeting says, “Raise your foot” it’s always “Raise your hand!” The foot thinks, “The hand has so much dexterity, it can pick a scalpel and do delicate operations. Hands play the piano or violin. There was a reason why washing a guest’s feet was a common act of courtesy – in Paul’s day they were dirty. Feet come in contact with dirt and mud. They are the lowest members of the body.

Yet, the body would be in bad shape without a foot. Did you know that you use more than 200 different muscles to walk? If your feet and their muscles are not working well you aren’t going very far.  Their role to play in the body is absolutely essential. They literally hold up the body. They permit the body to move about. Without them, the body would not be whole. If can’t Hokey Pokey and turn yourself about without your feet. Stay with me, we are dancing with God!

Similarly, the ear feels inferior to the eye. It may be up high on the body, but it does not compare with the eye in receiving praise.  The eye is out front. Lovers gaze into one another’s eyes; the only one I can remember looking onto my ears my mother and all she ever says is, “Wash those dirty ears!” Poets write poems about the eye but never about the ear. Yet when we listen to the music that soothes our soul we often close our eyes to better hear. Often after reading beautiful poetry or a powerful scripture passage we close our eyes. To better hear and imagine.

And what about the nose? Referred to in passage as the sense of smell essential to the whole. How many times have we taken pleasure in smelling flowers or a fresh baked pie? How many times have we avoided something harmful because of the foul odor? Smelling serves a needed service, though we would not think to rate in high on the list of essential body parts.

Image result for church for all people columbus um
Now, the feet and the hands, the ears and the eyes, even the nose all exist according to God’s plan. There are no spare parts. The issue is addressed on several occasions in this letter, self-importance was indeed a problem among the Corinthians. Folks suffering from I am enough and all the church needs. The eye and the head no matter what it sees or thinks need feet to put it thoughts and visions into action. If you don’t elevate your thinking about lowly feet the body doesn’t move.

Unity in diversity is a concept of "unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation" that shifts focus from unity based on a mere tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, ideological and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.

From its apostolic beginnings, then, the Church has always been thought of as a community of diverse members with diverse gifts, and the diversity of the saints continues to testify to how differently the same Christian faith and life may be expressed in this world. The idea is sometimes rooted in our teaching about the Holy Trinity: God is a unity, one God, in a diversity of persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Image result for church for all people columbus umIt is not difficult to see where Paul is heading with this body analogy even as he turns in his metaphor, to what most likely are internal organs and what we refer to as our “private areas.” In verses 22-25, Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less presentable are all critically important. Paul rejected the Corinthians criteria for evaluating which gifts were most honorable. Internal and external parts of the body needed to create a balance whole.

In 12:26, Paul pens one of the most powerful verses in the Scriptures: "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it."  Indeed, it is through suffering that we learn how important the parts of the body are. If the head forgets about the feet, just stub a toe; the head will pay attention! Furthermore, if you dislocate a tiny bone in your foot your whole body is miserable. The converse is also true. The head might ache if the back is in pain. Cure the back pain, and the headache disappears. Or if you’ve ever been sick with a cold or the flu you know that a simple cold, cough, or sore throat can affect your entire body. Appreciate the solidarity of the body. Fearfully and wonderfully made.  No spare parts.

Image result for church for all people columbus um
We are not here by chance. Can you remember what originally attracted you to this place and why you stay?  I believe it is because of the Body itself—all of us as members; all of us who have allowed the call of Christ to be lived out through our relationships together. We are here because we know we are deeply connected to one another.   As members of the same body we are so closely bound together that we actually share the same feelings. What causes joy for one member delights all of us the whole body. When one member suffers we share the pain, the entire body hurts. When I look out at your I am often astounded by how deeply your connected to my soul. Look around you. Is it true for you?

Our ten years in this place is fruitful because you graced this place with your entire body. We have experienced the truth that not all differences divide. We know in fact, some differences make for an even deeper unity. We also know not all differences can be held together. Some differences between us really do divide us and truly challenge us to appreciate our “Unity in Diversity.” We tend to forget that many of the strengths we so admire in one person are often incompatible with the strengths we admire in another. The grace of a figure skater is useless to a Sumo wrestler.  We need the diversity of each person for the body of Christ to function.

Image result for church for all people columbus umAgain I say Paul’s metaphor of the many “parts” (or members) of the body is one of the most powerful in scripture. The diversity of the body is something beyond debate. No two parts of the body are identical, not only are your hands and feet different but your left hand and right hand are different. I have a cousin who has one blue eye and one brown eye.  Yet it easy if not natural for us to see in our mind’s eye the picture of a body working in perfect harmony. The ears listening to the sounds as the eyes take in the surroundings. The brain processes the information, while the hand writes—taking notes, and the mouth speaks, sharing the experience.

And that, says Paul, is how the body Christ works, too. Each member with all of its parts working together. Each part being fully aware of the Spirit that holds us together and directs our work; guiding us to use our gifts for the “common good.”   The Church is to be the place where, together, we learn how to be God’s genuinely human beings. Worshiping God and serving God by reflecting God’s diverse image into the world and to one another!

In today’s world it is a beautiful image that that cannot be realized without intention. God created a great physical body and an opportunity for us to an indispensable part of a spiritual body. God invites us through Christ to all be heading in a common direction. Able to face this paradox of being so dramatically different, while seeing ourselves the same in the marvelous light of Christ.

Here at the Church for All People we know keeping the Body of Christ as diverse as possible keeps on the path of experiencing the fullness of God. The only way to dance with God through this life into the other is with each other.  And there are many others to invite to the dance be it a waltz or the Hokey Pokey. We know there are others who are the same kind of different as us. Let’s invite them to the dance.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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