Susan presents a challenging dilemma within Christianity. What has been your experience with how the Church communicates about sexuality? Have you found it challenging to express your sexuality as a Christian?

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE: Susan Isaacs is the author of Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir. Also check out her website and blog.
OTHER CLIPS BY: SUSAN ISAACS
OTHER CLIPS ABOUT: Marriage and Sexuality
PURCHASE THIS CLIP: Individual Clip

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55 Responses to “Christian Sexuality (shut down)”

  1. Benjamin Ady says:

    Susan has this gorgeous, delightful snarky thing going on. I love it. It feels very Australian, actually. I want to see the video of your entire interview with her, uncut.

  2. Benjamin Ady says:

    Oh, and re: your questions.

    The church I grew up in NEVER actually talked about sexuality. It’s so funny that the big “sins” in the church that everybody was doing were things like gluttony, lust/pornography, gossip, anger, controlingness, while the “sins” that were ranted against from the pulpit were things like homosexuality, alcohol, and failure to read your bible and pray enough.

    Don’t know how i got off on all that.

    I was such a … to put it mildly, I was a complete shit when it came to expressing my sexuality back when I was in that church. I was terrified of romantic relationship or entanglement and of females in general, my sexuality was totally self-centered, and the end result was that I was at best unkind and at worst a total shit to all the women, married and unmarried, in the church.

  3. Jim Henderson says:

    posting on facebook NOW!!! get ready

    we loved this clip

  4. Kara Messer says:

    Excellent. I just had a conversation with my brother about how we hope to raise our children – specifically in reference to their sexuality. He made a great point about young women. The “church” expects them to be pure, sweet princesses all their youth, and then become a queen for their husbands overnight.

    I remember begging my youth leaders to help me, because at sixteen I couldn’t keep my hands off my boyfriend. I experienced tremendous guilt and we were not even having sex.

    I also think it is very important to consider children who have been sexually abused. They have had their sexuality abruptly “awoken” and deal with so much turmoil and confusion at a very young age.

  5. c benbow says:

    Love this clip! I just wish I had seen it (and I suspect the entire interview) when I was younger.

  6. Steve says:

    Agree with Benjamin and c benbow – if the entire uncut interview was available, I would most certainly watch it.

    Re: How can single Christians express their sexuality without shutting down? Within the current confines of accepted teaching, the answer (IMO) is ‘they can’t’, except for a clandestine spanking of the monkey, which leads to all sorts of guilt for ‘depraved thoughts’.

    The whole thing is a huge mess, really. We (Church-the-Institution) attempt to regulate sexuality based on a prima facie reading of the Bible, with no concern for cultural context, because we’re so bound up in rules-to-get-to-heaven.

    I could rant for hours on this one, so I’ll force myself to leave it at that. Thanks Craig and Susan for putting this together.

  7. Denese Hall says:

    I love this video. I love anything that will open up taboos and bring back conversation and exchange of ideas of life!! Susan has a great way about her!! It’s not just singles. My husband and I make people in the church very nervous because we are so touchy feely, but in truth, that is what has kept alive a marriage of 30+ years and I wouldn’t change to please anyone.

  8. Mentieth says:

    Good video. I think there needs to be more honesty in the church, honesty should never be offensive.

    I would very much like to get discussion going on this topic. It seems a very pivotal one, and one not addressed very often. I’ve heard it addressed a couple of times by pastors, but generally it does end with: “don’t touch.” I don’t have the answer, but I did see a video once of a guy trying to explain it ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdGrb_tZjd8 ) – it’s in two parts if you’re interested.

    The gist is that individually we need to find a way to control our sexual urges, and like most things in the church ideally it should be transcendental to legalism. We don’t need rules we need understanding of what is acceptable. Perhaps for someone they can masturbate and control the perverse thoughts that can invade there, I don’t know. The dialogue needs to continue.

  9. Steve says:

    Some interesting thoughts, Mentieth.

    I wonder how many people can successfully jimmy themselves while repeating “Margaret Thatcher on a cold day, naked!” to keep the ‘perverse’ thoughts at bay?

    Can you explain the difference between ‘rules’ and ‘understanding what is acceptable’? To me, when we make ourselves agree upon a consensus of what is acceptable – a universal truth if you like, aren’t we then left to either adhere, or break the rules?

    • Mentieth says:

      I think it’s more nuanced than that though. Everyone has their limits. I suppose a crude example is alcohol for an alcoholic compared to someone who isn’t. In order not to drink too much the alcoholic may need to completely obstain, the non-alcoholic may survive just limiting themselves to 3 or whatever. Everyone has their own limit, and what works for one person may not be suitable for someone else. I agree there may be place for general “universal” guidelines, but to make them hard and fast rules is to negate individualism. Moreover, when then return to that idea of following rules we can get back into legalism.

      I don’t have the answers, but I would wager that it has to allow for the individual in all things. The church should be like the trinity: different and diverse, but united and one. If we negate the individuality for the sake of the unity it almost becomes moot.

  10. Steve says:

    I hear you on allowing for the individual.

    Are we assuming that the act of drunkenness, and the act of intercourse itself is the sin? What if the ‘sin’ is the consequence of both, rather than the act itself? ie, is ‘sin’ a crime against God, or a crime against our Humanity?

    What if the sin of drunkenness is the family dysfunction, the inability to work, the lecherous behaviour towards a friend’s girl…

    What if the sin of intercourse is only manifest if resulting in emotional trauma, etc? I don’t know.

  11. Jim Henderson says:

    “The formulation of a problem is often more important than its solution” anon

    Steve you offered this honest insight of an old formulation “we’re so bound up in rules-to-get-to-heaven.”

    Using that fear tactic as our standard we have come up with inadequate solutions

    What if being someone who lives to serve others was our formulation
    or
    Being the most authentic people on the planet
    or
    Willing to inhabit the gray areas of life
    or ???

    What if we asked people to take a vow of being sexually faithful to one person before marriage for one year

    What if we asked people to commit to celibacy for 6 months – no dating – only serving together

    What if (like AA) we were a community where people didn’t have to hide – how much faster would they be able to process their disappointments

    What if people who have been married for 25 years or more told the truth about how much work it is, how many trades they have to make and how much of a full time job marriage is

    What if we suggested that some young couples not have children and dedicate themselves to serving others – how would that impact how they thought about sex and how they approached marriage

    Who authorized the church to marry people? Why do we have to hold public ceremonies ( ok off topic but something I’ve often wondered)

    • Mentieth says:

      I almost want to raise the question: if a couple who have only been married by law (i.e. not the church) have sex are generally seen to have not comitted adultery, but a gay couple in the same position are seen as being in error – because the marriage wasn’t “proper”. Both were outside the church… Is it just because the church “would have” approved one? — that’s off topic, ignore it.

      • Laurie Fox says:

        Mentieth, I don’t think your question is off topic. I’m guessing that you’re asking the question because you think the church’s stance toward gay & lesbian people re: being sexual doesn’t make sense. (I could be wrong! You could be saying that you think ANYONE, gay or straight, who has sex without having been married by the church should be considered adulterous.) I appreciate your raising the subject. I think it highlights the ludicrousness [That's actually a word! I looked it up!] of the traditional church law, which I understand to be, “Thou shalt not have sex; however a man and a woman who are married to each other are exempt from following this law.”

        Let’s look at an example of how this applies to real life. I happen to be a lesbian, so “the church” says to me (AND a good portion of the people I know) “Thou shalt not have sex, because you’re not married. Oh, and by the way, you’re also not allowed to get married.” Gee, thanks! So I and most of my friends are prohibited from having sex. Ever. For our whole lives. Under any circumstances.

        Fortunately, MY church (and quite a few others, by the way) doesn’t have that law. We do acknowledge (although it’s not something we talk about very often) that there is such a thing as moral sex and immoral sex, but the distinction does NOT involve the question of whether or not the people involved are married, because – duh – we’re not allowed to get married! So, in my community, the whole question of sex outside of marriage is a moot point! We’re not allowed to get married, and let me tell you, we ARE going to have sex. Sorry.

        Craig, I hope you don’t get upset with me for expanding on Montieth’s question, because I’m sure it will only take about 30 seconds after I post this for someone to pop up and say, “Well, all gay & lesbian people are going to Hell anyway, so who cares WHAT they do?!?” (Rest assured that I will simply allow that person to have their opinion and let it go unchallenged!) Regardless, my answer to Craig’s question is “The primary challenge I experience in expressing my sexuality as a Christian is other Christians who think I should not ever be allowed to have sex under any circumstances, for my whole life.”

        So, I like Jim’s line of thought. Maybe we need to redefine our values.
        Thanks for hearing me out.

        • Kara Messer says:

          Hi, Laurie! I’m Kara. I like what you are saying about moral vs. immoral sex. Can we open this up some more?

          Let’s take away male and female for a moment just to make it less complicated. We can add it back later if we want.

          I am in a committed relationship. My partner and I decide together how we will express ourselves sexually – when we are physically together, and when we are physically apart. If either of us feel that we have disrespected or are being disrespected, we talk. Is this moral? If so, who decides that? If not, what is moral?

          Did I mention that I love questions?!

          • Kari says:

            I think the question of moral/immoral sex is an important one. And I agree that marriage does not necessarily equate with morality. As a person recovering from a 25 year marriage that ended badly, I can tell you that it is entirely possible to have “immoral” (i.e. non-loving, exploitative) sex within a marriage. So perhaps sexual morality is based more on one’s relationship, respect, and genuine love for one’s partner.

          • Laurie Fox says:

            Kara & Kari, thank you for your thoughtful responses to my post and further questions. I’ll start with Kari, as I think your ideas inform my answer(s) to Kara’s questions.

            Exactly, Kari! Immoral sex is that which is, for instance, non-loving, exploitive, manipulative, forced or between people of extremely different “standing” (There’s a better way to say this one, but it’s not coming to me right now!) eg, adult/child, teacher/student, pastor/parishioner. Moral sex happens within the context of a loving relationship between consenting adults of similar “standing.”

            So, Kara, if you & your partner have a mutual agreement that you’re both happy with and is working for you, I say, go for it! As long as nobody is getting hurt, it’s ok. [Oh, dear! Now I'm REALLY going to get in trouble!!]

    • c benbow says:

      I love these questions. I just started having sex in the past year with my boyfriend, and I put months and months of thought and prayer before we agreed. God and I had many conversations, although all the questions led back to “why do you want to have sex with him?”. When I just wanted to see what people were talking about or because I felt like I “should” (not coming from my boyfriend at all, just internal, so don’t worry), God said “wait”. When I was happy to be with my boyfriend but not thinking to the future, God said “wait”. I was so frustrated, but God has never led me astray, so I waited. It was only when I was telling God I could see potential for a long-term relationship and I would regret not having this opportunity to learn and grow with my boyfriend that God said “Alright, go, have fun but remember to think!”. When looking at Christian sexuality, we have to remember that God is alive, willing to give essential advice and takes joy in our joy.

      • Jim Henderson says:

        Interested to know what “thinking” meant or involved for you

        • c benbow says:

          “Thinking” in terms of “not thinking to the future” meant, at that time, only considering immediate desires and consequences. I had some unanswered questions about our relationship that I didn’t want to acknowledge, so I refused to think about them. God told me I had to have certain conversations with my boyfriend and myself before I could even consider becoming sexually active with him.

          “remember to think” is, in my opinion, God’s reminder that just because it is okay now, doesn’t mean my motivations for wanting to have sex will always be beneficial for the relationship. It’s the reminder that if God and I are moving beyond legalism, then there is this frequent check-in needed, a constant evaluation of what I’m thinking, feeling and acting, and how that reflects on God’s character to those around me. It sounds tirin, but it’s exciting and heart-filling to be that close to God.

          • Jim Henderson says:

            I get it – I think that this is the way many of us actually work with God in real time – we just don;t get the opportunity to articulate it or explore this kind of ongoing relationship. Thanks for sharing the process

  12. lisa wellington says:

    Jim,
    You ask so many great questions.

    I loved this video but it left me wanting a whole lot more answers!
    I’m left hanging…. ok, so….. what? how? when? where? and with whom?

  13. Kara Messer says:

    Jim, I like the idea of being a community that shares, and how that may help process disappointments.

    What if we look at it this way…No one gets to have sex anytime they want with whomever they want? So, at some point or another, all of us have to abstain for one reason or another. This is common ground. Let’s not focus on the limitations, but the freedoms.

    I am a married woman. I can look at this from different perspectives. One: I have to have sex with the same person for the rest of my life. What am I missing? Two: I get to have sex with the same person for the rest of my life. What am I learning?

  14. Jim Henderson says:

    Kara

    I like your thinking

    So, at some point or another, all of us have to abstain for one reason or another. This is common ground. Let’s not focus on the limitations, but the freedoms.

    BTW – some of you might like to check out the Sacred Friendship Project on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Sacred-Friendships-Project/188207421196531

  15. Jim Henderson says:

    Kari

    your comments are insightful and courageous – thank you

  16. Kara Messer says:

    Laurie, you are cracking me up. I don’t think your comments are going to get you in trouble, at least not from the maturity I am seeing from the contributors to this conversation.

    My partner and I had a long discussion last night about moral sex. Here are some more questions that came up:

    If one in the partnership is not interested, does the other handle the need/desire on their own or wait? If the chosen course is masturbation, is that communicated to the other partner? Can we be immoral in our thoughts during sex with our partner? Can we be moral in our thoughts during masturbation?

  17. Jim Henderson says:

    this is exactly why women should lead the conversation on sex. More maturity less lust

  18. Dan Brennan says:

    I am a married man who has a close friendship with a single woman for 9 years. We are pretty transparent. Neither of us has had to deny our sexuality. I think sexuality matters in friendship. For singles, a deeper acquaintance with the deep connection between spirituality and sexuality opens the door to authentic spiritual friendships.

  19. Jim Henderson says:

    You need to read Dans groundbreaking book Sacred Unions Sacred Passions

  20. Jennifer says:

    I think that a big part of the problem is that the church has bought into Western culture’s reduction of sexuality to the genital. Sexuality definitely includes the genital, but it’s about so much more than that – relationality, connectedness, openness to the other, intimacy.

    When we genitalize intimacy and then say “don’t have sex,” we create a recipe for disaster (and desperation at best). An alternative can be to learn to be personally generous with ourselves relationally while keeping our genital sexuality for marriage. Don’t get me wrong, there are still significant struggles and frustrations regarding not having sex, but it’s easier to deal with them in healthier ways. It doesn’t have to be about repression. It can be about relational generosity (even a “promiscuous” generosity).

    • Kara Messer says:

      Jennifer, this is so interesting to me. The word I would use for your description of “sexuality” is…hmmm…I don’t have one yet. Help me out here. Instead of exploring someone thoroughly with physical senses, we can explore each other with mental and emotional senses. The sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch of our souls. Is this what you are getting at?

      • Jennifer says:

        That’s a lovely way to put it, Kara. Yes, definitely those, and what I’ll call non-genital touch, as well. Hugs, warm touches. When they are physical expressions of real connection and affection, they are wonderful things.

        When God created humanity as man and woman, he created us for connectedness, interdependency, and relationality that includes genital sex and procreation, but also goes far beyond it. Stanley Grenz talks about women and men “cooperating in the project of humanity” together. Sexuality is a part of every relationship I have – with men or women, children or adults, because I am irreducibly a sexual being. But that doesn’t mean every relationship I have has to involve genital sex.

        The Bible talks about “oneness” in ways that have nothing to do withe the physical “oneness” of marriage.

        I’d add that different people are in different places in this journey, and not everyone will be able to function at the same level of or with the same kinds of freedom. It is good to give grace to each other while we challenge each other to grow in becoming the men and women God made us each to be, able to love each other as he intends.

  21. Dan Brennan says:

    I would second Jennifer’s observation about the distinction between genital sexuality and social sexuality. As sexual beings relating to each other, the gift and skill of being present with another would be a major step out of the detached, platonic but polite niceness. This would go way beyond the distant, segregated model that so many singles are taught. Thanks Jim!

  22. Kara Messer says:

    Dan and Jennifer, help me out here. “Social sexuality”. I am not sure I understand why you are using these words to describe the connectedness you experience. I love the challenge and encouragement to be more intimate, interdependent, transparent, affectionate, etc. I guess I am not understanding how those actions are “sexuality”.

    Also, I have a general question. Do we need sex? What I mean is, if procreation were not an issue, is sex an actual need, or is it a want, or does it depend on the person?

    Haha! More questions.

    • Benjamin Ady says:

      Kara,

      I think the need/want question is really vital and fascinating–thanks for bringing it up! To me, “need” is a choice I make about attaching my happiness to something–If I need it, I will be unhappy if I don’t get it. Whereas “want” is something I can do freely and be happy if I get it or I don’t get it. Wanting is a lot gentler-to-myself to do than needing, for me. And I definitely want sex, but have chosen not to need it. =)

      What about you?

      • Kara Messer says:

        Benjamin, I find your articulation quite excellent.
        I have a way of generalizing need/want which I offer up for scrutiny. I want what I want – rebellion. I need what I want – addiction. I want what I need – obedience. I base this on the idea that at times I am uncertain of what I actually need so I surrender myself to God and what I understand Him to be communicating about my needs and wants. I have found the more I surrender my wants the more I experience fulfilled desires.

        From there, I would say that I do not need sex, but I want it. I do feel that I need connectedness and I experience that in many different ways.

        • Benjamin Ady says:

          Kara,

          I’m really curious about the “want what I want equals rebellion” piece. What do you mean?

          • Kara Messer says:

            Benjamin, honestly, I don’t always know what I mean, but as best as I can describe it:
            It is like a stubborn child.
            A parent says enjoy this yummy meal.
            A child says I want a cookie.
            Meal first, then dessert.
            cookie.
            Okay, cookie then meal.
            cookie, cookie, cookie.
            Your choice, but I will let you know that eating only cookies will make you sick.
            COOKIE!!!

          • Benjamin Ady says:

            Kara,

            this is a very evocative picture you draw. I’m really curious as to who the parent is, for you–who is telling you that you should or shouldn’t have a cookie with or without a meal?

            I only ask because it seems to me that in a sense you are saying that you actually think that this person is right–that is, that you want to trust them. And you are trusting this want–this one want is not rebellious, somehow? Indeed you are trusting your own choice to trust this person. Ultimately you are going with what you want. Or something like that.

            Thoughts?

  23. Kara Messer says:

    So, I sense a seismic scheme – a scroll styled “Snorkeling in Stilletos: Sensuality Salutes Sexuality”. Some subscribers?

  24. Craig says:

    Benjamin, c benbow, and Steve-
    It’s interesting that you each mentioned wanting to see the full interview. I had some folks here in Denver also ask about that yesterday. It stirs up some interesting thoughts that I’ll probably end up writing about in next month’s newsletter, but here is a straight forward answer to your question: What you see in the video above contains the essence of my entire conversation with Susan about sexuality. We talked about other topics (that can be found in her other clips posted on the site), but the topic of sexuality didn’t come up until the tail end of our time together and we only talked about it for about 10 minutes. I edited this down, but I don’t believe any major points were excluded (edited mainly for time and pacing). She is in the process of writing a book on the topic, but that’s still probably a ways down the road.

    My question for you: what were you hoping to hear in “the rest of the interview”?

    • Benjamin Ady says:

      Craig,

      My immediate thought in reply to your question is that my first reaction upon seeing the clip above was that I felt enormously attracted to this person. I think it’s not so much that I want to see the rest of the interview. It’s rather than I want to have a conversation with her myself. =)

  25. Benjamin Ady says:

    I wish there was a “like” button on comments =).

  26. Dan Brennan says:

    Kara, thanks for asking. The terms are more like suitcase handles to pick up the luggage to help you get where you are going. I think the distinction between “genital” and “social” is helpful because God created us as sexed human beings. We are not asexual when we are not engaged in either foreplay or intercourse. I don’t think we can turn off our “sexuality” and therefore become asexual when we are relating to others in transparency, interdependency, etc. Indeed, I would say there is a deep, mysterious (can’t be explained in formulas or captured in definitions or experiences for that matter) sexual energy and awareness when you are in the presence of the opposite sex. Its beyond “erotic” or the erotic is glaringly insufficient to describe it because its not an energy or awareness that leads to sexual arousal. There is an inescapable awareness of being in the presence of the opposite sex when you are in their presence. This awareness doesn’t go away when one starts to connect, or deepen friendship. This, I would describe as social sexuality. Does that help?

    • Kara Messer says:

      Dan, thank you for taking the time to explain this more. It reminds me of something I read in C.S. Lewis fiction about masculine and feminine. Sometimes different language throws me off, but when you open it up with details, I see lots of similarities to ideas and concepts that ring true for me. Thanks again.

  27. George says:

    Hi, I’m a 35 years old male christian virgin single. I don’t know what to do anymore with my sexual urges. why God gave me this sexual desires if according to Christianity, any sexual act outside marriage is sin? What shall I do?
    Any suggestions for a good reading?

    thanks

    • Someone says:

      Hello George! i can’t suggest any books, but i know that there is a solid biblical principle:
      “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2, by Ap.Paul), so the answer is “Marry!”

      I know it’s not easy to just find a marriage partner. I’m also single and still wait for the One for me.
      Pray to God about what’s happening with you. Pray that God will lead you according to His will concerning your family and potential wife :)

  28. Joe says:

    George, there are no good answers for those of us in that situation. For Christians to think that some concept of “social sexuality” will make not having genital sex any easier is utterly ridiculous, and a distraction from the fact that they really have no good answers to provide.

    I basically solved the problem by giving up organized Christianity. I no longer have to struggle to explain why a supposedly loving God would create me with a burning, tormenting desire that he prohibits me from expressing. Such a God would be a sadistic torturer, rather than the God of love that is so routinely proclaimed.

    Masturbate and use porn (everybody does this already anyway) until you find real sex
    does anyway

  29. Dave says:

    Interesting clip. I found this site because I was asking the same question: “Is there anybody in the church who has addressed how to positively approach your sexuality while single?” The answer to date is no. The output from the church is largely to “shut down” and to deny the existence of all sorts of illicit behavior and both good and bad desire because its too shameful to be open about. Then when you get married you can instantly turn it on – or rather (as seems most common) to progress from being shut down by shame to slightly less shut down. This is not what God had in mind.

    One point I’ll make is that to ask the question “will you marry me?” also asks the question “will you have sex with me?” Without the sex, there is no marriage covenant and you are friends. Thus the question and the answer “yes” mean that both people have come to a place where they desire to have sex with each other, they have communicated this, and they aren’t married yet. Thus there is some transition that takes place between normal friendships and the full practice in marriage. It would be very real for the church to dialog about this instead of glossing over it.

    Another point is that I can trace my own sexual problems back to puberty and the fact that nobody outside of the sex ed teachers in school talked openly with me about sex. Adults were embarrassed (shamed) about it and taught me that sex was necessarily so. I took my desires as shameful and was too afraid to get any help on any issue from then on. A LOT of people would be helped by open discussion.

  30. angie says:

    I came to christ after having my first child (unwed mind you)
    I fought along as much as I could and abstained from sexual intercourse for a number of years.
    I missed having sex terribly, it was constantly on my mind, but when I asked older women about it they would give me you sunday school answers “wait til you have a husband” “sex will mean so much more when you have it with the person God intends you to be” ” what masturbation? women do not have those kind of problems” “well, no,no masturbation is not an option” blah blah blah…..
    long story short, my desires won at the end, I got myself what the world calls a “sex buddy” and that lead to having a double life. When it was discovered that I was living in ‘sexual immorality’ I spend lots of time being yelled at. Because I didnt tell anyone the truth (how could I?!) because young girls looked up to me, because i was cheapening grace, ah there was so much shaming. I am not making my sin any less of a sin, God has once again redeemed something that I managed to screw up:
    I ended up marrying the guy, an agnostic (even bigger sin!) we developed such a bond, not just cus you know, sex (that was most everyone’s explanation for the ‘feelings’ I had for him, like you know, two grown ups cant fall in love or anything). our minds and hearts are very compatible. we love each other and decided to marry.
    It took me a long time to get back to a place where i didnt feel shunned, I felt shunned by christians and so I also felt shunned by God. Once my walk with God was restored, He was able to use me in my husband’s life. I am happy to report that he is now a believer as well, and we are certaily enjoying sex much more now!
    I guess I write this to say, that YES we need to talk about sex. we need to talk openly to singles about sex without blushing and giving them platitudes about potential mates at some point. this needs be discussed now!

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