Rules of Vulgarity

Theology / April 21, 2008

Churches make mistakes all the time. Our is no different. Fortunately, in order to even join our church, you must first admit that you are a complete screw up (or sinner if you’re old school).  So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the church can be a messy place.

Anyway, over the past several weeks, I have received a great deal of criticism for our billboards. (mostly from Christian people) So, this morning I decided to sit down and really analyze some scripture. Because I don’t have everything figured out, it’s quite possible that I was wrong and must adjust the church’s response to conform to God’s will. My goal is to approach God’s Word with no agenda and no proof texting, but simply an earnest desire to know what God says about our “ballsy” billboards.


  1. Do an in-depth study on Colossians 3:8 and Ephesians 5:4. (using proper hermeneutical principles)
  2. Do a complete Greek word study on questionable words. (referencing actual events and, if possible, extra-biblical literature of the time)
  3. Use authoritative sources (not blogs from second year Greek students)

There must be a principle here that God is trying to communicate that’s bigger than a holy list of words to avoid.

Vulgarity, in and of itself, is not a good measure for my word choice. Vulgarity can be subjective. What is considered “vulgar” at the kitchen table of a suburban home-school family is vastly different than “vulgar” for the inner city missionary in the heart of the Bronx. Drawing a hard line between right and wrong with the subjective “test of vulgarity” might be impossible.

On top of that, God’s word sometimes models vulgarity.

After all, God’s entire covenant with the Jewish nation began when Abraham agreed to chop off the extra skin from the tip of his penis. Now that’s a little over the top for me. (Gen 17)

And when God asked Joshua to circumcise an entire nation, subjectively vulgar?  (Joshua 5) By the way, that would have been an interesting billboard.

Don’t forget Isaiah’s comparison of our righteous to used Tampax. (Isaiah 64:6) That’s God’s word-picture not mine.

And what about Onan’s act of coitus interruptus by “spilling his seed on the ground (Gen 38) or when King David bought his wife for the small price of 200 Philistine foreskins? (1 Sam 18) Seriously, you won’t find that in a children’s pop-up book.

Or when Paul tells his agitators to just go ahead and emasculate themselves. (Galatians 5:12) hmmmm….

Clearly, there is a principle at work here. My hope is to re-discover what GOD SAYS about this.

So, here we go:

The Colossian church, around AD 60, was under the influence of certain false teachers and Greek influences. Athenian and Hellenistic philosophies and practices were beginning to infiltrate the church, putting her in danger.

On top of that, the Athenians threw crazy neighborhood parties. One of their more infamous celebrations were the Demetrian Festivals. These festivals iconized idol worship in the ancient Greek culture. During a typical Demetrian Festival, women would celebrate their sexuality by suspending their normative roles and take on the culturally dominant role of men. These festivals where filled with sexually charged and seductive language, which they called aischrologia.

Laura MacClure, in her work published by Princeton University, says:

“At the Demetrian festivals, aischrologia was closely associated with female sexuality, reproduction and fertility…It was their custom during the festival days to use vulgar language as they associate with one another because the goddess, when she was grieving over the rape of her daughter, laughed on account of obscene talk.”

The Athenians used their “vulgarity,” in the context of this festival, as a form of worship.

Clemoede also describes aischrologia when he says, “Some of the expressions, one would say, came from brothels…”

One thesis published by Cambridge University says (about the festival),

“it looks as though it was a time of sexual liberation for we are told that the women were free to say whatever they wanted to (even the “most shameful things”) while being given advice on adultery by priestesses.

I could go on, but I believe that would inappropriate.

Imagine “gender reversal” meets “porn film” for women, and you understand the essence of the Demetrian festival. Their language would cause even Hugh Hefner to blush…maybe.

The entire point of aischrologia was seduction and idol worship. (and not that husband and wife kinda seduction either)

This was the cultural challenge that was beginning to face the church of Colosse.

As a result of this Athenian infiltration, Paul writes, Colossians 2:16 – Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon Celebration or a Sabbath day….

He continues his attack with Colossians 3:5 – Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (all a direct reference to the Demetrian Festivals)

Colossians 3:8 – But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Here, Paul uses the same word that the Athenians used to describe their seductive, idol worshipping language: AISCHROLOGIA. We translate that word “filthy language.” But to the church at Colosse, it conjured up images of Demetrian Festivals.

[as a side note, Paul continues his rant against the Festivals by talking about men’s and women’s roles in Colossians 3:18-19]

To say that Paul is simply urging the Christians at Colosse to rid the church of potty-mouthed language misses the point all together. Paul’s implication is much more rich than that.

Paul is suggesting that our language never be used as a seduction to sexual sin and is not intended to be used for the worship of idols or false gods.

This one verse gives me two questions to ask whenever I evaluate my language:
1. Does my language seduce me or someone else to sin sexually?
2. Is my language being used to glorify or worship false gods?

So, how does Kinetic’s “ballsy” billboard compare with the tone of Demetrian Festivals? I think that there’s NO comparison. Do they seduce others to sexual sin? NO! Do they glorify or worship a false god? So far, “no” on all accounts.

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Dave Milam
Dave Milam is a pastor, communicator and the founder of One Life Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a a gifted communicator Dave's right brained style of delivery helps his listener connect and remember God's truth in a uniquely visual way. Connect with Dave on Google+

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on April 16, 2008

Thanks for the well thought out and articulated article!

I do have some more things I’d like to talk to you about if you don’t mind. We can do it offline if you prefer.

Blessings my brother,

on April 16, 2008

I’d love it!

Let’s grab some coffee!

on April 17, 2008

Vulgar might have been some of the billboard options that you didn’t even post on the blog. Thanks for the article, enjoyed it.

We miss you guys but things are starting to get settled in here.

on April 17, 2008

Dude- I had no idea that ballsy was vulgar. Putting up the ballsy billboard, was well, ballsy. The dictionary defines ballsy as boldy aggressive or courageous. Both apply here. Don’t worry what Christians are saying about the billboard- I’m more concerned over what the non-Christians are saying. Hopefully they are laughing and more interested in going to a church that advertises using crazy words like ballsy.

on April 18, 2008

You’re right, Dave. Ballsy can be very subjective. I have some friends that have 2 sons. They occasionally enjoy a “Farting” ( passing of gas for the sensitive readers) contest at the dinner table. To them, it’s a joke. To me, it’s vulgar & not funny. And I admit, when I first saw the ‘Ballsy’ billboard, I was a little shocked. Thanks, Robin, for the definItion. Bold & Courageous not only describe our church, but our members. Anyone else out there BOLD & COURAGEOUS for CHRIST???
I sure hope so!!

on April 19, 2008

Clearly you’ve thought through this thoroughly so I doubt I could bring up anything new for you. Still, I have some thoughts you probably won’t care to listen to. First, I should make it clear that I do not think it is a sin to say “ballsy”. I think it is within our Christian liberty to do so if done in the proper context and with a clear conscience. However, Paul explains pretty clearly that there are contexts in which it is better to practice restraint than liberty. In my opinion, a church billboard is one of those contexts. I have two main reasons for thinking so:

1) People drive by that billboard with their kids in their car. You might be alright with your kids using words like “ballsy”, but there are many parents who would not be. I know that there are lots of billboards out there with material much more vulgar, but it makes a big difference when it is sanctioned by a church. I can imagine the arguments going something like, “Stop using that word!”… “But that CHURCH used it on their sign!”

2) It will send the wrong message about sin to many non-Christians. Obviously it will get people in the door of your church, but at what cost? Many will come because they deduced from the sign that sin is more acceptable at your church than at others, which to them will mean that they can retain a certain comfortable amount of their sinful lifestyle while following your brand of religion. I know that this is not what you intend for them to think, and I know that not all will think it. But don’t you see how that’s a pretty likely thing to happen?

I appreciate your heart for the lost and your desire to follow Christ as closely as possible. I don’t mean any harm… just some thoughts to consider.

on April 20, 2008

Howdy Dave,

Lots to think about here and in the other posts related to signs. I do have a question about the limitation of aischrologia only to the way it was used in one particular festival. Does this mean that anger, rage, malice and slander were also practiced in this festival and we should limit our understanding of Paul’s words to what they describe in that festival? I’m not sure it’s justified here to limit the meaning of aischrologia – it has a much broader semantic domain. It described certain practices in other Greek festivals that had nothing to do with sexual immorality. The f word, the way it is used most of the time, passes the 2 fold test above.

My question about this billboard has less to do with ballsy and more to do with its message. Your video to the thieves spoke of grace and forgiveness. Good stuff. Not sure what the billboard communicates to the thieves. It seems that it’s more to communicate something to the community. Again, not sure what that message is (we’re a cool church, a bold church?).

Anyway, I hope lots of people are intrigued by the signs and by what is happening at Kinetic.

See you in Florida!

on April 20, 2008

I like you. You’re ballsy.

on April 21, 2008

I love that your wrestling and digging with this. I think you have taught your church quite a bit through this ordeal, much more than you could have planned in a sermon series. My two cents is to let sleeping dogs lie. A week from now everyone will forget the “ballsy” sign, the media will move on to the next story and the critics will move on to the next controversy. Every time you bring it back up you give your critics another opportunity to strike at you. Its still fresh for your church. Take time to tell the stories and teach the lessons to them. I’m also guessing that even if the thief wanted to come forward he/she couldn’t safely because of the spotlight. Turn off the spotlight, let things blow over and see if God stirs in their heart. Stop by and see me at the booth in Orlando.

Love ya,

on April 22, 2008


I am not affiliated with your church, but thought I would throw my two cents in anyways. I do not have any issues with the word “ballsy” in the signs at all. My concern would be the message that ballsy is sending. If I were the thief, I would read that and assume that Kinetic was really upset with me, and I would never get as far as your video message, which is very impressive. I would be getting as far away from Kinetic as possible. “Lightning strikes” does not convey fogiveness and a feeling of being welcomed as much as a sign reading “Let’s do lunch and talk about it” would.

Honestly it is weird to me that you had so many compaints about “ballsy” that you did the above research (nice work by the way), and not enough complaints about the message itself to research if that was the best way for the church to reach out to the person or persons that did this. I am certainly not passing judgement either way (although rereading the message it certainly looks that way), just more typing what it has made me think about and how I would handle a similar situation.

Regards and good luck,


on April 22, 2008

Hey Dave,

It’s encouraging to see the thought and teachability you’ve put into this study. It’s a reminder of what James (3:1) warned, that those of us who make our living with words are held to a higher standard – even those who take the time to evaluate the words of someone else’s servant.

Speaking of words, what good words are on the horizon for the folks at Kinetic?

Onward and upward!

on April 23, 2008

Well done, as always – you missed, though, some of the more vulgar parts of the Bible

God giving the Philistine tumors that seem to be Hemorrhoids when they took the ark

The offer of a women as a sexual toy in order to save two “men” from the same fate in Sodom

Saul “relieving” himself

One of Jesus’ Grandmammys was a Hooker (Rahab)

People swearing oaths while placing their hand on the “inner Thigh” of another man

And Dave (your Namesake!) had nothing on Samson when it came to foreskin collection.

As I read about Aischrologia in Vines and Strongs and looking at the various forms, I get a lot of the sense of ritual profanity – not _just words, but, as you said, part of a religious service – not unlike the Shrine Prostitution, both male and female, going on in Collosse and elsewhere where Artemis, Dionysus and Demeter were worshiped. The goal of Paul was to separate those folks from their pagan tendencies. Today, he might have to rail against TV, wOw and Blogs. (ok, maybe not blogs)

on April 24, 2008

the signs are funny, they are eye catching, and i hear people everywhere i go talking about it. bottom line is it sparks interest in church, people realizing maybe there are more modern churches that can better relate to me, yet still minister to me. and yeah you can argue about the confusing messages it could possibly give nonbelievers. but let me tell you my true story . i know an unsaved coworker that has never wanted anything to do with church in the 6 years I’ve known him. he says he doesn’t believe in organized religion, its a joke, he would never set foot in a church again, Christians are all hypocrites (which i don’t blame him after hearing about his few visits to a some baptist and catholic churches when he was a teenager). knowing I’m a Christian, he asked me about a billboard he saw recently. it sparked an interest in church I’ve never seen with him. so, i asked him if he would be interested in visiting this church, he said yes, surprisingly. we went this past Sunday, and he was absolutely floored by the whole experience. he met pastor dave and many other members of the church, and could relate to the music and sermon. he still has a long road ahead of him, but he and his girlfriend decided they want to start going every few weeks on a regular basis. this is coming from a guy that ridiculed everything about church………… thats what its all about. so all you “Christians” who are whining about this, look at the big picture. you’re missing the point. this is ministry. if Christians spent as much time whining about what hurts their feelings or what offends them as they did actually sowing into others lives, we wouldn’t have any empty seats on Sunday morning. but thats just my opinion.

on April 25, 2008

Thanks for sharing that story, Dan A. A great reminder that signs and trailers don’t matter. Here’s a church that is engaging the community and making a real difference. 10 years from now, the only thing that will matter is the lives that were changed because some people took a chance on a church that put up some funny signs.

Dave, Anne and Kinetic, forget about the rules of vulgarity and just keep loving the people God is sending you. You’ve probably evaluated the wording of the signs enough. Just keep being humble and move on. Ignore the critics and keep doing what you’re doing. And keep sharing stories like Dan’s!

on April 25, 2008

I love Dan’s post and I hope I get to meet his coworker on Sunday. If I could quote scripture it would be on this line,,,hopefully validating whatever I was trying to say. That being said, my journey to Kinetic was very similar Dan’s co-worker and these guys saved my life. So, I get a little choked up when I hear these stories.

on April 26, 2008

Dave, I love you man. I love your heart. I love your church. I know this was about you and your heart to introduce some thieves to Jesus. We must live in a Grace filled life and not a law filled life. God fills in his own gaps.

Gal. 5

on May 6, 2008

Hey Dave…
I have “tagged” you with a Thinking Blogger Award for this post. This is a really dicey issue for so many people within the American Church.. where is the line? What does it look like? Whose standard do we apply? This is a well though out and well reasoned address of that issue. I hope you have time to point your readers toward other blogs that have challenged you.

Thanks for providing this one!…And thanks for your ministry.

on May 7, 2008

“Hey Kids, look out the right window and read the billboard. That’s right kids, can you say Ballsy?! Nice Kids, not remeber if you steal God’s people’s stuff, you are ballsy and will be punished!” Give me a break people. If you’re worried about your kids seeing that word, keep in mind the context in which it was used in. Believe me TV and their peers will be a lot more to worry about that a church sign asking for their stolen property back. Keep it up Dave!

on May 14, 2008

Thanks for your comments about the kids Josh. I would like to add that Dave (of Kinetic) and I have 4 young children. While there are a lot of things on billboards out there in the world that we don’t like, (and on TV, and in the grocery checkout stand, and in school, etc, etc.) we don’t shy away from them. As issues come up with our kids and they want to know about something, we welcome the chance to take the teachable moment and teach our kids God’s perspective on the issue, be it a bad word, scantily clad lady, or hurtful action from a friend. We want our kids to be ready in season and out of season to give an answer for their beliefs. That involves being willing to address openly and honestly the things they are seeing in this world and teaching them know what God’s perspective is.

on May 14, 2008

AMEN, SISTER. My sister, Andrea, also has talked about this perspective in teaching her children, and I completely AGREE. There are tough/confusing issues in life and I would rather Herrison have an introduction to God’s perspective (and mommy and daddy’s perspective) before he has his peer’s perspective to base choices off of.

on May 24, 2008

I really have a problem with your interpretation of Isaiah 64 :6. If you were to look in your Strongs Exhaustive concordance ,your interpretation is way off base. It means tattered and spoiled cloths. Check it out, i challenge you. I don`t understand why people try to change God`s Word. And a “new Modern Church ” well, God`s word has not changed in 2000 yrs. So why do you want to change it? And what about we as Christians being different in this world,as Gods Word says , ” a peculiar ” people. Well, I will not go on about this any further, I just think we all need to remember that we should not be like the world to reach the lost. And how about doing what Christ did for you on the cross….. HEY TRAILER THIEF< WE FORGIVE YOU AND WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU. …. Christ did not forgive and then say you owe me,although we do, thats not how God works. What would Jesus do? looking in His word….He would`nt do the billboards the way you have,it is a poor example of Christ. How praying for God to get you another trailer? Oh ye of little Faith………….. You have spent so much money on billboards,you could have used that for the trailer…but that was a distraction from satan to take your focus off God and you fell for it ,hook ,line and sinker. God says he will take care of those people, you are still to minister and pray for them, and let God take care of the others that wrong us. I just hope you would see this from a compassionate God who loves sinners and so want them to know HIm and to have a personal relationship with Christ. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
In His Service,
Cary and Joyce Jackson

on May 25, 2008

Cary & Joyce…

Here is my response to your challenge on Isaiah 64:6

Try using your “trusty” Strong’s Exhaustive concordance to look up the word “filthy.” I CHALLENGE YOU! (number H5708…just in case you can’t find it). Hmmmmmm…. CLEARLY, the word is referring to a woman’s period! It’s pretty obvious that you have never studied this entire verse. At least I’m glad to know that there are a few “modern churches” who actually care enough about God’s Word to interpret it correctly.

While I’m on the subject, I hate when judgmental know-it-all Christians fire off their mouth without fully researching what they are talking about.

As to the cost of our billboards, they were donated. (again, a little research prior to judgment would have been helpful) It breaks my heart that you are so quick to judge a church that you don’t even know.

And finally, for the record, the biggest distraction over the past month is dealing with mouthy, quick-to-judge Christians who have been out of the world so long that they have forgotten what it is like to truly be lost.

I know my comments are rude and short, but hopefully incredibly pointed. Please forgive my harsh tone if it has offended you. (I just finished watching the UFC with the guys, so I’m a little wired right now)

on May 26, 2008


Well I do. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. I even took a class in college on them.

How-not to evangelize using the latest Christian cliches 101 and the text book we used was…

make no point at all using new and improved Christian Cliches.

It was great stuff. And remember…

He’s got the whole world in his hands.

on June 10, 2008

I think perhaps that you are missing the point. I don’t think that your billboard was grossly offensive but I do think that it was in poor taste. I guess that you were going for shock value and you certainly got that. However, do you have to use this choice of wording? The Miriam Webster dictionary defines the word ballsy by saying “sometimes vulgar: aggressively bold”. The Encarta Encyclopedia online lists the term as being “possibly offensive”. Is it really appropriate or better yet necessary for a church to display to the millions who drive up and own our vast interstate systems a possibly “vulgar” term? What about the parent(s) who has had to answer the question from their young child, “What’s ballsy?” Perhaps you have erred, I don’t know. I just think that a better filter (such as is found in Phil. 4:8) would have been wiser. It is certainly harder for someone to think about “pure” things when the image of male genitalia comes up in one’s mind while reading your billboard. That being said I went onto your church website and was incredibly impressed. I hope that God continues to bless you and I hope that this person who stole your trailer will come to know honest work and the saving power of our Lord and Savior (and will return your stuff!). God bless you.

on June 10, 2008

Dave –
I just featured you guys on my site. I’m currently working on the book version and possibly a movie version of it, which is a little ridiculous.
Hopefully you will get some traffic out of it.
Thanks for doing what you do

on June 10, 2008

I am not personally offended by the word “ballsy.” It does mean courageous and bold, but it comes from an expression like this: “You just told the principal to go fly a kite? You must have huge balls.” So it’s a bit offensive in that it originated from the word “Balls” which means exactly what we think it means. Kind of like the word “bitchy” however, “ballsy” has crept into our common vernacular. I dug the ballsy billboard, by the way.

on June 11, 2008

I live in another country as a missionary and just discovered the whole church trailer theft through the internet. I was intrigued by the use of ballsy on the billboard. While I think, perhaps I would not have used the word, I am sure it got people’s attention. I am just curious as to what attention it was. I didn’t read the message of forgiveness in it at all. Before I watched any video about it, I thought arrogance and pride. Just the first gut instinct that I had. I am not judging at all. Please don’t think that. God calls us all to do different things and we have to account to Him and not necessarily to people. Just was giving you my first impressions. I have to say sometimes I find that in American we are trying to make the church too “relevant” and we are missing the mark when it comes to the Gospel. I live and work in a Muslim culture and struggle with presenting the Gospel in a cultural and relevant way without compromising the Gospel and without compromising my own morals and integrity. Yes, the church needs to be relevant, but at the same time, the same Gospel message that has been leading people to the cross for over 2,000 years is still capable of doing that today without some of the relevance we like to insert into our churches. As Christians we are called to be in the world but not of the world. A line that I am struggling with and perhaps many other people are struggling with as well.

That said, I thought the video about forgiveness was top-notch and I pray that the thief whoever he/she is will come to Christ and may your church be used as the catalyst for that.

Based on your comments back to Cary and Joyce, I decided that your church would probably not be one that I would attend. Sometimes we should gracefully bow out instead of fighting back and creating a scene. I have learned that saying I am sorry even when I am not in the wrong goes a really really long way. Even if we are right, we don’t have to always try to fight and prove that we are. That just causes more division and we have no idea the impact it can have on others who—although we may not like it—are watching and judging our every move.

Hopefully this did not come across as judgmental but that it came across as someone just offering an opinion and some of her own life experience.

Be blessed

on July 1, 2008

It is always funny to me how people force a church to make choices about the kind of church it is going to be. They cannot just make a choice and worship the Lord, they have to get people to be just like them.

I simply wish that Christians would exercise their complete right to disagree in a manor consistent with Romans 14 – what ever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and the Lord. Be firmly convinced in your own mind.

If you cannot agree with what Kinetic did, don’t go. There are lots of church options in the area. But you are not doing the kingdom any favors by disagreeing about it here. If it is really wrong, pray for Dave. If it is okay, pray for Dave. Trust that the Holy Spirit knows what to do with, for , and through Dave better than we do. As Paul said, entrust Dave daily to the Lord who judges righteously.

Ballsy or not, Dave…I love you. And Jesus does too.

on July 16, 2008

interesting “theft” campaign. i hope it has positive results for your church.

i appreciate your study of the word AISCHROLOGIA. the primary question it raises in my mind is: why would paul want christians to change their patterns of behaviour? it’s always been my firm belief that the “lists” we find in paul’s epistles (the sin lists and the holiness lists) are absolutely applicable to our 21st century lives. yes, they did have an original context and understanding that context is important, but the theme overall is personal transformation and cultural secession. the first christians had to change their patterns of behaviour in order to break with the status quo. swearing, vulgarity… i agree, it is only words and it is cultural (which is why the word “schmuck” can be seen in some G- and PG-rated movies). we need to carefully consider the cost of breaking with the normative (ie. the crassness of our culture), versus using culturally-relevant language to reach those inside the culture. i think scripture directs us away from “the swears”.

it’s an interesting debate and i’m not sure we’ll ever resolve it. thanks for your time!

on July 28, 2008

hey mr milam! i’m glad to see your church is the center of attention! i have seen the amazing things you can teach people, as a former student of yours. i am downright proud of your ballsiness! you have always inspired me to look at difficult situations with the point of view of the bible. and everyone makes mistakes. whether your billboard was a mistake or not (i vouch for the latter), i absolutely am floored by some of the condescending comments you have received! i can type quite positively that you thought long and hard about the message and reaction to your billboard. and i’m sure you prepared yourself for all this crap you’re getting! i can’t believe the words to you i have read from some of our brothers and sisters (the one sista in particular!) who have the love of christ in their hearts. but i believe the majority of comments you have received are from people who truly care about you and wish for your success. i wasn’t at all surprised to see that you made this brash attempt for the area’s attention. your church is sending a ripple of curiosity through your community… and i know that’s exactly what you wanted when you started kinetic! be it vulgar, inappropriate, or offensive, your billboard has 1) given non-church-goers and non-christians a spark of interest (on their level), and 2) allowed some dare i say “old-fashioned” christians something to think about.

you do your thing dave. we really miss your energetic passion at eastside. not that there isn’t any now, of course. you were and still remain a positive, thought-provoking, philosophically prodding, depth-seeking influence in this brain of mine and many others. and i truly appreciate that.
i hope you don’t let your soft side give all the negativity any power over you. you are amazing at what you do. you are just a gutsy guy, and it seems that’s what charlotte needs.

love and prayer

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