OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

Theology of Death

The theology of death has to be separated from the politics of death.

Ministers are experts on death. They have to face it constantly. Not only ministering to the dying and the family, but creating the funeral summation of the act.

Most of the funerals I have been to lately have been pretty flat affairs. The passion does not come from the clergy, but the eulogy. It seems the family has to make their grief meaningful. Is that what a funeral is all about? Those left behind, not the departed. The memory, and the reassurance that it is a good thing for the soul in the end.

Soul separation. Dividing the soul from the body, the life. We think that our minds and our consciousnesses are one until the division of death. But what we take with us is not the knowledge but the wisdom of this life. That’s what really counts. That’s what God is looking at. What has the prodigal child learned in his or her time away?

Modern society has done a great job masking death. My ancestors in the early 1800’s in England rarely made it to the age of forty. When the first immigrated to Canada, hard as it was, he lived to 78.

Today death is hidden in the hospitals, the abbatoirs, on TV and the old age homes. Grandma doesn’t spend years languishing on the verge of death in the spare room. We don’t see dad cutting off the chicken’s head in the back yard for Sunday supper. Few kids die in childhood.

We are a life-focused, life-positive culture. We can control death far better than any other culture in history. We have stopped worshipping it like warrior kings used to. Our relationship with death has really atrophied. Increasingly the un-Churched are honest enough not to have funerals, just a wake with the ashes in the room.

Re-connecting the Church with the post-modern world has to involve confronting the issue of death. There is a chasm between what the Church represents about death and how secular society feels about it. The Church has had to do an end-run around its historical emphasis on death. Even hell-fire preachers can’t sermonize the way they want to. People hate the negativity, the threat, and will just go to a more positive church. It would cause a drop in customers, and the churn in parishoners is one of the big concerns in the fundamentalist churches in the U.S. How do you keep people in your church, let alone coming back.

From a missional point-of-view, death seems like a dead issue. People just aren’t that interested. Underneath, death is a sacrifice of our lives to God. We are no longer a sacrificial culture.

So how do you connect with a youth that has no sense of spirit? The fantastic is merely thought of as a computer-generated graphic. A product of the imagination. The mystery of death does not come into the picture. Let alone what it entails. What you see is who you are.

Christianity is founded on the death of Christ. If no one is interested in death, how do you sell the message of life? We control pain and death quite fine by ourselves. It does not nag us. So the modern Church competes on the secular turf of promoting life. Too often it is interpreted as the management of life by those who may listen. The most successful churches in the U.S. are those who infuse emotion, passion, enthusiasm, liveliness into their services. Rock-and-roll was condemned by those preachers’ fathers. Today the rock band has replaced the choir.

Its hard enough to get people to focus long enough on questions about life. They are too busy living it. How do you create a language of death when the old one has been lost? When death occurs, it is one of the real senses of ‘community’ that the buzzword entails. The hearts broken together and see each other for a moment in the mutual recognition.

Perhaps that is why fundamentalists loved the orgy of violence against Jesus in Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ.’ It said everything they feel, but are not allowed to say in our pain-allergic society. It could only be said through the language that we most often experience death, the movie screen.

Its a real opportunity. Spirit is so low in modern society at the same time death is. How do you talk about one’s soul when it is so hard to define, even in traditionals mileus. What is the soul, as opposed to everything else? Isn’t mind and consciousness the same thing? Isn’t this life just an incubator for the soul? The ‘Care of the Soul’ book series was a big hit with its sensuality in experiencing life.

Secular society has forced the Church to separate from its death roots to survive. Without the compass of death, how do you distinguish the soul from the life? The problem is ignored, primarily because even the Church does not recognize the distinction between the two. The life and the soul are one. The body can separate us from God if we don’t cultivate the wisdom of the heart. The mechanics of how the soul gets into the body is unknown. Its thought that it is formed at the point of conception. The miracle of life. We have to distill it from the effects of life events to truly know its presence, to be aware of it.

If people are committed Christians, then they will enter into a dialogue with death through Christ. We are here to know death. That was Adam’s choice. But death is a fearful thing. One of the many suspenses that God creates for us. We have to come to terms with it. Who are we if we are just in transition? What does the future hold when time ceases and eternity beckons? We have to focus on the ‘petite mal,’ the small deaths that the traumas of life inflict on all of us. To be born again is to experience a death first. All the lies in your life start to die, and you suffer until you are ‘cleaned out’ and can become the real ‘you’ that God made. That takes a lot of courage, to put faith and trust in God when all you see and feel is pain and destruction when you life has been that bad. Courage and the heart. The soul speaks. What does it recognize? It can’t be sugar-coated. Too much seed lands in the thorns and on the rocks from charletans.

That is the community of heart that the Church seeks. Community, the Church, feeling our souls at the same time sensing the Holy Spirit. Oneness, through the broken heart. The truth through the death that Adam chose.

Death becomes courage. The soul is the heart. Courage comes from the heart, despite what the mind is screaming about its own security. The muscle, the pump, the drum beat of the heart. Singing and dancing around the campfire before the battle in the morning between one’s heart and one’s mind. What common sense does one follow? Facing death, fighting at the peak of life at death’s door. The warrior imagery that is so out of fashion. Yet that was what Jesus went through at the Garden of Gethsemene. A little closer to Christ. God looks at you and says ‘do you see me? Does death frighten you? I am death as well as life. If you ignore death, you ignore Me.’ God takes courage in the face of one’s own death, particularly in the peak of life.

We are a safe, secure, peaceful society. We are allergic to pain and death. We have not known famine or mass death since the Great Depression and World War II. The memory fades. Survival is guarenteed. Few know what true deprivation is. What wisdom is in that?

Pain, death and life. Nothing is whole. We deconstruct and analyze everything so that we can control any situation. We really need to think about how nothing is whole in our analytical society. Death left out leaves a gap in our wholeness. It is just a ‘part’ of life. Yet wholeness is reached through the heart, the courage of the heart, through death and rebirth. It is experiential. A discovery of Self. With anti-death as our society’s modus operendi, how can non-linear, post-modern humans ever take the disparate parts of their conceptual lives and piece them together into a whole? It is the foundation of the Jesus experience.

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Death, the soul and new creation

Sun Warrior, I find that, as a matter of biblical interpretation, I have drifted away from the traditional and basically dualistic thought that at death the soul leaves the body and goes to be with God. I agree with much of what you say here and certainly that there is a need to address our culture’s flight from death, but it seems to me that the basic view in scripture is that death is simply death, decay, the destruction of the person - we return to dust.

This has been overlaid with the idea of a resurrection - 1) as a metaphorical resurrection of the people of God; 2) as a literal resurrection from death of the people of God at the end of the edge, as an outcome of eschatological crisis; 3) as a literal resurrection of the Christ in advance of (2); and 4) as a resurrection of all the dead prior to a final act of judgment and the renewal of heaven and earth. I have probably oversimplified matters, but in none of these types do we have the thought of a soul that is released from the body to be with God.

One important implication of this sort of view of death for the emerging church is that it keeps us as part of a created order that is in all respects subject to decay. We are creatures that are born, live, and die, like any others - like the grass of the field. The doctrine of an immortal soul in the end dissociates us from creation - matter decays but our souls go on for ever. I think the biblical vision is of the renewal of humanity as part of a renewed creation.

We face death not with the hope of unzipping the body and jumping as naked souls on to the escalator to heaven but with the hope that God is always creator, has not abandoned creation to decay, will destroy death, will renew creation, and will be present in that new creation in the midst of his people.

Mere death?

Yes, Andrew, I would agree that Christianity is about escaping death. But the death of the body is a real event that all earthly souls have to go through.

It is interesting that the ‘duality’ that you speak of remains in the aversion to it. Everything decays, so we should not put too much emphasis on it. Let’s focus on what is eternal to our consciousnesses. Duality is merely a relationship between two. In this case the body and the soul. Dismissing the body has lead to many weird shapings of Christianity. It lead to the secular version of it that pervades throughout society. It is our continued use of objectification of reality, even when it comes to ourselves.

I never thought of how the subject of death can really show how we define ourselves and our relation to our lives. The eternal is to put our suffering into a greater context. This is good. But it doesn’t improve our opinion of dust. We are still negotiating with inert matter, not the life while its living. That goes for humans as well as everything else around it.

The experience of death is kinesthetic, not intellectual. We try to impose our meaning onto it. But Kulber-Ross pointed out the stages of actually going through it. Cancer survivors are different people because they have faced their mortality. They appreciate life and don’t dismiss going into the death spiral. Those with near-death experiences have their own versions. Facing death in all its reality, and its symbollic deaths in transformation during life, needs an update to connect with the Western world. If it remains concept, then it is easily dismissed.

It is like many people’s resentment toward God. Why does He allow children to die? Why does He allow holocausts if He loves us? These are kindergarten questions. But if we want to re-convert secular society, it has to be addressed in an effective manner. If the body is just corruptible dust, then that puts our relationship with it as conceptual, objectified, keeping us from finding the wisdom in the pain that God sends. That is the root of our problem in aspirin society. Reality is joy, agony and wisdom. Unfortunately, the three have to be swallowed whole to get the latter. If we don’t put death back on the debating table, we are leaving out part of the process of helping society ‘get over’ its bias against the ‘old’ Church.

While we are ‘here,’ we are still part of God. Eternal life we may have. But ignoring the wisdom in human death may trip us on the full benefits of what this life has to offer.

Sorry, I didn't actually

Sorry, I didn’t actually mean that Christianity is about escaping death. Clearly at its heart there is victory over death, but what we hope to escape is not death but final destruction - in Revelation’s apocalyptic schema the ‘second death’. My concern from a biblical point of view is this: I think it is mistaken to address the important philosophical and pastoral issues that you raise on the traditional assumption that at death a person’s ‘soul’ (an eternal component of consciousness) departs from the body and goes to heaven (or anywhere else). It is more consistent with biblical thought to say that death (I like the phrase ‘mere death’) is the destruction of the whole person, not of the person minus the soul. We then await the resurrection from the dead.

evil and resurrection

I don’t think it’s fair to say that the problem of evil is a kindergarten question, nor that suffering is always ‘from God’. In Hebrew thought (e.g. Job), God’s relationship to evil is indirect at best, and Job’s questions are never dismissed as childish. Even in the Gospels, Jesus seems to stay away from the claim that God brings evil down on people (at least because of their sin—I’m thinking of the collapsing tower incident). So to say that wondering about God’s goodness in the midst of a holocaust is childish is, I think, quite inaccurate.

Andrew. I whole-heartedly agree with you that Christianity could stand to de-emphasize ‘heaven’ as a pretty place for our souls after they detach from our bodies (as if such a thing were possible). But what about (and I know you’ve touched on this before) ‘Paradise’ (as promised to the thief on the cross)? What about Paul’s talk of ‘being with the Lord’? I’m not sure we need to assume that Paul’s worldview was exactly correct, but when God incarnate promises imminent paradise to a dying man… you just have to wonder. No answers from me… just questions.



Being in paradise, being with Christ

Daniel, you’re right. These questions have been discussed before:

My argument in COSM is that the NT envisages two corporate resurrections. The most prominent one is the resurrection of the suffering ‘Son of man’ community at the parousia, which equates historically with the vindication of the persecuted church and the collapse of idolatrous Roman imperialism. The second is the final resurrection of all the dead for judgment. I would place Paul’s expressed desire to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) in the first category, allowing perhaps for a certain divergence arising partly from his rhetoric in this passage, and partly from his rather idiosyncratic desire to imitate Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection (cf. Phil. 3:10-11).

I would regard the promise to the thief as rather exceptional, in effect more a statement about the hope of Israel than about the immediate post-mortem destination of the thief (see the comments on Luke 23:43).

What are the bigger issues of death coming to the Church

Andrew, I agree that death doesn’t destroy you. And that Christ has a mysterious promise that follows. The intricacies of it has lead to many different interpretations in popular culture. We are going to Paradise. But we are also going to a place to wait for final Judgment. The fear of death and the love of one’s own life and survival. But what society wants is a little more than exegesis, and theology is not offering it much that is new. How does the Church make it interesting again to get people’s attention? Especially in our information-rich, death- and pain-averse culture? The Church may not think it needs to change, but it has a grand opportunity as the bulk of the population, baby boomers, head into their twilight years. How many are looking back to hold onto to their youth and avoiding their future? If we stare at the Bible during this whole period, I fear we are doing a great disservice to these souls, who have never acquired a language into the issue.

Daniel, I would argue that ‘why does God bring pain?’ is a kindergarten issue. It is the first question out of people’s mouths, and the rote answer is always that God doesn’t bring pain, people create their own pain and God cures them. This is the standard answer to why the holocausts are allowed. We may have a detailed theology about it, but that is not what is popularly presented.

Re-inventing the Church, as the Emergent movement is trying to do, needs to first be honest and say what it doesn’t know. Just say to the parishoner that the Church does not have clear answers on many questions. The Bible is too confusing, but we’re working on it.

The base question that I believe stays under the radar is why was Jesus so confusing? All we have is a brief biography of Jesus’ ministry, which had to be written four times in the Bible just to fill it up. Why wasn’t He just plain and simple, without all the bizarre, the contradictory, the puzzles? Why were we given poetry when what civilized man wants is prose? There seems to be information missing in the interpretation of the Gospels that has not been secured in the intervening years. This is what people are pining for, and the Church cannot provide. Does the Church understand this shortcoming, and how does it deal with it?

In many respects its a pride issue. The Church is supposed to be the be-all-and-end-all. It is a massive warehouse of spiritual knowledge about the condition of individual humans living in this environment that has no equal in consciousness. The spiritual power of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church succors its pride and the conceit in its authority. We are humble enough now to ask forgiveness for the trajedies we have invoked on other people’s in our historic cultural blindnesses. We blame culture, and seek to strain it from the NT experience to get at the truth, without cultural impurities. This is the fortress of self-preservation that the Church still conducts itself, not understanding itself in the box that it is in. It may realize that it is limited, but this does not give it the courage to step out of its limits. It merely recognizes its paradigm without the curiosity to go beyond it. Ecumenism is great. But does it really affect us, or merely give us pride in our tolerance and perceptual acumen, without really taking a crowbar to lift up and see what is under our foundations?

What would fall if it did? What if theologians actually took the Hindu belief in reincarnation seriously, as an actual spiritual reality as obvious as Christ in our lives? We would have to re-write massive chunks of our theology. What if the Church considered that it may have been wrong in wiping out all spiritual knowledge outside of the God-human relationship? The instability would be massive. These two simple structural problems are not thought to be a problem. But they are. It prevents the Church from becoming more than the cultural limits that we have inherited. It would also help re-draw our conception of history, particularly of the Church. Intellectually, everything in the Bible is constantly up-for-grabs anyway. It is a constant churn of interpretation and meaning. What if we actually take the tools of re-interpretation to a new level, with the new tools we use to analyze the historical meaning coming from the Bible?

We have to be ‘born again.’ Hindus agree. We have to ignore the spirit world and focus solely on the specific Consciousness of God and human. But we recognize the value of spiritual worth in other religions’ insights. How do they connect? Why has history brought us to the point where we are colliding with each other, but we still cannot mingle? Spiritually there is a block as the world becomes one. What is that blockage, and is there any horn that can bring down the walls? Peter and the boys did it once in the Levant. Are we smart enough in our knowledge culture to do the same again?

Post-modern man is global man. The Western secular conceit is to bring the Good News of Western lifestyle to the whole world, wiping out all traditional lifestyles in the process. Businessmen are good sons of Christendom. They got at least the imperial behaviors of the Church down right. Does the Church see itself in its sons? Does it like what it sees? What can we learn from the sons of Christendom? What did the dads in the Bible learn from their sons about themselves? Business is about creativity. It is about stretching the boundaries. It is about absorbing the new and enculturating it. It has the bravery of thinking the impossible and making it possible. It is expansive and alive. Its intellectual abilities are as intricate and intuitive with numbers as the Church is with its one book. What qualities can the Church appreciate in them, and reflect on itself those learnings?

For the Church to go forward it needs to suffer a small death unto itself. It needs to trust in its resurrection by recognizing how the world has changed. New opportunities beckon. Holocausts are caused by intolerance disguised as Good News. Can the Church handle these big questions outside of the divinity school? Or do we accept our lot in mere death, without seeing the life that comes after the transformation? Can we face the storm that it would cause, trusting God’s wisdom will be revealed from our courage to face the cross of our limits?


Sun Warrior,

just a couple of quick points on Hinduism. Reincarnation is something that is believed in by Jains, Buddhists, Hindus and many other varieties of religion in the Far East. In all of the societies involved, one has to also look at the nexus between the religion and culture. Hinduism of the Saivaite/Vedantic type is primarily what brought reincarnation to the fore. It is questionable whether the Vedas (the oldest Hindu ‘texts’) contain this concept at all.

The concept of reincarnation was first popularised in close association with the teaching on caste. That historically verifiable fact is now suppressed by most Vedic scholars.This itself makes it suspect for me. Buddhism and Jainism tried to break the concept free of its caste associations and have tried to purify the concept of its social implications.

The actual Hinduism practiced by your typical Indian bears no philosophical relation to what the West has been taught about Hinduism. In popular Hinduism (as opposed to philosophical) the Gods actually exist as seperate beings and the relationship of the believer to a God is very similar to any other relationship between two distinct individuals (Dwaita).

If you study the discourses of Hindu philosophers today, while many of them say that reincarnation is Vedic, in fact they quietly quote from much later works (Upanishads) such as the Bhagavead Gita. In the Vedas it seems quite clear that Agni - the fire god, would consume the body on death (cremation) and transport the soul to something very similar to the Xtian concept of heaven, where there will be bliss and eternal disport with the Gods. Real Vedic Hinduism is actually much closer to ancient Egyptian concepts.

Live to serve : Serve to live

Andrew, just today I was

Andrew, just today I was speaking with a friend about the Jewish mourning process, including the shiva (seven) and the shloshim (thirty). These two stages of mourning are almost the exact opposite of the western way to handle funerals (since you brought up funerals specifically). It is always fascinating and enlightening to consider the Jewish way of doing things and how if often (or more than often) makes a lot more sense than our ways. Here is an in-depth explanation of The Stages of Jewish Mourning… I hope it helps.

You've only got one life to live... and its choking us


Reincarnation is very much a part of those cultures you quoted. Wrapped up in an explanation of the dreaded caste system, reincarnation looks rather ugly. ‘I can abuse you as an Untouchable, as punishment for the sins in your last life.’

In the West we believe in the zero-sum theory of life. Your soul is born in the womb, you have one human life to live, and then you are off to eternity.

We take this for granted. It is woven into our theological understanding of Jesus’ promise. But we have also done some pretty ugly things with it. I know everyone has deep, complex, beautiful Biblical understandings of it from how we interpret The Gospels. But consider the popular, gross way our ancestors have used it to repress people. Implicit in Jesus’ promise is a threat. You have one life to live, you’d better get it right or you will not go to heaven. One chance. Think of how the historic Church has used this device on simple people to get them to conform through fear. The Divine Right of Kings is the traditional explanation for Western military dictators like the Kaiser, Kings of France and England, Holy Roman Emperor, and the whole aristocratic bullwork supporting it, to wrest their authority from God.

It doesn’t matter which belief system you had, power in civilization always figures out a way of using it for its own oppressive purposes. Culturally we take the zero-sum theory of life for granted, and it is woven into our culture today. Whether you’re Christian or secular, we have to make the best of the time we have here. We’re all going to die. Enjoy this life to the fullest while you can. You ain’t gettin’ any more. Our youth culture, the hiding of death, our consumer culture, the pain relief culture that promises the elimination of all suffering through wealth and science, all have elements of the zero-sum life lurking subconsciously. Christianity set up the structure of our consciousness this way, however we use it.

This is one of the foundations to the big question ‘what is the meaning of life?’ Most secular people today shrug, and say there is no meaning. Do good, enjoy life, don’t hurt others, the only truly meaningful thing is your family whom you love. In the Christian perspective, we are to mature spiritually to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

Where did this belief system, this unquestioned assumption in our culture come from? If we can figure it out culturally, is it suspect only then?

I do not mock our belief in the zero-sum theory of life. We were born into it. We have our detailed reasons for it. And the subject rarely comes up in the first place to garner our attentions. Coupled with our skepticism is also little spiritual experience with it. We are only to focus theologically on God, Jesus, and the traditional Biblical interpretations of our lives. We are focused outward, trying to graph the Biblical meaning of life onto our own. So the uniquely personal life story, our meaning of life, is compromised by the concepts from the Christian cosmology always begging us to define ourselves its way, instead of paying more attention to our own life events and what they are saying about our souls without the need to get into heaven. Life, spiritually rich, but independent of the traditional Christian narrative. Christian theology helps to restrict our definition of reality to only God, humans and objective matter. There is nothing more important to us than ourselves and God in this land of molecules with no self-awareness as superior as our own and God’s.

So we get it honestly enough.

I was once like this. Past lives was interesting concept, who knew if it were true, but we are here now to focus on the right things so we shouldn’t bother ourselves with notions that have little bearing on our Present. Past life fascination was like horoscopes, the search for one’s ‘soul mate,’ or the cliche that women spout about an incident, ‘oh, it must have been from a past life.’ Please.

We need to take our authority from God, through the Bible, the bits of wisdom that pop into our thoughts to unexpectedly answer a question, and seeing our prayers answered in coincidental events. And everyone has a different relationship with God. Some just know Him through the pages of the Bible. Others have a mixture of experience and The Book, while mystics rely more on the spiritual and less on the mental exertions involved in Scripture.

Using these easily recognizable ways of how God communicates with us, keeping His Reality as the anchor, drawing upon proven definitions to define God (wisdom, love, truth, experience based on Jesus revelation), God introduced me to my past lives. I resisted fanatically. I was not going to fall into the trap of the ‘Napoleon Syndrome.’ You know, the countless lunatics in asylums thinking they are Napoleon. But He kept on me, in countless ways. If you have a developed sense of God, you can recognize how He works. Not just one message, but events, coincidences, experiences, in unnumerable form, forming a whole of meaning.

I used every critical skill that academia has to offer to resist. Psychological explanations, for example. Parallels in life stories and personalities is no conclusive proof that my soul lived ‘that’ life. Maybe it did, but who cares. I could work my way around everything God threw at me.

But when the evidence reached a critical mass, an extraordinary spiritual experience would happen. Each time, for each discovery, a little different, but with the same force and power. If you have had such dealings with the Almighty, you can relate to the experience of when God ‘gets that close.’ But it is rare. It is the most humbling, physically exhausting, and awe-inspiring thing. There is no word for the genius of God. Genius comes from God. The only word I can come up with from experiencing His revelations is ‘cool!’ Then everything makes sense, and you wonder why you ever questioned Him in the first place.

I have come to know about a dozen of my past lives. It wasn’t through ‘regression therapy.’ It always followed the above pattern. When I was introduced to a past life as a woman, I felt ‘icky’ for a week. Yuck. It shows our gender identification is so much a part of us. Its easy to conceptualize it, but actually encountering it is another thing.

Quite often I have been reticent to talk about encountering God that close. That in itself is grounds for the looney bin. But then to realize that what He was saying didn’t jive with theology, that civilization and religion has a number of assumptions that are very off-based, made talking about it even more difficult until the parameters and implications fleshed out into its bigger import. In our vast intellectual freedom and skills, we do not realize how closed minded we are because of lack of experience and lack of intellectual framework to support thinking outside of our paradigm, including spiritually. Remember how hard it was for Gallileo to get the solar system off the ground, women’s equality, or the shock of Darwinian evolution to our system. And those were just intellectual debates.

What can past lives teach us? It helps us to define our soul from our individual human life. Could we not use another tool to help us with this difficult discernment? We assume that our human and soul consciousnesses are one. They are, during this life. The soul merges with the animal’s to live the life together. To experience the genetic, environmental and events for the soul to learn its spiritual lessons. Do we really think that a God of Love would only give His Children one chance to make it into heaven? It doesn’t make sense, that that has been the historic ‘gun-at-our-head’ for 2000 years. There is truth in it, but we prefer to look at the positive results of accepting Christ, not the consequences of ignoring Him.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could distinguish our souls from our lives? Literary criticism and psychology has given us the skill to interpret life stories. What if we could know more lives, see the similarities of personality and life events, and begin to see how this life story fits into our bigger soul story? Would that help us on our journey as God’s spirits? It would give us another way of seeing why we are the way we are, and why certain events happen to us despite our best efforts to control events for ourselves, even with our good Christian intentions. It would add to the spiritual literacy of the Church when so many are pining for ‘more’ outside of the zero-sum life explanations we have been using up to this point. Something more from God.

Can the Church accept any more revelations from God, or did it stop on Pentacost? Does it have the ability to recognize the truth in it, and see how it misinterpreted things before, based on its paradigm? Does it lead the Church to seeing itself as the guardian of mankind through the closed worldview of the time of the mind, civilization? And the reason why faith was so important since the dominant mind-perception’s hubris would not allow a greater connection with God? Remember, we still haven’t spiritually figured out the Jesus reality because we don’t know enough about the greater spiritual reality He was cognizant of. We only can interpret what He means to us as limited, mind-bound, inert matter-believing animals.

Discovering past lives is far from an ego-boost. In my soul’s previous past lives I was a common soldier slaughtered on a battlefield. Nothing special. But I can see echoes of that trauma in the way I am in this life, and I have had to grow out of them, heal, and learn the wisdom in why God sent me into those situations repeatedly. My soul has lived the life of a bad scuptor. No glory there. And in one historic life my soul lived the life of a common deck hand on one of Columbus’s ships. Can you imagine how awful that must have been? And to have died a horrible death in the tropics, after infecting an entire population destined to kill millions. Gee. What’s there not to be proud of?

It calls into question how much God creates our lives more than we realize. Set up for us to learn personally, and for some, to move the story of civilization along. The scope of who we are balloons.

Issues expand. If our souls live many lives, then we are already eternal. What does this do to the theology of Salvation? How must it change? What does this do to our understanding of the Resurrection? Jesus said we have to be born again, and He showed us how souls can pop in-and-out of bodies. Why didn’t we take Him literally on these points, not just symbollically? What components in our thinking prevented us? Jesus knew He was ‘throwing us off’ by the Resurrection. Why was He confusing the issue instead of just making it plain and simple? He and God knew what the dominant mind would do with simple wisdom. They had the example of the Ten Commandments morphing into the Temple of 32 A.D. to teach them that. It points increasingly to what the mind is in our lives, knowledge over wisdom, Adam’s choice, civilization… the box we are in. Spiritually, we only know humans, living in inert matter, trying to find God at the other end of the pipe. What we have ‘figured out’ is immense from this tiny reference point. But we still seek Jesus’ heaven-on-earth, and can’t see any end in sight as the mindless slaughter of souls continues unabated around the globe. And it is like pulling teeth to get converts into the spiritual groove. What is blocking us. Why is it so hard? Might God want to give a little more, to make it easier? It takes a bit of courage and curiosity to escape the powerful sticky web of our assumptions and traditional explanations.

From this revelation, the issues of civilization and religion expand. Coupled with other experiences, it forms into an integrated whole that confirms the critique of civilization. It all comes from the same God of Abraham, the Father of Jesus. All the reference points and conditioning is there, easily recognizable. Anchored in what we have painstakingly learned about the God of Love from 2000 years of hard mental labour, it is time to move forward. As God said to me, ‘once I gave, now I give some more.’

It also creates a crisis of authority. Do I believe how we interpret the Bible, or the direct communication from God? Through all the experiences I resisted, fought with all the tools available to an educated minister’s son, with a degree in history, and a refined critical acumen honed in big business. I tested God repeatedly. God won, hands down, everytime. It is profound. There is a massive difference between acknowledging concept and logic, and actual experience. Once you have had the experience, authority rests in the wholeness of God. It seems God does not conform to civilizations’ agreement on what reality is for humans.


re reincarnation

Sun Warrior

One of the things that happens as we talk through our beliefs and question our reading of scripture is that we try to identify some of the cultural accretions that have become part and parcel of our understanding of God’s word but actually do not originate from it. Western culture over the last 2k yrs has indeed produced a lot of excess baggage and one of the very exciting things about the emerging church movement is a conscious attempt to open these questions up once again, even though for some it may feel somewhat dangerous to do. Many of your points are well taken but I am yet to get a feeling of the whole and how it relates specifically to the word.

Your expression of faith in reincarnation is not typical of Hinduism. In Hinduism, reincarnation is considered a fact. What one did in the previous life/lives nowhere figures in Hindu practice. Whatever one did, the result is this current birth. Where one is going to ‘go’ only depends on how well one fulfils one’s dharma (duty) in this life. That accounting is a sum total of one life lived and is called the cycle of karma.

So even for a Hindu, what counts is the choices and actions taken in the present. I bring this up because you seem to imply that for any individual it may take more lives in order to find God. I’m afraid that Hinduism doesn’t teach that at all. One could, in Hinduism, in the karmic cycle, keep going backwards. Practically, considering how much of lower life forms there are seems to indicate that the overall flux is about even or even negative (entropy increases).

In effect the concept of grace is completely absent.

Judaism/Xtianity startlingly emerged while surrounded by polytheism and pantheism in various forms. The struggle to believe only in I AM and no other is a large part of the story of the bible, perhaps even the bible’s most central theme.

Our understanding of death and ‘the afterlife’ may not be very biblical and the questions do need to be asked afresh. But it is a big stretch to posit reincarnation in the mix. Be that as it may, I would not say that God may not choose to make use of reincarnation in the sense that you seem to feel that He does, only that it is not so taught as normative in the bible.

Another area that will be difficult to integrate with Christian theology is your concept of sin. From what you have said in other posts, I think that another rather foundational teaching from the bible is that we have all sinned and fallen short… - therefore needing God’s grace - we need to be saved and that salvation is effected by God only through the death of His Son Jesus.

In the parable of Lazarus and Dives we see Jesus saying in effect that if one does not come to believe in Him in this one life, no amount of extra proof or witness (or by implication more lives) will be of any use. It is a indeed a parable and it’s not wise to be basing heavy theological conclusions on something that may have been structural or incidental, but I think that there is indeed relevant teaching on this very point.

But I am speaking theory while you are explaining your personal experiences. I feel that it would help me a lot to better understand your thinking if more of your ideas were developed with reference specifically to how you read the bible.

Live to serve : Serve to live

What is the Bible doing to you?


First of all, reincarnation is not an expression of faith by myself. Faith involves trust in not knowing full parameters. I’m quite beyond that. God couldn’t have made it more baldly clear, repeatedly, over and over again. Its not faith. If you have had the experiences, it is obvious. If one hasn’t, then one can’t relate. Experience as the gap in dialogue.

I think it is splitting hairs about the Hindu realization of reincarnation. Your issue with it stems from its implications for orthodox Christianity, not in its actuality.

This life is a continuum of your soul’s journey to learn and mature. I see no fundamental difference with the Hindu continuum. The devil is in the details. Wisdom is simple. Past lives is a fact. Instead of going back to fit it into orthodoxy, let go for a moment and ask yourself, if it is true, how would it alter all of our theology and assumptions, about the Resurrection, Jesus, and life in general. Running back to the Concordance for safety doesn’t show much courage or imagination. Its the old defensive maneuvre that has always created massive difficulties for the Church.

What counts is choices and actions taken in the present. Quite correct, as far as it goes. The old ‘by faith alone?’ debate. But one must separate what this life is in the grand scheme of things. This is only one life. There is more to be learned in a single life than the single target of being Saved. The condition of your heart and soul is specific to you. It has issues. It must experience a life story to work through those issues. Your soul will still be there at death. What did it learn from the experiences? Everything in life is a double bind. Whether you ‘use’ God’s wisdom or choose to go it alone, your heart still learns something. Without much knowledge that your soul already existed before this life, and that your whole life is set up, created by God to proceed to encounter your ‘issues,’ is distinct from the condition of your heart after the storm of life has past. God simply asks, do you love me? If, in the traumas of life, without the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God, you choose wisely, and your heart is not ruined, what God will see is that He was there in your soul all along. Your soul has matured.

The Bible is explicit in saying that we do not know what God is Judging us on. This fleshes it out a bit more. If God created the situation that prevents you in this life from ‘being with Him,’ then He is responsible. He is testing your soul under pressure. The reality of the soul is independent of the life. The life story is merely a vehicle for the soul to develop, whatever the circumstance. We have structured our view of this life in the opposite way. Grace happens all the time. The life itself is Grace. The traditional view is that we are dust until the magic of Grace strikes. The truth is, you exist because of grace. We just don’t understand the mechanics, the relationship between the soul and the life because of our assumptions about what this life is. God is All. We have a very limited view of what All means. Salvation stemming from the zero-sum theory of life has done us a severe disservice in perception. What unnecessary stress we have caused by it. We have been trying to figure out this life. We didn’t have enough information because of our assumptions.

Why is it such a strectch to believe in the bald faced simplicity of Jesus’ words, you must be born again. We got half of it right. The question is why did Jesus confuse us with the Resurrection? Why did He confuse our minds so much, like leading us on the wrong path? He was playing with the hubris of our dominant minds, that part of us that wishes to control meaning, Adam’s choice to decide through knowledge instead of accepting wisdom. That is the key issue that no one comprehends right now. What is the mind, how does it dominate us, and what has it distorted based on its unnatural dominance in our perception over reality and the heart? Its all there in the Bible, starting at Genesis. But our minds haven’t been able sift out the simple truths from so many factors in our considerations of infinite possibilities of what the truth may be.

The fundamental sin, Original Sin, is living from the mind’s dominance, not the heart’s. We are born into mind culture. We have no choice. We are born into Original Sin.

On top of this we live our lives, but we cannot escape the controlling aspect of the mind in our lives, the analytical mind, the need for freedom and choice, security from fear, pain and death, deprivation. I have just quit my job with only three weeks pay in my bank account. I will not seek conventional employment. God said don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. Just do what I need you to do. He has never let me down. Who does this? A handful of people courageous enough to trust God that much. Then what truly is your relationship with God when your need for security, and all your reasonings to be ‘practical’ and ‘God does not expect this of us’ buttresses against this kind of relationship with the One whom we are all so ‘devoted’ to? Fear, reasoning, rationalism, anything but facing the simple truth: do it.

Can’t blame people. Jesus had to kick the Disciples’ butts on this issue too. ‘Go out into the villages with nothing, not even your shoes, and see how God will Provide for you.’ That’s nutty. Good story. Lots of wisdom in it, in small doses when we need it. But let’s not be foolish and be exteme. The mind getting in the way, all the time. Protect yourself from God. He can be traumatic. Oh, theology says He’s not. He is the God of Love, and love doesn’t do that. What are we listening to when we read the Bible? God or our minds? Culture culture culture. Ain’t that what Emergent is all about. Strain out the culture, find the truth. Unfortunately, its not a concept. There is a difference between knowing the path and walking it.

But I digress. Or perhaps I am not. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was saying: ‘do your soul a favour. In this one life invest it in me. If you do, your soul will mature at quantum levels. In the following lives this will hold your heart in good stead as you go through those trials learning what you must, what God has deemed you need to learn.’ We have just assumed in the promise that this is a zero-sum life. One torturous life as a Christian in this traumatic world and we get our reward. Our assumptions are all over this. It is shocking in its depths. Once you’ve encountered the truth of the reality of past lives you simply sit in shock thinking ‘what have I been thinking all this time!’ Then you look at all life around you as the strange beings we have become, individuals, the Church, society, all based on this same asssumption, acting in certain ways, causing catastrophe, stress, pain and suffering. The mind thought it knew everything. So much for our intelligence. We are all bound-up, so deeply subconsciously now, that this is the only life we have to live, and from this wrong assumption we live, creating ‘sin’ from our innocence and pride. It is absolutely devastating that just this one, among countless other equally disturbing assumptions we have, has caused this mess we call civlization. If you do not stop and realize what mind culture is, you can never escape the horrible entanglement it wraps us in. It is a massive undertaking. Past lives is just one example, but it cuts to the bone of the issue like few others do. Jesus did not lie. We were the confused ones. How resistant are we in recognizing this?

How do I read the Bible? What is the real issue we are talking about? It is civilization itself. The Great Story. The Creation in Time. God created this place for Adam’s descendant to learn. It is history, the development of the mind over time. You see it in the Bible. You read about it in anthropology. The gradual development of the mind over the heart, knowledge over wisdom, man over nature. Objectification over love. Hierarchical man over communal man. Removal of the spirit, first by Christianity reducing spirit to only humans and God. And then when mind culture was strong enough technologically to control its reality, throwing out the container it used to control the last vestiges of spirit at the center of its society, the Church, circa 1960. The only thing that keeps Christianity in the news today, is not spirit, but the control fanatics of the Religious Right.

What is the Bible? We already know what it is. God giving us some wisdom to help us on our journey of blindness through this brief period, these lives lived in a reality of the dominant mind. Here’s the wisdom, you figure it out. How are we doing? Why is nothing rock solid in the Bible? Is there something wrong at a much deeper level that we are just not paying attention to? God’s wisdom and revelations did not stop in 32 A.D. But we cling to that authority as if our lives depended it.

Can anyone step back and see the box we are in? Until we do, nothing more is possible. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Isn’t everyone tired. A book and faith is great when that’s all you have to connect with an invisible God. It takes courage to leave that security.


Sun Warrior


All I can say is that I do hope that the bible keeps ‘doing’ what it is meant to be doing to me!

I’m afraid that if you give me a choice between your version of what the world/life is about and the bible’s then I would always select what the bible says and be content to leave the rest to God. I believe that God is revealing Himself to us in the bible. I believe that He is very particular that we should believe in Him and that He is particular.

I may be wrong in some (or many) of my beliefs about what in fact God is teaching me but I do believe that I have forgiveness in Him and that His Holy Spirit will keep contending with my stubborn short sightedness until He achieves what He has set out to do with me. Jesus was an exceptional Guru but He was much more than that too.

God’s grace is mediated to us through Jesus alone. He is the cornerstone. God’s light is shed on us in Jesus. In Jesus we see the love of God. He reaches in and confronts our darkness and says here I AM, follow me! Our darkness is not just a temporary matter of dominant mind suppressing our essential spirit. The darkness is in our souls and in our spirits too and it is sin, the sin of refusing to acknowledge and follow our Lord.

It is the actuality of what Hinduism teaches about who God is (or isn’t) that I do reject. No numbers of reincarnations can change our essential sinfulness. The way out and the way in is only through the blood of Jesus. So, I’m sorry but I would find it difficult to accept as adequate a statement like “God is All” on the basis of which you are building your overall argument.


Live to serve : Serve to live

Mind-man, so comfortable in the Church

Past lives, or the lack of experience with it, is bound up in our theology of death. Christianity is in opposition to death. But death occurs all the time. As humans, we live off death. The plants we eat, the cows we kill, the forests we slaughter for post-it notes and toilet paper. You cannot live without killing something.

Our objectification of reality has made it easy to ignore this fact. We are special. God gave us this reality to do with what we like. The only important thing is human life. We were left to manage reality. Even when we say grace in thanksgiving at supper, we are thanking God for Providing for us from this world of molecules arranged to give us the sustenance of human life, so that our consciousness can grow in spiritual life.

Historically this wasn’t such a huge problem. All but a few were farmers who lived with the land and the animals. That is why the Church had such a problem rooting out heresies and earth religions. People lived daily with the earth, and less from their minds. So it was difficult to get their attention focused on the refined intellectualisms of theology.

But today it is a different story. With the majority of the population living in suburbs, dependent solely on money to survive, in dwellings of scientific comforts, we are removed from most things natural. Such artificial living is so removed from nature, that it could be argued we live in a ‘pure mind culture.’ This is unique. Historically, it was only kings and princes who needed to use their minds as much as we do to prioritize, manipulate, analyze constantly. We have replaced an invisible God with our faith in invisible numbers to ensure our security. Numbers are just a thought, a logic. Someone once observed that there are three perfections in the universe: myth, music and mathematics. If you consider it, math has replaced myth in our pursuit of perfection. Logic, equation-thinking using numbers and concepts to arrange reality to control outcomes for our benefit, is the foundation of our thought.

We are completely dependent on numbers. Science is the process of converting simple observation of reality into numbers and equations to gain control over the phenomenon. Our cars and refridgerators would not work without the numbers science has gained control of. Business is just about one thing, the quarterly number known as profit. Millions of actions by thousands of people in one company, each process analyzed and reduced to statistics to produce the variables in the equation to produce the final number for the stock market to judge. We work for numbers, money, in the simple contract between workers and employer. From those numbers we survive. Without numbers we are dead. Grocery stores are businesses in a supply chain that is totally dependent on numbers to coordinate the delivery and processing of food from the chemical valleys of factory farms, through the trucking, processing and distribution of that food ultimately to our dinner table. Even fundamentalists take this all for granted.

Do we realize how artificial this all is? Do we realize that it is the simple agreement on the meaning of numbers between individuals that allows this to happen? Is there still any memory of the stock market crash of 1929 to realize that it rests on the fickle psychology of fear and greed of the stock market? We think we have enough depth built into the system now for our security, but remember the hurricane of New Orleans? As India and China become modern numbers cultures, what will the instability of their rapid journey do to us as our economic survival is integrated with their’s? We had 200 years from the Industrial Revolution to adjust to a bourgeois society. How rocky was that? World Wars I & II, and communism were both products of this. We shreak in horror that Iran is just now beginning this journey, with a nuclear bomb.

Our modern confidence doesn’t even ask the question anymore, what is natural man? Who wants to live like our ancestors did with death all around us, chronic disease, hunger? History is a nightmare we would rather forget. It completes mind culture’s removal from the experience of surviving through a direct relationship with nature. The West is the top ten percent of the world’s population. We are the aristocrats of the world. Like aristocrats, we do not know how our food got on our table for us. All we know is that the servants delivered it.

The dominant mind is about control for our safety, security, and freedom from suffering. It is about management, manipulating what we can see with our eyes. Figuring out natural phenomena so that we control it, and not the other way around. How does this type of thinking infect all of our intellectual processes?

Paul McCartney recently visited the annual seal hunt off Newfoundland to shreak in horror at the death. I’m sure he must be a vegetarian. He wants to stop death of innocents by ugly man who just wants profit. But I’m sure his famous bass guitar is made from wood from the rainforest. His wealth allows a lifestyle of high consumption. And the air pollution from the jet he took to Newfoundland is now acid rain causing global warming. Total disconnect.

Environmentalism is a joke, of course. It is based on managing the earth like we do everything else. It makes us feel in control. Greenpeace saves the whales from Japanese trawlers but does little to shut down the jobs of aluminum workers in Quebec, whose smelter sends so much pollution into the feeding grounds of whales in the St. Lawrence River that cancer will kill more whales eventually than a trawler ever could. Nothing is whole, even in the good intentions of environmentalists. Its all the same mental game of following your heart while the mind dominates the structure of your agenda. Recycling makes us feel good, as we divert our garbage from the dump back to the factories to use more pollution to create more things. Its senseless how we delude ourselves. All to avoid the death of our lifestyle.

Conceptual equation-thinking, numbers, math, from the scientific revelation of the ‘paradigm,’ concepts filter out into every other discpline making the rout by the mind over wholeness complete. We are mind-man. This is the fundamental problem. This is the approach we take to our theology of death despite the actual spiritual experience of Christ in our lives and the Promise we analyze in the New Testament. We can figure it out, control it, manipulate it, transform it to suit our needs. Nothing is whole. Reality is God, humans, and inert matter. This is the gross thrust of our culture, and the gross thrust of theology filtering out to the congregations. Its all about controlling death and pain. The Church set up the question, and now competes with secularism on the issue. How do we control death?

It is not how we control death, but how do we control human death. We care about the rainforest, not for the rainforest itself, but what its loss will do to the global environment, and thus our survival. We are so human centered, removed from real contact with nature for our survival, that death has spiralled into the conceptual realm in countless ways. We put our beloved dog to death to put him out of his misery. We keep human vegetables alive at all costs. Its about our humanity. It shows how limited our spirituality really is, when humans are the only spirit we acknowledge in our struggle with death. Who cares about anything else, really. As long as its death doesn’t create our death. And its so easy now, as we sit in our traffic jams, listening to music, surrounded by the concrete jungle of skyscrapers, getting our priorities done over the cell phone.

But Christianity offers a full life in God. Death is conquered. The passage through this life leads to a better life. This is the confines, the parameters of our relationship with death, in all practical measure. We can point to a theology of animals and plants. Its there, on the bookshelf. But we are talking about minorities who have read it, let alone absorbed it and put it into action. My minister dad actively relates to nature through his garden and disdaining modernity’s infinite packaging to sell its man-tainted processed food and infinite gadgets. But he operates on the same old assumptions about the nature of reality, God-created for our use, reverent and thankful, even an acknowledgement of equality with it. Living with the earth instead of dominating it. But that is based on the separation of human from nature, just like our distinct separation from God however immanent He is. It is the structure of our perception, the structure of meaning and thought, what we are born into. How we interpret experience. The full life of God is for the human. Our relationship with God is defined by the services He provides for us, in all ways, including the dust of Creation. We live as if we are still the center of the universe, despite the Hubble telescope, the electron microscope, and the global village. We try to discern the reality of God from this human-centered need to feel secure. Its about gaining control.

Yet death surrounds us. And we can’t conquer it. We are killing ‘the environment’ and there is nothing we can do about it. The man-made famines are easy to stop. But what happens when the critical mass of devastation begins to affect the stabiltiy of the biosphere. Have you seen what Hurricane Katrina and the Iran scares have done to the price of oil? Both natural and human, out-of-control, rocking the economy. Israel plays with fire now, in a powder-keg of post-9/11 Islam. And the polar ice caps are melting. If we stopped polluting today, yesterday’s pollution’s effects won’t be felt for another 20 years. We’re cooked. Death surrounds us. Let’s talk about a full life in Christ. Share and help everyone. Get all individuals through this life in one piece so that they can share in the joys of God despite this life. There is an essential disconnect here. No one’s piecing it together in the popular imagination. Death stalks us, but it is safely out of mind, under control in our hospitals, abbatoirs, funeral parlors and television.

We have to dig deeper in our archaelogy of ‘who we are.’ Buried in the ruins that we build on top of is a keystone. If we remove it, it will mean destruction of much that we have built. But it is essential. In the broken heart is God. In the broken heart is God’s broken heart. God knowing death, facing the Void, the Truth in the Lies that He wants to come out. Such sadness in God right now. His Children, so far removed in their blind devotion to mind. Can anyone hear? Are there any hearts that have learned how to hear over the ages? How to counteract the ravages of mind culture? He Gives a few things to help us realize who we are and what is reality. We can either take it or leave it. It is our choice. Just like the Jews hearing Jesus for the first time. Stay in the security of the conventional, socially approved Temple. Or risk going against what is allowed, against all reason, because the Temple, the conventional, could not explain Jesus. It was easy to believe in Jesus, having seen Him in action. Much harder when He’s just a story back in time. But we have the comfort of convention to place our experience of the sacred in a safe place.

Past lives is a massive paradigm shift for the Church. So is acknowledging more spirits than just God, souls and the devil. We don’t know Creation, so we cannot understand what it truly means ‘God is All.’ These are the baby steps the Church needs to make right now. Other spiritual truths will come from it. They are well-known outside of the Church, and the Roman Catholic Church still has deep within its vaults the truth of much of it.

The shock of exorcisms still rankles the public. And the reality of ‘saints’ helping us seems far-fetched. The chasm of other truths still faces us. Little can we realize that we are living in heaven right now, that our souls live in two places at once, such is the dominance of time-and-space in our consciousness. Few realize that in our deepest sleep, when our bodies are at their lowest point, our souls are being ‘refreshed’ in its other home. Then we wake up in this reality again, with strange poetic memories of dreams.

It is bizarre to think that we can be living two lives at one time. It makes the theologian go cross-eyed. If we realized that one human life can have one, two, up to three souls occupy it during a lifetime, what does that do to our Salvation theories? What is the purpose of such piggy-backing by souls on our lives? Are we just being used? What is the relation between the life and the soul then? If our whole consciousness does not survive, just the experience taken by the soul, then what is the human’s purpose in sacrificing the pain of Christian demands when the life is going nowhere after death anyway, only the soul? Then, who are we? If human life is sacred, but finite, then should we also infuse some new wisdom into the nature of nature?

If we can commune with our dead ancestors, should we listen? Or ignore them, and just listen to God? What is the relationship between the genetic heritage and the soul that has lived many lives? Both bring their own issues with them. Everything opens up when a little spiritual light is shone on mind-man. It creates instability in us, these strange things. How do we brush them off? How did we brush off science when it disagreed with the Church’s view of reality in Gallileo’s time?

People are hungry for more spiritual knowledge outside of the human. The Church is not. The Church has a responsibility, having come to know God through Christ, to anchor explorations into spiritual reality beyond humans in the actuality of God. If the Church does not acknowledge this responsibility it will wither in its circular, self-referencing theology. It must recognize who and what it is as a civilized institution, subject to the limitation of the dominant mind, suffer the death from this truth, and then emerge to fullfil its destiny. Without this, death becomes it.

Don’t trust me. Let the Holy Spirit work on this one within you.


Sun Warrior


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