It is said that someone once asked Martin Luther, "Why do you preach salvation by faith alone, week after week after week?"
"Because," Luther replied, "You forget it week after week after week."
In that spirit, it's time to bring back once again this much-needed, and clearly forgotten, scene from A Man for All Seasons.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
I don't remember where I saw this quote recently, but it illustrates how a piece of advice can look good at first glance, fall apart when you think about it, and yet still leave you with something positive.
It was attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but that's probably one of those common internet mistakes of finding an interesting saying and giving it strength by attributing it to someone you respect. For one thing, Lincoln no doubt chopped down many trees in his youth, but I doubt any of them took him six hours. Plus, who spends four hours sharpening an axe? I don't have much experience with axes, but I know that knives are more useful with more frequent, shorter sharpenings. Follow the advice of "Lincoln," and I should think you'd end up grinding away much of your axe, and still finding it dull before the job was done.
And yet ... the point about the importance of preparation is a good one.
Maybe the moral of the story is not to dissect too thoroughly words meant to inspire and encourage. Discern the wheat and let the wind take the chaff.
This isn't the post I had planned for today, but it seems timely.
Lift Up Your Hearts! is an eclectic blog, and I don't apologize for that. With death and disaster (largely self-inflicted, I fear) threatening on every side, sometimes I feel I should do more screaming from the rooftops. I try to seek and speak the truth and proclaim what I learn, with sources if I can, so that others may be aware and make up their own minds about important things.
Maybe it is trivial in such a situation to write about genealogy, or making beautyberry syrup, or the antics of our grandchildren, or random thoughts. But then again, these are the "sensible and human things" and need to be remembered.
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The same guy who brought you the 18-Minute Cabin had an old, broken down pop-up camper that he decided to renovate from the ground up. I know a few people who might find the work interesting; I know I did. (44 minutes, does well at 2x speed.)
I've really enjoyed his YouTube channel, black spruce. Perhaps it's the uncertainty of life these days that makes me especially appreciate people with these kinds of skills. Either that, or I just like watching other people work. :)
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The builders in our family might enjoy this video. I'm not a builder, but I loved watching this cabin-in-the-woods go together in 18 minutes. That is, a 36-minute video watched at 2x speed. The actual project took about a month.
If you liked this one, you can see more of the story here.
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For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
Yet these men are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For as they live among his works they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.
Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
– Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-9 RSVCI
Tomorrow will still come, our objectives have not changed, and our number one job is to work toward tomorrow and those objectives. — Warren R. Langdon
I am the family curator of my father's journals, written between 1959 and 1970. It's still on my List to get them into a form more accessible to his descendants; so far I've only managed to get all the pages scanned as jpg's. It would be great for them to be searchable, but while my father was an engineer, by handwriting he could have been a physician, and Google Lens' OCR hasn't been up to the challenge.
The scanned pages do make it easy for me to browse through them, which I like to do on occasion. Recently I was curious to see what my father had had to say about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I remember the event, because I heard about it on the radio at the eye doctor's office, but I wasn't in school that day so I missed whatever excitement might have occurred there. Any direct impact on my life was nil, so I was interested in what might have gone on that my 11-year-old self simply ignored. The following excerpts are all I could find that my father wrote.
Friday, November 22, 1963
This is the day that President Kennedy was shot and killed. I was at the door of my office for some reason when I saw several people head for Wally Giard’s radio. I went along to see what was going on and heard the news that the President had been shot. I don’t know why the radio was on—I have never seen it on except for the World Series—perhaps someone’s wife telephoned in the news. Work continued more or less as usual during the afternoon, although most everyone had an ear glued to the radio, too. My own reaction was one of shocked disbelief—the same reaction I had 18 years ago one afternoon at work when word came that President Roosevelt had died.
Of course the entire evening was spent keeping up to date on the latest news and the radio and television stations kept up a continuous coverage, cancelling all their regular programs until at least after the funeral. I did manage to get quite a bit of studying done tonight as well.
Sunday, November 24, 1963
The church was somewhat more crowded than usual—attributable directly to the President’s death, I believe—but by no means overflowing. The minister made moderate reference to the President’s death and I felt very much in agreement with him when he said that at this time when we look for signs as to whether this is a time for sorrow or supplication, for fear or hope, for a feeling of loss or a feeling of opportunity, the one sign that is clear is that God is not dead. I think this is a better way of putting my feeling that tomorrow will still come, our objectives have not changed, and our number one job is to work toward tomorrow and those objectives.
And that's what keeps the world going. We go on, putting one foot in front of the other, doing our best at whatever we have been called to do.
It's not often we go to a movie theater. Seriously. I may have forgotten something, but I believe the last time we did so was in 2016, to see "Sully." But yesterday I couldn't resist venturing out for "Sound of Freedom."
Why? Well, for one thing, the subject—modern-day slavery and human trafficking—sounded important and serious and worth spending time on. I look at the ads for so many movies these days and they sound boring at best. For another, I unexpectedly caught an interview with Tim Ballard, the real-life hero upon whom the film is based, and then later another with Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrays him. Ballard was a Homeland Security agent who quit his job of bringing down paedophiles in order to focus on rescuing their victims. I'm generally leery of movies that are "based on a true story," because they are so often inaccurate, but over and over again, Ballard would say, "yes, that really happened," or "that's actually understated," and he obviously approves of the film. Caviezel's interview was inspiring as well.
Perhaps the largest factor driving my desire to see "Sound of Freedom" was the surprising, even virulent opposition to the movie from sources I would have expected to cheer any effort to bring light into the deep darkness of slavery, kidnapping, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children. Unfortunately, that seemed to fit into a pattern I've been observing recently, that of downplaying the very existence of modern-day slavery, and pushing the idea that sex workers especially, even children, are voluntary participants in the business. Since no sane observer of human nature and human history could possibly really believe that, I had to see what it was that had generated such fierce opposition.
The only conclusion I can come to is that either (1) evil is now, if not worse than at any point in human history, at least more generally accepted by ordinary people as normal, or (2) there are a lot of rich and powerful people who have a great interest in the sex-slave trade. Probably both.
Even suggesting that is likely to get you labelled as a "conspiracy theorist"; as the makers of "Sound of Freedom" have learned. My opinion has always been that there's no need to call conspiracy anything that can be explained by mere human stupidity, but these days I'm seriously considering making myself a t-shirt that proclaims, "The Conspiracy Theorists Were Right."
Anyway, "Sound of Freedom" has my highest recommendation. Those who are accustomed to the ultra-fast-paced movies of today might find a few scenes a bit slow, but that didn't trouble me at all. The film is rated PG-13, which is pretty mild considering the subject matter. It's a story about a very dark and evil subject, but is nonetheless filled with goodness and hope. That's hard to beat.
Go ahead, do yourself a favor. See "Sound of Freedom." I'm not sure how young an age group should see it. Definitely our three oldest grandchildren could, but for younger than that it might be too intense. Probably PG-13 isn't a bad guideline.
It's not an easy film to watch, especially for parents and grandparents, but it's a good one.
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Enough is enough.
I won't drink Bud Light. I won't buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Big deal. I don't like beer, and I've long found Ben & Jerry's not worth the price, especially since they sold out.
I almost never buy spices from Penzey's—previously my absolute favorite spice source—having found alternatives that aren't deliberately offensive to half their potential customers. I still buy King Arthur flour, because it's simply the best I've found, but the company has become more aggressive in pushing their political positions, and that has left a bad taste in my mouth—maybe not the smartest move when you're a food company.
Or any company.
I get it. Corporations are run by people, and people have opinions and favorite causes. A business can seem like a very handy bulldozer with which to push those opinions and causes. But behavior that may be appropriate for individuals and small businesses is annoying (or much worse) when adopted by large companies.
Corporations: You want to make the world better? I have some suggestions for what to do with your money and influence. Do these first, before throwing your weight around in places that have nothing to do with your business. And if you can, do it quietly, without blowing your own trumpet too much, please.
- Think and act locally. Make your community glad to have you as a neighbor.
- Provide good jobs, and pay your employees fairly. You have extra funds? Give them a raise, or at least a bonus.
- Improve working conditions. Consider not only physical health and safety but mental and social health, and opportunities for autonomy and initiative.
- Clean up your act. Wherever you are, make the water and air you put out cleaner than that which you took in. (Until the late 1960's, my father worked for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, and I've never forgotten his comment that the water that went back into the Mohawk River from their plant was cleaner than what they had taken out of it. Whether that said more about GE's water treatment or the state of the Mohawk at the time I leave to your speculation.)
- If you're a publicly-held company, don't forget your shareholders. Think beyond next quarter's numbers and work to make your business a good long-term investment.
- Return charity to where it belongs. Instead of using their money to contribute to your favorite causes, lower your prices and let your customers decide what to do with the extra cash. Maybe they'll contribute to their favorite causes. Freely-given charity is always better than forced charity. Maybe they'll even spend the extra money on more of your products, who knows? But being generous with other people's money doesn't make you virtuous, it makes you despicable.
- Improve your product. Are you making or doing something worthwhile? Then do it better.
Any or all of these business improvements would make the world a better place without controversy. I've never understood why a company would deliberately and aggressivly seek to alienate half its customer base, but that seems to be happening more and more frequently. Do they think those who appreciate their controversial stance will out of gratitude buy more to take up the slack? Do they think they can ride out a temporary downturn and that those who are offended will quickly forget and go back to "business as usual?" My cynical side thinks they may be right about the latter, but I also think we may be reaching a tipping point.
I'm not a fan of boycots, preferring to make my commercial decisions based on quality and price rather than on politics. But I sense, in myself and in others, a growing distaste for dealing with companies that have gone out of their way to make it clear they think I'm not good enough to be their customer. I still shop at Target, but I just realized that the last time was more than three months ago. I still buy King Arthur flour, but find myself less inclined to linger over their catalog and consider their other products. Penzey's still has some products I can't get elsewhere, and I won't rule out another purchase—but I find myself unconsciously doing without instead. Small potatoes, sure. What difference can one formerly enthusiastic customer make to such large corporations?
A big difference, if that one person is part of a groundswell of discontent. I think it's happening.
I call on all businesses to adopt my simple model of true corporate responsibility. If you want to see better fruit, nourish the world at its roots.
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You know I'm a big fan of Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying—the folks I call my favorite Left Coast Liberals. There's a lot we disagree about, but plenty of common ground, and I admire their dogged search for truth and willingness to follow where it leads, even if that sometimes aligns them with people they were once taught to despise.
For longer than I have known of them, YouTube has been profiting off their popular DarkHorse Podcast without remunerating them in any way. That is, YouTube "demonetized" them, which means that they can no longer get revenue from the ads YouTube attaches to their posts. The ads are still there, but YouTube takes all the profit for themselves, instead of just a percentage. (Okay, I'm aware that 100% is also a percentage; you know what I mean.) It's a dirty trick, and forces content creators to tie themselves in knots trying to avoid giving YouTube an excuse to demonetize them or to shut them down altogether. In frustration and protest, many creators have left YouTube. But that's a tough way to go, as YouTube's stranglehold as a video content platform is exceedingly strong.
One alternative that has become more and more popular is Rumble, largely because it makes a point of censoring only the most egregious content (e.g. pornography, illegal behavior) while encouraging free speech and debate, including unpopular views—such as the idea that the COVID-19 virus was originally created in the Wuhan lab during U.S.-sponsored gain-of-function research. While widely accepted now, it was not long ago that expressing such an opinion on YouTube was a fast track to oblivion.
Rumble has been steadily making improvements, but it's still not as polished and easy to use as YouTube. YouTube still has a virtual monopoly, so few content creators can afford to drop it altogether. And if your content has no political, medical, or socially-unacceptable content, it's hard to find the incentive to make the effort to switch. So I won't be boycotting YouTube any time soon.
That said, I'm glad to see that while we were out of the country, DarkHorse began moving to Rumble. Apparently they will do what many other creators have done, keeping a smaller presence on YouTube, which has by far the wider reach, while enduing Rumble with additional content. Viva Frei, for example (my favorite Canadian lawyer's site), does the first half hour or so of his podcast on both YouTube and Rumble, then invites his YouTube viewers to move to Rumble for the rest of the show. How it will eventually work out for DarkHorse I don't know yet, but for the moment, their podcasts still appear on YouTube, but the question-and-answer sessions, along with some other content, are exclusive to Rumble.
In honor of DarkHorse's new venue, and to give myself a chance to learn how to embed a Rumble video here, the following is the Q&A session from Podcast #175.
Embedding the video turned out go be easy enough, but I haven't yet figured out how to specify beginning and ending times. So I'll just mention that the section from 12:47 to 31:10, where Bret and Heather deal with the subject of childhood vaccinations, is particularly profitable. It may lead some of my readers to realize how insightful they themselves were many long years ago.
Heather's brief environmental rant from 1:11:35 to 1:12:45 is also worth listening to.
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Those of you who are better than I am at remembering political names will understand Porter's oft-repeated saying from the very end of the last century:
In the 2000 election, I was afraid our hopes would be Daschled and our aspirations Gored, but instead we were am-Bushed.
Thinking about President George W. Bush, I am reminded of President Jimmy Carter of the opposite party: great person, terrible president. High ideals do not an effective statesman make. Neither are they sufficient to impart the wisdom needed to lead a country through crisis. There's a Darkness in our politics that delights in taking down naïve idealism, and it doesn't much care what political affiliation it uses.
Nonetheless, I'll take the hopeful, honest call to courage of Bush's first inaugural address—superbly crafted by speechwriter Michael Gerson and delivered on January 20, 2001—over the bitter, divisive anger that is stock-in-trade today, when more than ever our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.
President Clinton, distinguished guests and my fellow citizens:
The peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country. With a simple oath, we affirm old traditions and make new beginnings.
As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation; and I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.
I am honored and humbled to stand here, where so many of America's leaders have come before me, and so many will follow.
We have a place, all of us, in a long story. A story we continue, but whose end we will not see. It is the story of a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old, a story of a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom, the story of a power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer. It is the American story. A story of flawed and fallible people, united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born. Americans are called upon to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws; and though our nation has sometimes halted, and sometimes delayed, we must follow no other course.
Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations. Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country, it is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along; and even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel.
While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth; and sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation; and this is my solemn pledge, "I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity." I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image and we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.
America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them; and every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.
Today, we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character. America, at its best, matches a commitment to principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness. Some seem to believe that our politics can afford to be petty because, in a time of peace, the stakes of our debates appear small. But the stakes for America are never small. If our country does not lead the cause of freedom, it will not be led. If we do not turn the hearts of children toward knowledge and character, we will lose their gifts and undermine their idealism. If we permit our economy to drift and decline, the vulnerable will suffer most. We must live up to the calling we share. Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. This commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment.
America, at its best, is also courageous. Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when defending common dangers defined our common good. Now we must choose if the example of our fathers and mothers will inspire us or condemn us. We must show courage in a time of blessing by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations.
Together, we will reclaim America's schools, before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives; we will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent; we will reduce taxes, to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans; we will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge; and we will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.
The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake, America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests; we will show purpose without arrogance; we will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength; and to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth.
America, at its best, is compassionate. In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise. Whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at fault. Abandonment and abuse are not acts of God, they are failures of love. The proliferation of prisons, however necessary, is no substitute for hope and order in our souls. Where there is suffering, there is duty. Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities, and all of us are diminished when any are hopeless. Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health, for civil rights and common schools. Yet compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. Some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws. Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to those who do. I can pledge our nation to a goal, "When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side."
America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected. Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats, it is a call to conscience. Though it requires sacrifice, it brings a deeper fulfillment. We find the fullness of life not only in options, but in commitments. We find that children and community are the commitments that set us free. Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom. Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone. I will live and lead by these principles, "to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility and try to live it as well." In all of these ways, I will bring the values of our history to the care of our times.
What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.
Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.
After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?" Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate, but the themes of this day he would know, "our nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity."
We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with His purpose. Yet His purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today; to make our country more just and generous; to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life.
This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.
God bless you all, and God bless America.
That will be our opening hymn this morning, and it's one of my favorites.
Happy Easter to all!
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
—John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Having overheard someone questioning why Coventry Carol was included in our church's Lessons and Carols service earlier this month, I knew it was time to reprise our story of why this song of immeasurable grief belongs in this season of festive joy.
Coventry Carol is an ancient song that tells a story almost as old as Christmas. The events take place sometime after the birth of Christ—after the arrival of the Wise Men, from whom King Herod learns of the birth of a potential rival, and decides to do what kings were wont to do to rivals: kill him. Don't know which baby boy is the threat? No problem, just kill them all.
This song is a lament, a lullaby of the mothers of Bethlehem, whose baby boys would be killed in what came to be called the Massacre of the Innocents. (Jesus escaped, Joseph having been warned in a dream to get out of Dodge; the others are considered the first Christian martyrs—people whose association with Jesus led to their deaths.)
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters two, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and may,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay
Why sing such a gloomy song at Christmas?
Several reasons, maybe. Chief of which is that the Christian Christmas is not like the secular Christmas. It is, indeed, "tidings of great joy," but it is complicated, messy, profound, anything but simplistic and lighthearted. It breaks into the midst of a broken world, and even Jesus' escape from death here is only a short reprieve. There's more to Christmas than the joy of new birth, or even "peace on earth, good will to men." We have to tell the whole story.
Twenty years ago, as the world was beginning in earnest to "ring out the tidings of good cheer," our firstborn daughter gave birth to our first grandchild.
Isaac lived two days.
It was in that season of unspeakable grief that the haunting Coventry Carol touched me as none other could. Frankly, I could not handle all the happy songs about a newborn baby boy; with Coventry Carol I felt merged into an ancient and universal grief, the grief that made Christmas necessary.
Until the Day when all is set right, there will be pain and grief that won't go away just because the calendar says it's December. The last few years, especially, have wounded us all and broken not a few. This reminder that the First Christmas was not a facile Peace on Earth and Joy to the World, and that the first Christian martyrs were Jewish children, is for all whose pain threatens to overwhelm them.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
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