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Conflict Resolution and Ferguson — The Good News

As a therapist, I can tell when a couple is doing well and when they are not. When both people act like jerks to each other and say, “We’re great”, I can see that they are not. When both people act lovingly and say “we’re great”, I can agree that they are.

When both parties get angry and let it all out, I see that change is in the air, because all of the real issues are out on the table, all of the false impressions and the true ones are on the table. Misunderstandings come to light and people can find a common language to describe what’s real. Does this always work? Well, to be honest, divorces still happen because once the work becomes clear, some people think it’s too much work to do.

But, more often than not, going from cold rage to warm passion is a good thing and it can lead to good make-up relations in the short-term and — if the work is done, a healthy relationship in the future.

This is what Ferguson has done. We have gone from a cold disrespect and rage to a hot expression of serious anger. “The truth shall set you free, but first it’ll make you miserable”. By the time this is over, we will have been through plenty of misery. But the anger will subside because there’s only so much of Ferguson to burn down and so much anger to go around. NOTE: I am not saying that violence is ever the answer. There are better ways to express anger and it’s easier if it’s done sooner rather than later. But here we are, and violence has already happened and will continue until it doesn’t anymore.

But, after this, White America can never say that they don’t know what Black America thinks or how upset they are. As my friends and I pour through all of this, we define and redefine our words. On this blog alone, we have differentiated between “race hatred“, “racism”, and “systemic racism”. We’re not throwing names at each other, we’re clarifying our version of reality. Black America probably already knows what White America thinks of it, but as both Sean and Bob point out, it’s not as cut-and-dry as that. I hopefully shed light on that thought as well.

Sean wants rationality and I don’t blame him for wanting that. I do, too. I think Bob does, as well. The difference is that I don’t expect rationality from people when there’s this much rage, and I’m aware that there is. So, let this thing burn itself out. It will. At some point, when there’s only cooler heads left, we can understand each other and correct our behavior according to what the other needs, even if we don’t “get it” on a gut level.

Police and administration in Ferguson can see what they did wrong, and what they did right. Protesters can see what they did wrong and what they did right. People will learn what “buttons” not to push, and what kinds of things just appear stupidly horrendous to the other, so as to avoid them. There are good people on the ground in Ferguson — among others, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, I am told. Nobody likes their city being burned to the ground because it is, after all, their city. A client recently told me that “anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will get sick”. Once people realize they are getting sick due to their anger, the chance for real healing exists.

I, for one, am willing to do the work, and I believe my friends are, as well.

Peace,

John

Ferguson, Race, and Police: What Now?

My friend Sean Murphy was right. According to the Grand Jury of Ferguson, MO, Darren Wilson didn’t do anything wrong, or at least criminal. I don’t like the verdict, but if those are the facts, those are the facts.

My African-American train friend  and I were talking about the case and I asked her about “The Talk” with her daughter. I knew that parents had “The Talk” with their sons about interacting with the police, but I didn’t know if they had it with daughters and she assured me that they did. She spoke about what to do when pulled over and where not to go, because African-Americans “stick out” there.

You know we’re going to make a moral out of the story, right? The news will cover it, and people will write on Facebook and Twitter and we’ll all say what it means. What does this case mean, then, for life in America and whether we’re “post-racial”. Should she stop worrying? Should she tell her daughters not to worry?

I have to ask her, but I don’t think she’s going to go for it. Here’s the problem as we discussed it, with my spin on it somewhat. Most normal White people would not do anything as racist as beat someone up or shoot them simply because they were Black. In fact, most normal White people can’t even imagine doing that. Because they wouldn’t do it, and because they don’t experience it, they have a hard time believing it happens. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It just means that it’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been there.

Still, every day as a therapist, I hear about actions that no normal person would ever engage in. Incest, rape, and molestation are a lot more common that anyone can imagine. Drug use and robbery and domestic violence and male rape and … the list goes on. Did these things happen, as my clients maintain? In reality, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I choose to believe them. Why? Because they can’t imagine it happening, either, and they are frequently in shock. I believe them because something happened, because their bodies and their psyches are out-of-whack and they no longer act normally. They have experienced the unimaginable and believing them seems to relieve their misery.

So, Darren Wilson didn’t commit a crime. According to our laws, that’s the fact. Darren Wilson got justice, according to the law. Does that mean that “driving while Black” isn’t a reality? Does it mean that parents don’t have conversations with their children? Does it mean that the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t exist? No, it doesn’t mean any of those things. Does it mean that we don’t need to consider what “appropriate force” is again? Does it mean that laws and consequences aren’t used more harshly against Blacks than Whites? No. It doesn’t mean that either.

Does it mean that we shouldn’t believe Blacks anymore — because of Tawana Brawley and now Michael Brown? Like everything else, we have a choice. We can listen to them and believe them and build friendships and trust or refuse to believe them and watch the divide between us widen. Listening and believing leads to healing. Not listening and not believing leads to a colder world and a divided world, and the fear that everybody’s crazy.

I am convinced that we need to reach across color lines in our day to day lives, that we need to listen and believe what we hear — not stupidly or blindly — but with open minds and hearts. If we do that, we will experience the racism which is so hard to imagine. If we see each other as brothers and sisters to start with, we can experience each others’ cultural experiences. Where we experience pain and the unimaginable, then we can become motivated to change things. Where things turn out to be lies, we have enough of a relationship to cope with it or claim the reality without the rest of the world being impacted.

These are our choices. In whatever stories we hear, this should be the process — 1) listen with an open mind 2) get the reality of the situation 3) make decisions based in the reality of the situation. That has happened in the case of Darren Wilson, as far as we know. Let’s make it so for everybody else in America.

Peace,

John

“Career Creators” vs. “Job Creators” — Education and “Reform” (for Dawn)

I have wanted to write something for my friend Dawn, who is a teacher outside of Boston, for awhile. She posted on Facebook that some new ruling/department decision was making it nearly too hard to do her job. There are two or three things you should know about Dawn — 1) She loves teaching; 2) She’s not a particularly political person; 3) She never complains. In short, she is normal, but unrepresented in the press. She goes through life, raising her kids and her students, whom she sees as “her kids”. She goes to work, does her job, and goes home. She cares about people, wouldn’t rip anybody off because, well, she wouldn’t. She pays her taxes and — though you’ve never heard of her — she makes the world better in her corner of the world.

For the world to lose such a person in such a career would be a terrible waste and a sign that something is wrong. When we make life hard for the average person who isn’t doing anything wrong — and in fact, is doing things right — there’s a problem. When the political among us write and say and do things, we expect backlash. When non-political types start having difficulties, there’s a serious problem.

Education reform is a complicated thing based in a lot of factors, mostly politics and money, test scores, standardization, privatization and unions and/or union busting. Given all of that, it’s hard to understand the situation and I have generally refrained from saying something I don’t actually understand.

Turns out, I know a lot of teachers and I hear from them all about the complex system that causes them pain when, frankly, they’d rather just teach. They teach because they believe in education, they teach because they like kids (on a side note, there are a lot of teachers who don’t like kids and are working out their own issues of control on students — especially inner city ones — but that’s a whole other blog piece) and their kids get smarter because of it. College professors, high school teachers, early-education teachers, elementary teachers, generally teach because they believe in education and creating fully functioning individuals who know things about their world.

Schools where students are overwhelmingly violent are not schools, really, but warehouses until those kids can be let out in into the world and society can say “Good luck!” to them. No teacher should be forced to work in a situation like that and no student should try to learn in a situation like that. So, yes, there are things that parents should be doing in this whole educational process. This is difficult when there’s one parent or when both parents work, so economics again effect things. Aside from that, though, it seems like we’re doing things wrong in schools.

This is what I think is wrong: as in much of America today, we’re too short sighted. The new basic philosophy is that students should be 1) productive and 2) ready for work in the jobs we foresee coming. In short, those “job creators” we pay so much attention to want people to fill those jobs and it’s the educational system’s job to create the people who can do that. Further, they want teachers to prove that they are doing that, so that they can keep their jobs.

Put succinctly, they want education to produce people who know things, not think about things, or create things. I think we’re starting with the wrong premise. we are aiming for people who know what we know about, rather than people who can face anything. I always kind of thought it was stupid to publish lists of careers that people should go into because a) people already know what they like to do and b) if everybody rushes toward those jobs and college takes 7 years, by the time they get there, the job market will have changed and people already in the field will have taken those jobs. Oops.

The best teachers that I know want kids to know things, to think about things, and to creatively face whatever challenges face them. They want kids to learn because they are curious more than anything else, and they see kids as full people who need to know about the world they live in.

I still can’t believe it when I see what my kids are expected to know and do in school and — right or wrong — I go back to my own childhood. Kindergarten was a half a day because kids can’t be expected to produce all day long. They can be expected to play. Our “texts” were “We Read Pictures” and we played with trucks and sand and dolls from 8am to noon.

Later, in elementary school, we learned basic fundamentals by rote. I know that this is not every teachers favorite style of learning, but it worked. I can add, subtract, and multiply in my head to this day I have a fairly good vocabulary. I do believe in learning facts and I think that may have been where the problem was that people felt we needed to reform.

In junior high, aka “Middle School” now, we started developing Selves — figuring out who we were, who we wanted to be and what we were good at. In High School, we began to think about what it all meant. We could learn about atoms in elementary school, figure out that they were cool in junior high, and think about the ways they should be used — or not — in High School. If we wanted to think more or think in depth, we could go to college. If not, we could think on our feet and adjust to life. We were supposed to be “well-rounded individuals”. Out of that, I got an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I got a career or two and a way to decide what to do with my life.

In those days, though, we had recess. We had art, we had music, we had vocational and tech ed. Now, like everybody else in America, we want our children to do more with less. We take away art as not “practical enough”, we take away music as “not practical or productive enough”, we de-fund programs for hands-on learners and then we test them about what they know.

Brains don’t function that way, though. Music and beauty and fun and time to think and time to play are all important to learning, and they make the difference between smart people and wise people. It’s like an orange and orange juice are better for because of things that are in the peel than reduced to their core, processed, and put in a can. It’s the whole thing that makes it work, not just the obvious, and not minus the obvious. (Orange peel is no substitute for a whole orange, and it doesn’t make much juice).

We should educate kids as they are, and we should let teachers teach to kids as they are. They know how to teach. They know what it takes to make wise, well-rounded adults. The Powers That Be won’t let them do that. They have different goals in mind.

Kids coming out of the way of education I experienced have careers, not jobs. They have callings, not an 8 hour day. They create new industries, rather than jobs for the old ones. Let Dawn and all the teachers like her do their job. Fund education, let kids be kids, and let them use their whole Self. It might make things messier, but it’ll be a whole lot more useful.

Peace,

John

Full Citizenship and The Realm of God (For Gerri and George and Ken)

I dreamed last night about a T-Shirt/Bumper Sticker that said “Full Citizenship for African-Americans!”. I woke up this morning to my friend Cat Chapin-Bishop’s posting of a video where a Black man discuss being pulled over by the police as a time when he feared his life is in danger. After this summer’s events, it seems to me that from the experience of African-Americans, they might believe that they don’t have full citizenship in America. By “full citizenship” I mean the right to use our roads without fear of the government (yes, police are the government). If memory serves me right, I also mean the right to live where you want, instead of being steered to areas in certain zip codes. In the present,  I also mean the right to go into a store and not be looked at suspiciously, or the right to vote without having to prove you live in a town you’ve lived in for eighty years. Further, the right to be assumed to “belong here”, wherever one may roam in the U.S. is part of what I would call “full citizenship” in the United States.

It occurs to me that women don’t have full citizenship, either, by the way, but the same principles apply — the right to become Leader of our country, the right to the same pay for doing the same job, the right to not expect the glass ceiling, the right to be considered for all types of job if you can do them, the right to make decisions about your own person — these rights are part of full citizenship, as well.

The poor don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges that others do either — they are kept out of the gated communities of the rich, kept from the benefits of medicines, kept from all kinds of things which your average person can afford, and — if a person dares to show their class via language or etiquette, they are often discriminated against.

None of this means that others have full citizenship in the U.S., either — every group and individual is probably kept from reaching their full potential in some way or another by government or the society it supposedly represents.

Oddly, many of the people that speak of Freedom with a capital “F” seem to be against other people having the basics of freedom — the right to be left alone unless you’re doing something wrong, the right to go where you want, the right to be who you are without punishment or scorn or ridicule, the right to work and eat, the right to vote, the right to control your own destiny and your own body. If those people who rail against losing their freedoms actually had to deal with their basic rights infringed upon, we’d never hear the end of it — with good reason. So the idea that it’s not okay to complain when your basic rights as a Citizen are being kept from you is absurd, but there are always those who say “complaining shows that you are weak (and therefore undeserving)”.  The people with the most rights often claim their Christianity as the reason they deserve to be free. They say things like “we founded this country and don’t you forget it!”. They say things like “we came to this country to exercise our religion. Don’t take that away from us or pretend it isn’t that way”. They are right for doing so. Their facts are correct (if you don’t consider Native Americans, who belong to their own sovereign nations.)

But here’s where it gets messed up: The rights of citizens here in the U.S. are supposed to be based on the rights that God will/does give people in the “Kingdom of God” (or the Realm or Reign of God if you’re into inclusive language). The point of establishing cities in the New World was to establish cities that Christians could and should live in. “The kind of cities that Christians should live in” were the ones they envisioned in heaven. As Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven”.  But in the Realm of God, everyone is supposed to be given Full Citizenship — the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner and stranger in our midst, as well as those nice people in the Temple who do the will of God. The law in heaven is supposed to be something like “love one another as I have loved you”, once you cross into the pearly gates, however you get there.

That kind of Full Citizenship is the kind we should be giving people in America as well. If you think it is “this way” in heaven, then that is the standard we are to use here on earth in a democracy as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Granted, of course, that their interpretation of scripture might be different than ours — the principle is the same. This is why Martin Luther King, Jr had any vision of what the country should be in the mid 1900’s that included former slaves that many of the Founding Fathers couldn’t even imagine. The idea that we have lost ground, or that there is unfinished work to do toward King’s dream is proof that we are not the Christian country we claim to be and used to strive to be.

This works on two different levels: The personal/spiritual and the legal/practical. We ought to think about each other as Full Citizen’s in God’s Kingdom/Realm so that we don’t assume that the guy with the hoodie is a criminal or the man walking down the street doesn’t belong there or that a woman doesn’t want control over her own body. This is us, as individuals, responding to other individuals as full citizens, in the way that God would want us to. This is the area of our hearts and minds that should show forth from The City on The Hill or the unhidden lampstand. What’s the point in being a beacon if you don’t want to call people your way? This is something to consider in the immigration situation we currently face in the Southwest and other places. If we are doing things right, people should want to come to our Kingdom of God on Earth and we shouldn’t keep them away or dim our lights.

Legally and in the world outside of our hearts, our country, founded as “like the  Kingdom of God in earth” should reflect those same values that we’re supposed to have in our hearts. If we claim to have integrity as a nation, then our outsides should reflect our insides, and our insides should be better than they are. Spiritual laws like “everyone’s important and everyone’s opinion matters” should have their equivalent in practical laws like “everyone gets to vote”.  “Everyone is loved by God” should be enforced as “No one shall make someone else not live up to their potential as human being”. If God makes food for all to eat, then our laws should say that “everyone should get what they need”. If we’re making laws that say “some people are allowed to be de-valued”, then we are not doing our law-making right.  If God offers mercy, then our laws should do the same. If God “loved us when we were yet sinners”, our laws should say that we do the same, even if we only suspect our neighbors might be up to no good.

This is the kind of Full Citizenship that African-Americans deserve, and Celtic-Americans deserve and Polish-Americans deserve and Mexican-Americans deserve. This is  the kind of Full Citizenship that Male Americans and Female Americans and everything in between deserve. Fat Americans and Thin Americans, Short Americans and Tall Americans deserve this, as do both the mentally ill and the mentally capable, the physically ill and the physically capable. This is the vision that Christianity gives to this country.

I am sure that other religions offer similar visions of The Way Things Should Be but, as a Christian, I can only speak authentically about my faith and my understanding of history. I suspect people of Islam or Judaism or Buddhism come here believing in Full Citizenship in America should look their best world-view as well — “the land where the streets are paved with gold”, or “nirvana” or “the place where justice and peace prevail”, etc.

In any case, I believe that  our view of “what the world can be if God lives with us” should be the same as our vision of  “what our laws say we are to be” and “what our minds should see when we look at our fellow citizens”. If our laws said “do to others as you would have them do to you”, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. We should do what we can to make it that way.

 

Peace,

 

John

A Reminder….

This evening, the President of the United States said, via his press secretary, “The President is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football –- and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.”

Simply as a reminder:

==> People who love you don’t hit you. It is as simple as that. By definition, if they hit you, they don’t love you.  Violence does not equal love.

Expanding on that theme:

1) Hitting a person in a wheelchair is not something a real man does.

2) Hitting another man, if you’re in a gay couple, is not something a real man does

3) Hitting a senior citizen is not something a real man does

4) Hitting a child is not something a real man does

5) Shooting an unarmed person is not something a real man does

6) Bombing an unarmed person with a drone is not something a real man does

7) Bombing an unarmed person with mortar fire or a missile is not something a real man does

8) Raping a woman is not something a real man does

9) Drugging a person so you can rape them is not something a real man does

10) Molesting a child is not something a real man does

11) Terrorizing a person or population is not something a real man does

12) Killing, harassing, or kidnapping of journalists is not something a real man does

13) Stealing or posting nude pictures of a woman is not something a real man does

14) Starving children you helped to create is not something a real man does

15) Hurting an animal  is not something a real man does

 

And, from Woody Guthrie: “Some men will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen”

So…

1) Ripping off people is not something a real man does

2) Conning people is not something a real man does

3) Burdening and then blaming is not something a real man does

4) Making far more money than you need while the people who made you rich starve is not something a real man does

5) Avoiding responsibility for your fellow humans, especially if you made their lives worse, is not something a real man does

 

Real men have standards that they hold themselves to.  Most of the time, real men don’t need to prove they are real men.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

It’s A Good Year For Thinking

As the Jennifer Lawrence-and-everybody-else nude picture scandal happens, It occurs to me that it’s been a good year for thinking, if one is inclined to do so.

I read an article that said, “If Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t a ‘good girl’ (e.g. Miley Cyrus, Rhiannon, Nicki Minaj), we wouldn’t be having this conversation”. Wow. I never thought of that before, but it’s true. But now it is being thought about. The conversation has shifted from “people (women) shouldn’t take nude pictures of themselves” to “it’s a matter of privacy” and “blaming the victim here is like saying ‘her skirt was too short'”.

The tone of the conversation has changed. Because I like the show “Chuck”, I was fascinated by what actress  Yvonne Strahovski said: “It is with great sadness and disappointment that I address this hacking issue. To my fellow actresses whose privacy has been invaded—my heart goes out to you. I’m so disappointed that there are people in the world who feel the need to comitt these criminal acts. Some of these pictures are fake, my own included. Regardless—I ask you all—do not share the links. Don’t even look at the photos. Just let people have the privacy they deserve. Integrity is sacred.” Again, after a decade of “leaked” sex tapes of the rich-and-famous where we all assumed the person leaked it themselves for publicity/financial reasons, now we’re acknowledging (as a society) that there are people on those videos or pictures and maybe they are embarrassed by them being seen by others. Strahovski is asking people to have integrity and/or respect the integrity of others. I suspect that she is, because she’s not generally thought of as a “political” actress, speaking the thoughts of your average person without an axe to grind.

By and large, the last time there was this much change in thought about sex and gender roles, Anita Hill was speaking before Congress. I don’t know yet, but I suspect that most men are cool with this new thought. We’ll have to see.

This summer, of course, Ferguson happened, as well as violence around the country between Blacks and authorities. As usual, there were the resounding voices of “if they weren’t criminals, they wouldn’t be in this mess”, but there was so much happening, in so many places, that the talk didn’t stop there. If one kid was shot by police, it could be a fluke — either a bad kid or a bad cop”, but racism and violence and race issues were so present, the issue had to be discussed. The press was attacked and jailed. Protesters were marched on by soldiers. There were a lot of people involved, on so many different levels, and they were all affected by it.

Also, this year, we have heard discussions about money and power and the inequality behind them as well. We have heard about Veterans that we called “heroes” being denied services by the scores. The idea that “climate change” might be real (remember last winter? I do). The idea that creation might be more than 6,000 years old was challenged by a respected scientist on PBS as well.

It occurs to me as I write this that we really — for the last 30 years or so — have had real difficulty conceiving of the world as more that one dimensional. We have moved into rigid categories of “Good” and “Bad” on both left and right, sometimes with good reasons, sometimes without. In any case, we have come to believe that because Good and Bad are so clear that people’s lives are the same way — Good Things happen to and come to Good People while Bad Things happen to and come to Bad People. Jesus said, “Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike” and we still have problems with this idea all these centuries later. But big events, where even “Good People” have “Bad Things” happen to them, challenge our notions of what’s out there and how the world works.

How does this happen? It happens when Good People step into the lives of people they don’t know and discover the reality that is the other person’s life. Police clashes with Black men have been happening for years. This time, there were people watching. Sexism has caused us to divide women between “sluts” and “good girls” for years. This time “good girls” are caught in the web of sexism. Rigid “patriotism” has separated “Real Americans” (supposedly “hawks”) from Un-American-types (supposedly “doves”) for years. This time, “Heroes” aren’t getting support from people that supposedly supported them and we now wonder “who is a true American”. As we all shovel out our driveways or stay inside because even the dogs won’t go out or deal with tornadoes we’ve never seen before, we are all caught in what ever is happening, whether we “believe in it” or not.

We have a chance like we haven’t had in years. All of these things cause us to think, to challenge what we know about others, because we have come to realize we are the “others” — they are related to us as we attempt to relate to them. In short, because we care enough or have been forced to look, we can now see. Let’s make the best of it. Let us listen to each other, let us watch each other, let us see the complicated reality of our not so simple world — and maybe let’s live in it together.

 

Peace,

 

John

Another White Man For Justice…

What a horrible week or two for the nation’s Black men. More horrible than the week before for Black men? I don’t know. Why? Generally it doesn’t get this far, so I don’t hear about it. “A Black man here, a Black man there, what’s the difference?”, it seems like the media says.

I knew that Black men and women had lost some of the gains that they had made post-Civil Rights movement. I didn’t realize we’d gone back to 1954. How does an all-White or nearly all-White police force work in an urban area. How does a predominantly White grand jury get convened after two weeks of violence? How does a White policeman who even allegedly shot an unarmed teen still walk the streets? Why does the Attorney General of the United States have to go down to Ferguson in order to get the ball rolling toward justice? Why are there no public documents that contain real information? How does a unit of policemen get broken up due to racist leanings and nobody follows through? In short, what on earth is going on down there?

Then there’s the phone video of another Black man being shot by White officers which contradicts the police report. The dead man seemed to have problems, but he does not seem to be a threat to two people with a gun. But even so, when did perjury become an acceptable thing?

My friend Barbara Marsden posted an article on Facebook about “What White People Can Do About Ferguson”. It’s a good article with some suggestions and I recommend it. I may give money to the United Negro College Fund, or join the NAACP or support the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mostly, I want my Black brothers and sisters to know this: This shooting of young Black men by police has to stop. I don’t like seeing films of water cannons being used on crowds. I like real cannon type-things driving down the streets of Ferguson or anywhere in America even less when people stand up for their rights.

I’d feel like an idiot wearing a “don’t shoot” shirt or raising my hands in solidarity, because I am not the person on the wrong end of a gun. But here’s what I am going to do: anything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I am going to do anything I can to support justice in Ferguson. I will not be violent, in honor of Martin Luther King, one of the greatest Black men (or men in general) this country has ever produced. You tell me what you want me to do, and I will do what I can. Things should never have gotten this bad, and they should never get this bad again.

I suspect I’m not alone in this, but in case you haven’t heard it, I am another White man for racial justice.

Peace,

John

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