Saturday

Saint Augustine (Lives Biographies)Saint Augustine by Garry Wills

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Finished this interesting biography on holiday recently and enjoyed it very much.

It was my first dip into the life of Augustine, though had read some of his Confessions earlier.

Roman Catholic prize-winning writer Garry Wills takes a sympathetic, historical and non-hagiographic approach to his subject, one of the most influential figures in the western Christian tradition.

Was interested to learn many details of Augustine's life that were new to me: getting a young woman pregnant at the age of fifteen, co-habiting with her till he was in his thirties, joining a Trinity-denying sect at 19, etc.

Appreciated the writer's ability to paint both the historical and theological context to Augustine's life. Had not focused till now, for instance, on the fact that Augustine was contemporary with Jerome, Ambrose and Pelagius, nor on the fact that he virtually never left Hippo and the surrounding region after his installation as bishop in 395 AD. Also learned more about the Donatists (with whom I have had a vague interest for years) than in anything I had previously read. Augustine's debates and disputes with them are a running theme through the book.

Augustine's power as a writer, scholar and preacher are well-illustrated throughout, and the 145-page book is full of quotable sections both from the subject himself as well as his friends and enemies:

"Augustine thinks in questions" (Karl Jaspers)

"Augustine felt two duties incumbent on him - to expound the whole circle of knowledge in Christian terms, and to refute other schools within Christianity or outside it." (Wills)

Wills' summaries of Augustine's writings are useful as a launch pad into (hopefully) reading them fully in due course. His concise style makes Augustine's profound reflections accessible to the non-specialist , but without being so brief that they appear superficial. Augustine's reflections on the nature of time (there is no such thing as the present) and his formation of the Doctrine of the Trinity in terms of the human soul are both high points in his original writing and in the author's intelligent summary.

Wills takes a rather more sympathetic view of Augustine's approach to the use of coercion in religion than I am comfortable with, though he does so against the backdrop of a contemporary scene that was far harsher than the portrayal of Augustine we are presented with: he opposed the death penalty, torture, and frequently called for clemency in the administration of justice.

A fine introduction to a giant in church history, well-written, and definitely recommended.





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Not so Small Groups are the Answer!

I am deeply persuaded by MIke Breen's analysis of the cultural and anthropological case for expressions of local church that look and feel like traditional extended families.

Note, it is extended families, not nuclear ones (though the latter are also important).

Groups that are 20-30 in size have a particular role in discipleship, and in Breen's experience, are also much easier to engage naturally in mission.

Skip the ads and get the keys bits. The first 20 minutes are Ed Stetzer. Mike Breen is on after that.

What do you think?


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Sunday

Salt, Light and Housing: Good News for Generation Rent?

English: South Lambeth, Springfield Methodist ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The current housing crisis in Britain may provide an opportunity for churches to provide a service to their communities that is prophetic, as well as mutually beneficial. 

The number of British households renting in the private sector has more than doubled since the mid-90s, from 8% to 17%. No longer the preserve of students or young singles, increasing numbers of families in their thirties, fourties and fifties are being shut out of home ownership. The reasons for the growth of the so-called "Generation Rent" are several:

  • high house prices
  • insufficient housing stock to keep up with demand
  • lack of affordable mortgages caused by lenders limiting their loan-to-value ratios
  • the selling off of council-owned properties since the 1980s 

Meanwhile, there are over 40,000 church buildings in the UK. While many are used a great deal, others have surplus space: hours of under-use during the week, as well as physical space that is never used at all. The latter category, especially in older buildings, often includes high ceilings and roof spaces, which are expensive to heat and maintain.

What would happen if even a fraction of the churches decided to creatively explore using this surplus space for affordable housing?

I'm not necessarily proposing night shelters in the nave - though some have already gone this route.  Rather, I am thinking about permanent long-term homes, integrated into the fabric of existing church buildings. The goal would be to provide both affordable accommodation and space for the congregation to continue to meet in.

Whereas the conversion of church buildings into housing is nothing new in the UK, such projects have generally involved a complete change of use of the building and have been carried out by the private sector.

An alternative could be to refit part of the building while the rest continues to be used as a place of worship. Woodlands Church in central Bristol has pioneered this approach, with a number of student flats built into the roof of its Victorian building. Sound insulation, and an additional floor between the roof and the main hall where worship services take place - means that noise overflow is not a major problem.

Financially, there are several models for how such schemes could fit well with a local church's moral ethos and with its commitment to reach out to the wider community. The instability of the current rental sector is one of the big pressures, felt especially by families with children. Long-term rental agreements, with guaranteed rents, could go some way towards offering an alternative. Rent-to-buy options, or direct sales are another, though the latter would not address the fact that many working people cannot raise the deposit needed to secure a mortgage in the current climate.

Self-build options could help reduce costs and raise the quality of the build; partnerships with housing associations and others with expertise in the housing sector could provide additional alternatives.

The income from such arrangements could, after paying for the costs of the initial building work plus ongoing maintenance, support specific ministries within the local church. Heating and other costs are also likely to be offset by such a scheme, depending on the exact specifications of the plan, and the extent to which renewable technologies are incorporated into the re-fit.

The photo is of Springfield Methodist Church in Wandsworth, part-converted into 28 affordable housing units, while at the same time raising the money for a new meeting place on site for the church congregation. Does anyone have any experience or other examples of this kind on initiative taking place at the moment? 





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Saturday

Free Church Self Righteousness over Women Bishops Vote?

New Testament Window
New Testament Window (Photo credit: Henry McLin)

Reading some of the comments and articles by those in the so-called free churches, new church networks and non-denominational churches, I must confess to feeling somewhat uneasy at the tone some have taken on last week's vote in the Church of England Synod over women bishops.

Phil Moore, leader at Queen's Road Church Wimbledon, is fairly typical of this strand of comment when he writes that


"the debate is revolving around entirely the wrong question.

The big question is not whether there should be women bishops. It is whether there should be bishops at all."

Good in parts, his article is something of a curate's egg (another ecclesiastical office which I'm fairly sure Phil would take exception to).

On the one hand, and against the idea that the monarch is the "head on earth" of the Church of England, how can anyone who takes the New Testament seriously fail to agree with his statement that  

"the New Testament is very clear that Jesus is the Head of the Church and that anybody else who tries to usurp his title had better watch out"?


On the other hand, Phil insists that,
  
"The New Testament tells us that [Christ] has chosen for his Church to be led by teams of elders (not by bishops, regardless of whether they are male or female)."


Can anyone fail to miss the irony of inserting a word which is not found in the New Testament ("team") at the expense of one which is ("episkopos", translated as overseer or bishop)? 

I appreciate that many of my free-church brethren will respond that the term episkopos denotes something very different in the pastoral epistles from its later and more developed meaning of a senior leader of clergy and churches in a defined geographical area. I would agree with them. Ignatius may have been motivated by noble ideals, but his episcopalian solution was probably misguided, in my opinion.

This, however, is an issue of definitions rather than terminology in an absolute sense. It is quite legitimate to argue (from 1 Timothy for instance) that the churches should indeed be lead by bishops, as long as we define the role in terms of "eldering" and overseeing and strip it of its clergy-laity connotations.  

The tone of some of the comments from my part of the church is also hard to hear when my type of church is quite happy to use terms never found in Scripture to describe some of its leaders: "lead elder" and "senior pastor" are two that come immediately to mind. Our hesitation to use the biblical word "deacon" might also be worth pondering.

An additional concern I have is with the implication that the Synod debate is "not an issue for us" since we are not Anglicans. Krish Kandiah of the Evangelical Alliance correctly (in my view) addresses the fact that this concerns the whole church, since the name of Christ is publicly invoked in the discussion and its outcomes. Matthew Hosier, although no fan of the episcopalian system, gives a somewhat broader, missional view of the matter from a non-conformist perspective.

I am sure that I am not alone as a member of one of the newer strands of the church in affirming the unity, catholicity and universality of the church. It's just that this message has not been sounded very clearly by some in my neck of the woods in the last week or so. 

















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Tuesday

Eating for the Kingdom: The Other Journal


Interesting, if lengthy, article at The Other Journal moving forward the discussion on food, ethics and the Kingdom of God.

Includes the best one-paragraph summary of a Biblical view of "our relationship with nonhuman animals" that I've come across. Here it is:

Humans are created alongside other animals who are also given spirit by their Creator (Gen. 1:30). Permission for humans to eat animal flesh is not received until after the flood (9:2-3), coming in the context of God’s recognition of human sinfulness and alongside the proscription of murder (9:6). The attendant rituals of sacrifice (9:4) make visible the death of the individual animal (9:5), reinforcing the intimate commonality between humans and other animals, something modern factory farming deliberately attempts to obscure. Even more notable with reference to Genesis 9 is the covenant in which God promises to be with Noah “and with every living creature that is with you” (9:10); activity which finds a parallel in Hosea, wherein God makes a covenant “with the wild animals” on Israel’s behalf (Hosea 2:18). Job’s protestations about the injustices of life are met with a divine response that puts Job in his place as one animal (albeit one made in God’s image) among many, from the horse to Leviathan (Job 38–41). In Jonah, God exhibits concern for the animals of Nineveh (Jon. 4:11), who themselves are clothed in sackcloth, participating in the confession and lamentation of that city (3:7–8). Eschatologically, Isaiah (11:6–9 and 65:25) and Revelation (5:13) describe humans and animals living peaceably in relationship in visions of the kingdom to come. Paul, often criticized by vegetarians for his proclamations on diet, affirmed that the whole creation is “groaning in labor pains” awaiting “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22–23) and that through the blood of Christ, God has reconciled “all things” to himself (Col. 1:20).

  



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Saturday

Cole-Slaw: Old vs New Leadership: A Study in Contrast



A few things are obvious. You cannot lead the way you have always done so in the past and expect different results. What brought success in the old form of influence will actually bring failure in the new. Drawing a crowd and dispersing a people movement are exactly the opposite sort of task.


The above article from which the quote is taken is a fine summary of the distinctive features of a new emerging church leadership paradigm, which personally, I feel very excited about. 

How about you? 
 




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Wednesday

Gospel and the Poor - Resources

A friend asked recently for a recommendation on books addressing the issue of the gospel and the poor.

Here's a provisional list, though I can't recommend them all because I haven't yet read them all.

  • Tim Keller, Generous Justice
  • James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world
  • Bryant L Myers, Walking with the Poor: principles and practices of transformational development theology
  • Tim Chester, Good News to the Poor: the gospel through social involvement
  • John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus
  • Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger



Any others that should be on such a list? 

Thursday

The “Secret Sauce” our churches are missing | Mike Breen

The “Secret Sauce” our churches are missing | Mike Breen:




That word oikos, which refers to “household” or “family,” is the description for the church in the New Testament. And if we were to dig into the annals of church history, we’d find that almost every time we see a missional movement of God, we also see a missional vehicle being used about the size of an extended family. Coincidence? I’m not sure sure.






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Sunday

Train up a Child

A Nepalese woman and her infant child.
Wikipedia

"Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it."


The above verse, from Proverbs 22:6, has formed the basis over the years of much teaching on the issue of Christian parenting.

Often, the verse is interpreted as follows: "teach a child the word of God, model it by personal example, nurture it with prayer, and, when that child reaches adulthood, they will live a godly Christian life." 

While most Christians would agree that these are excellent actions for a Christian parent to do, there are several problems with assuming that the above verse is correctly interpreted in that way.

One problem is that the saints in the Bible did not always have that experience. The summary of Solomon's life in 1 Kings 11:4, for instance, could not be clearer:

"When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father."

Lot's daughters (incest), Noah's sons (drunkenness) and Job's children (wild parties) are just three of the other examples of ungodly children raised by godly parents. Are we pushing the example too far when we also note that God himself had two sons (Adam and Israel) who had an excellent upbringing, but a rebellious adulthood? Examples also abound from church history.

The above interpretation can produce significant pastoral problems for Christian parents who have sought to raise their children according to Biblical principles and have backed these precepts up with their prayerful lifestyle, only to find their children as adults pursuing very sinful lifestyles.

An alternative interpretation of the proverb hinges on the meaning of the word "should." The word can be used in two ways. Consider these two sentences:

"You broke it, so you should pay for it."

"An apple tree should produce apples."

In the first sentence, the word "should" is a moral imperative. It speaks of an external obligation or a duty.

In the second sentence, the word "should" conveys the idea of that which is natural, expected and fitting. There is no moral connotation. 

The word in the second sense can be used of people as well as trees:

"Usain Bolt should win gold at the Olympics, because he's in top form this season."

 If the proverb uses "should" in the second sense of the word, it allows the verse to be understood in a different way from that outlined at the start of this post. Instead, its meaning could be: "train a child in the way that is natural for him or her to go in."

If this interpretation is correct, it raises the question, "What is the natural way for a child to go in?"  My answer would be "It depends on the child."


As an apple tree naturally produces apples, and Usain Bolt naturally wins races, so a child naturally wants to "go" in a certain direction. 
 
The English word "educate" comes from two Latin roots: e- (out of, from) and duco (I lead). To educate is to "lead out from" within a child. It is not the same as putting information into a child; more like, bringing out that which is already inside them. I understand every child to have God-given inherent potential, which exists in two forms. The first is that which is within most children generally. The second is that which is specific or particular to that individual child.  Some children have a natural inclination towards sport; others to building things, some to making things, writing, music or public speaking.

A child who is educated according to their natural inclinations will not depart from them, even as an adult, since they will be doing what is natural for them to do.

Interpreted in this way, the proverb is not a verse about moral or spiritual formation as such, but about education and skills development.

What do you think?  



 
 

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Saturday

Ed Stetzer on Viral Churches and Maverick Entrepreneurs

Ed Stetzer - Viral Churches: Factors Leading to Church Multiplication Movements, "Let Churches Lead and Welcome the Planter," part 4 of 9:



In some cases, the problem is that the most successful church planters are often the most controversial. This shouldn't be too surprising. By their very nature, church planters are entrepreneurial, non-conventional mavericks. It's what allows them to do so well on their church planting assessments. Post-assessment, however, we suddenly become shocked and astounded when we discover that they are difficult to supervise and don't follow directions well.


I'm loving this series from Ed Stetzer on viral church planting. Check out the link above.  


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Friday

Jesus the Politician?

Interesting quote from Mark Allan Powell from his book The Jesus Debate: Modern Historians Investigate the Life of Christ:

"With regard to Jesus' stance towards politics, scholars seem to be moving closer to consensus...For a time, the issue seemed to be whether Jesus should be regraded as a religious figure (the traditional concept) or as the leader of as political movement. Today, the dichotomy seems unnecessary, an anachronism imposed, perhaps, by Western scholars reared in societies that pride themselves on (supposedly) being able to separate church and state. Even today, especially in the Mideast, the line between politics and religion is indistinct. This was certainly true in Jesus' situation as well."

Tuesday

When a House Church Becomes Too Large

I've recently enjoyed interacting with Eric Carpenter at his blog A Pilgrim's Progress on the subject of How Big is Too Big? when asked of a church that meets in the home and places a high value on all-member participation in the meetings. Eric was a full-time salaried pastor who left this employment in pursuit of a "simpler form of church life."

In the comments section, I suggested a number of possible next steps that such a church could take when it starts to "feel too large." My option four was to "split the group into two or more smaller groups and try to replicate what you have experienced so far." Option five was to "intentionally start to dream, pray and prepare, for a long-term process of multiple future church planting."

Alan Knox then asked the following question: "I'd love to hear some examples of the outcome of #5 and how it differs from #4."

Rather than presume on Eric's bandwith, I thought  might make a few notes here in response to that good question.

Many groups respond to numerical growth by splitting, dividing or multiplying (option 4). Biological cell concepts are often employed to explain or in some cases justify this course of action.

In my experience, such an action can be a mixed blessing, with long-term relationships sometimes severed or at least placed under strain as a group that may have taken months or years to bond together finds itself torn in two.

Option 5 takes a more intentional, long-term view, rather than just responding to the immediate lack of space in a home. As such, it allows the possibility that some of the more difficult aspects of "splitting" a group can be avoided, or at least mitigated.

In essence, I would distinguish option 5 from option 4 by comparing the ways that a cell divides from the way that a family grows and reproduces. In the latter scenario (option 5), we are not looking to divide a group but to start a new household - specifically a household of faith.

In my own limited experience, pursuing this latter option involves looking for and recognising those individuals who have the capacity, character and inclination to become spiritual parents. They should be supported, empowered, trained and encouraged to intentionally begin the process of opening their homes with the aim of forming a new community. This should happen while the existing church is still quite young and while it is itself forming and developing. The intention to plant out is therefore sown into fabric of the church from early on in its life. As I have said, however, this process becomes part of the ethos of the church, but is not done in such a way that "splits" the existing church in two.
Again, in my limited experience, I have seen this process undertaken resulting in the formation of six new churches that I have had a part in helping to plant in the west of England, during the period 1997 to 2004. At least one of these, becasue of the gift mix of the couple hosting it, started as an Apha course and was composed overwhelmingly of new converts. All of them began as home-based churches. Because of where I was with my ecclesiology at that time, most of these churches went on to become somewhat larger mono-congregations rather than remain small and reproduce smaller household-style churches. Having said that, because of their theological values, these churches do tend to have a higher level of member participation in the meetings than might be experienced in a more traditional "church service" model.







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Driscoll, Marriage and Sex

Mark Driscoll's new book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together, co-authored with his wife Grace, is rapidly contributing to reviews, comments and articles across the blogosphere. I haven't read the book (funny how many articles begin by saying that) but here are a selection of articles inspired by the book and the themes it addresses.

Methodist Morgan Guyton on Red Letter Christians confesses that he can make no sense of what he calls the "gender heirarchy" outlined in the Driscoll's book.

Rachel Held Evans summarises the book as the good, the bad and the ugly and in the process raises concerns about the assumption that evangelical pastors should be regared as competent to advise on such intimate issues as sex. :

Evangelicals expect too much of their pastors. In addition to demanding they serve as nearly flawless leaders and teachers, many of us demand that our pastors serve as professional counselors and advisors, experts on everything from politics to science to sex to health to money to marriage to relationships. 

Evans' appeal to look at the Biblical context as well as the Biblical content of the key marriage passages is also interesting.

Since David Moore of Fuller Theological Seminary states early on in his article that, "This book is an astoundingly unbelievable work of disrespect for women", there is no surprise that his review is largly critical.


Here in the UK, Christianity Magazine has released part of an interview with Mark Driscoll. The latter has subsequently described the hour-long interview as "adverserial." Driscoll has published a response to the article here.  

Researcher Ed Stetzer meanwhile notes that the topic of sex is being discussed by the world every day and asks the question of Christian leaders, How Should we Talk About Sex?  His five points are that Christians need to: 
  • move beyond discomfort on the subject.   
  • answer the critical questions people are asking
  • hype does not help 
  • teaching on sex, or at least the same levels of teaching on sex, is not for everyone. 
  • talk more, not less, about sex

Lecturer and theologian John Armstrong expresses dispair at what he sees as the growing sensationalism of mega-churches on the subject of sex as he notes that:

Ed and Lisa Young, founders of Texas-based Fellowship Church, will spend 24 hours in bed on the church roof next week and stream themselves live on the Internet to encourage married couples to see firsthand the power of a healthy sex life as prescribed in their new book, Sexperiment.

As Armstrong says,
And some people actually wonder why young evangelical adults, who deeply love Jesus Christ, are now leaving evangelical churches in increasing numbers to go to more ancient churches. 





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Saturday

Ed Stetzer - Lottie Moon and House Churches

Lottie MoonImage via Wikipedia





When the gospel is allowed to grow naturally in China, without forcing processes of development, the "church in the house" is usually its first form of organization. God grant us faith and courage to keep "hands off" and allow this new garden of the Lord's planting to ripen in the rays of the Divine Love, free from human interference!

- Lottie Moon, Pingtu, September 10, 1890


Was Lottie Moon right than for China?

Was she right now for Europe? America?

I've been increasingly struck in recent years at the way Paul preached the gospel and "allowed" it to take root in its natural, culturally appropriate context. In the case of the first century Greco-Roman world, this natural context was the extended household.

Is the same true in twenty-first century Britain?



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Wednesday

The Emerging Church



A helpful and interesting introduction to the issues and personalities sometimes grouped together under the label of the "emerging church."





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Monday

welldigger: Revival Alliance Meetings in Westminster September 2011


Fascinating and encouraging report from David Pike (Cardiff) about the recent Revival Alliance meeings held in central London.




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Friday

Why we might not be as Reformed as we think we are | Papers | Theology Matters | Newfrontiers UK

Why we might not be as Reformed as we think we are | Papers | Theology Matters | Newfrontiers UK

Fine post from Matt Hosier on the Theology Matters blog.

Big themes to think about for evangelical charismatics everywhere!



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Wednesday

Senator Mark Hatfield: RIP

Former Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon at dedi...Image via WikipediaJohn H Armstrong : Senator Mark Hatfield: RIP

Virtually unknown in the UK, Senator Mark Hatfield, who died this month, was a leading American Christian politician, from an age before the enmeshing of those two terms became so toxic.

John H Armstrong writes about his life and legacy:


For nearly four decades, [he was] perhaps American evangelicals' most prominent and admired politician . . . a man associated with liberal politics, one of the country's leading voices against the Vietnam War and military spending, and a critic of the nascent religious right.






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Tuesday

Riots and the Early Church

Protesters clash with riot police on November ...Image via Wikipedia




The simple idea that "things were better" in the past is one that may appeal to many. Historians, however, tend not to believe it.
This on the place of riots in first-century Greco-Roman cities from French historian Jerome Carcopino:

"Night fell over the city like the shadow of a great danger, diffused, sinister and menacing. Everyone fled to his home, shut himself in and barricaded the entrance....Juvenal sighs that to go out to supper without having made your will was to expose yourself to reproach of carelessness....Criminals abounded in the city."


And this from Professor Rodney Stark from the University of Washngton:

"The social integration of Greco-Roman cities was severely disrupted .... exposing residents to a variety of harmful consequences, including high rates of devience and disorder. Indeed, this is a major reason why Greco-Roman cities were so prone to riots."


On Antioch in particular, location of Christianity's first genuinely multi-racial church, Professor Stark notes:

"the six major periods of rioting that racked the city [during the Roman era]. By a major riot, I mean one resulting in substantial damage and death, as distinct from the city's frequent riots in which only a few were killed."


 

 

  .  
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Thursday

Food and the Culture of Hobbits: Tolkein on Fellowship and Warfare


You have got to read this article on the place of eating in Tolkein's writing.

It's the heart of fellowship.

Love it.





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Saturday

Seminary president: Baptists have been 'homophobic' (OneNewsNow.com)

Seminary president: Baptists have been 'homophobic' (OneNewsNow.com)

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