Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Storm

The Storm

Reflections before Advent 2014
The storm crashed into a heart filled with pain,
tons of water flattening the dead and maimed,
waters that save will also destroy.
The eddy current in the heart causes consternation,
what to do, what to do, cries with aggravation,
clear clean water now murky and dark.
The storm smashes innocence and let in darkness,
tears mixes with salt water, colour into blackness,
on a face lined with despair.
Gale force wind chill into a soul’s grounds,
sputtering and gasping as one drowns,
watches in despair as the ship goes down.
The storm blows on, and the year wears on,
come month’s end and Advent’s dawn,
will the portal opens for homecoming?
Living waters from the wellspring of one’s core,
will you offers satiation to the thirsty once more?
and destroy the beast that ambles toward Jerusalem.
 
.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

S.T.O.C.K. Prayers


Unwavering: Praying Dependent Prayers Consistently

Praying is breathing. As air is necessary to the wellbeing of the physical body, praying is to the spiritual body. We are born breathing air and our spiritual beings are created to pray. Prayer is intrinsic to our makeup as we are created creatures that find their completeness in their Creator. Children are born able to pray but somehow lose this ability as the rational part of their brains developed. We, who are not longer children, have to relearn this intrinsic and essential skill.
Praying is as natural as breathing. Praying is the act of being in communion with God. Unfortunately over the ages religious authorities, teachings and traditions have made this most natural of activity, unnatural. We have been taught that prayer is an action we have to perform at certain times, in a certain way, using certain formulas so that what we do becomes what is commonly known as ‘prayers’. To some prayers may be what happens when a priest or pastor pray aloud at the altar in front of a church during Sunday services. To others, are the images of Jesus agonizing in prayer at Gethsemane with sweat and tears of blood. To yet others, it is a part of certain time named ‘quiet time’ which is all but quiet as they verbalize a list of requests or petitions to the Almighty. All this require effort and discipline on our part to perform these types of prayers. It is no longer like breathing where we breathe without thinking. This may be one of the reasons why prayer is the most talked about spiritual activity, affirmed to be essential, yet hardly ever practiced if we are honest about our spiritual life.
There is never fear that our prayers will not be heard or rejected. Jesus gives us an excellent illustration and commentary concerning this in Luke 11:5-13:
LK 11:5 Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
    LK 11:7 "Then the one inside answers, `Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
    LK 11:9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
    LK 11:11 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (NIV)
How then may we move away from mechanical formulaic praying to a more natural way? Perhaps the first step is to recognize that there are many types of other than the verbal forms we are familiar with. These other forms includes the meditative, contemplative and unitive. Though different in forms, they are the same in essence as defined in 1 Chronicles 16:1:
1CH 16:11 Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. (NIV)
Furthermore, instead of doing prayer, we need to seek to be pray-ers. What I meant is that for prayer to be natural, there need to be a foundational change in our beings. We must become S.T.O.R.K. prayers. A common cultural metaphor for the stork is that it delivers bundle of joy (baby). The S.T.O.R.K. acronym here describes a person who prays or is a pray-er who delivers joyful prayers to the Lord. It stands for:
·         Submission
·         Trust
·         Obedience
·         Right with God
·         Know God
Submission to the revealed will of God and acceptance of our role in His creation is a hallmark of a natural pray-er. It is in submission that we find true freedom and true contentment. We expand a lot of psychic energy rebelling against what we know is expected of us. Our intrinsic nature is a rebellious one. We want to have our own way. We want instant gratification. As long as we refuse to submit, we will find praying hard. Consciously or subconsciously, we know that we are not being honest in what we express to God. We are aware of our hidden agendas.
We must be willing to trust God. It is ludicrous that we trust human specialists such as specialist doctors to take care of our health, and financial planners, our wealth yet find it difficult to trust God with our whole being. We acknowledge God as the omniscience, omnipotent and omnipresence yet have our little ‘insurance policies’ in case God fails to deliver. If we are able to let go and allow God to take care of everything, yet faithfully doing our part, our prayers will become a natural part of our being.
To be faithfully doing our part as ‘co-creators’ in this present creation means that our lives should be a life of obedience to God’s revealed code of moral ethical living. Obedience means doing what Jesus taught us in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. It is to loving God, others and ourselves. It is restoring the lost souls to the Kingdom of God. We should be helping to restore the fallen image of God in one another. It is to feed the hungry, comfort the suffering, defend the exploited, protect the widows and children, and stand together against the evil of the age.
Natural prayer comes from being ‘right with God’. It means that we should not be harboring known sins in our minds, hearts and souls. Sins have a way of poisoning the part and corrupting the whole. This is where confession and repentance comes in. We should let the Holy Spirit bring light to the darkest recesses of our beings. His light will drive out and remove these hidden sins.
Our God is a self-revealing God. Hence it is possible to know Him. It is often not enough to know Him cognitively. All the facts about God are never complete until we have met Him in a divine encounter. This experiential knowledge of God opens our physical and spiritual minds and hearts to the Great Mystery who is Three-yet-One. It also opens us to this God who is both immanent and transcendent, Who has been present and working tirelessly in our everyday life all the time. It is only because we are spiritually blinded that we do not see this.
S.T.O.R.K. prayers are people to whom praying is as natural as breathing. This is because they are already aware that they are already in communion with God, in whom all ‘things moves, and lives and have their being’. Prayer should be as natural as breathing and as equally as life giving.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The False Shalom




Wandering monkey mind,
fleeting flighty thoughts,
rapid shallow breathing,
racing stressed heartbeats,
ever restless moving body,
the ‘shalom’ of stress.

Mindfulness of the moment,
reflection of consciousness,
deep breaths of life,
slower drumbeats of mortality,
body still, relaxed at rest,
the shalom of eternity.

Why do we live with the false shalom?

.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Unclean



The Unclean

There was a time when I was clean,
had family, friends, relatives and a man.
Sunshine, joy, happiness, life was serene,
vanished when my bleeding began but not end.

O God, Thou creator of worlds without end,
why do Thou decree that I suffer so?
By my body issue cause that my life rend,
did I offend Thee that Thou afflict such sorrow?

Thou decree that woman with menses be unclean,
temple ceremonially so but contaminable too.
But Thou did created woman to bleed in between,
weeping of a womb disappointment accrue.

My bleeding did not stop continually unclean I remain,
Social outcast fled family, friends, man I hold dear.
Seek physicians and priests my misfortune to unchain,
Not spared prayers, cash, effort that I become clear.

Twelve years of loneliness longing for a human touch,
O God, Thou compassionate merciful wherefore are Thou?
Twelve years of darkness only to Thee I clutch,
O Lord, Compassionate and Merciful One, heal Thou me now!

(Mark 5:24-34; Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48)

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Discernment at the Movies




Some thoughts on discernment in movie watching

The Great Christian Movie Confusion

Is it wrong for Christians to watch movies?
Movies are a narrative art form as much as literature, sculptures and paintings. It is the cultural milieu in which we live in. As Christians, we believe that we should enjoy God’s creation, even though it is not a perfect one. Culture is part of this creation and culture has much to teach us about ourselves and about God (often in a negative way).

Is it wrong for Christians to watch movies with witches, spells, magic and spirits?
Those who answer yes often think of the Harry Potter movies and the Golden Compass. However they will be willing to watch the Lord of the Ring trilogy and the Narnia series even though these movies have witches, spells, magic and spirits. Often they will be hard-pressed to explain why some movies are acceptable while others are not in the same genre.


Discernment in Watching Movies

To exercise discernment in watching movies, we need to ask ourselves three questions:
(1)   What is/are the message(s) of this movie?
(2)   What elements are used to convey the message?
(3)   Are there message(s) embedded in the elements?

Take for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter movies.

The message of these movies are similar – friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil

The elements of these movies are similar – wizards, magic, spells, spirits

However, in the Harry Potter movies, the elements (wizards, magic, spells, spirit) also carries a message – that not all who practice witchcraft are bad, only those who practice the Dark Arts. Biblical teaching tells us that God forbids witchcraft (Deut. 18:10). Another way to understand elements in a movie is a car. If the hero jump into a car and drive from point A to point B, then it is just an element. If the hero jumped into an Austin Martin, then the element also sends a message. James Bond (007) drives an Austin Martin.

Message, Elements and Message-embedded-in-Elements

There were no movies in the Bible. People told stories that were perceived mental movies. The parables told by Jesus are examples of these mental movies. An example is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

  LK 10:30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

    LK 10:36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

    LK 10:37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
    Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Parable as movie
Message
Elements
Message embedded in elements
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Love and help others
Drama, robbery, priest, Levite, merchant, Samaritan, violence, innkeeper
No
(people are not influenced to be Samaritans)

Wizardry


Movie
Message
Elements
Message embedded in elements
Lord of the Rings trilogy
friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil
Adventure, wizards, magic, spells, spirits, violence
No
Harry Porter movies
friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil
Adventure, wizards, magic, spells, spirits, violence
Yes- some practitioners of witchcraft is good; there is a school for witchcraft
Narnia movies
friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil
Adventure, wizards, magic, spells, spirits, violence
No

Deut. 18: 9-14
DT 18:9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.

    DT 18:14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.

*      No human sacrifice
*      No practicing divination (any attempt to get guidance or foretell the future from any supernatural source other than God). This includes astrology and horoscopes.
*      No sorcery (using magic powers)
*      No interpreting omens
*      No engaging in witchcraft
*      No casting spells
*      No consulting or being a medium or spiritist (those who contact spirits and allow the spirits to communicate through them)
*      No trying to consult the dead

Paganism/ Neopaganism

Avatar
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home
Protector of people and planet
Science fiction, Virtual world, special effects, violence
Yes-paganism, worship of Gaia
Pocohontas
Capt. John Smith leads a rag-tag band of English sailors & soldiers to the New World to plunder its riches for England (or, more precisely, for Governor Ratcliffe, who comes along for the ride). Between Ratcliffe, who believes the "savages" are hiding the gold he expected to be plentiful, and Powhatan, who believes these pale newcomers will destroy their land, Smith and Pocahontas have a difficult time preventing all-out war, and saving their love for each other
Protection of land and people against exploitation
Cartoon, adventure, special effects
Yes-paganism, worship of Gaia
Star Wars
Action has consequences, power corrupts
Science fiction, special effects, galactic drama, violence
Yes, paganism. The Force
Matrix trilogy
Machine-man interface, next step in evolution
Science fiction, special effects, violence
Yes, paganism. Next stage in evolution, man-machine state of consciousness

Paganism (neo-paganism) celebrates the Earth, living creatures, nature, and so on. Most modern-day pagans believe in more than one god, while others are atheistic.

Paganism – What are some pagan systems and religions?
*      American pagans practice a variety of forms of traditions, but the most popular are Celtic, Greco-Roman, Native American, ancient Egyptian, and Norse.
*      Kabbalah: During the Middle Ages, this Jewish mystical and magical system developed.
*      Shamanism: This tradition is practiced by the Native American cultures. Drumming is the technique used, and in traditional societies, the shaman travels to the spirit realm to gain information regarding the community’s needs like healing or spiritual growth.
*      Egyptian: This is very popular today, and involves complex spiritual and magical systems centering on death and rebirth. It developed in ancient Egypt when priestesses and priests became known for their level of knowledge and skill in magical arts.
*      Druidism: The original Druids were priestesses and part of the judicial class of the ancient Celts.
*      Discordianism: This began as a Buddhist practice with the main idea being “existence is orderly chaos.” Meditative procedures, confusion and enlightenment, chaos and order, pain and pleasure are revealed as inseparable parts of a total vision of reality[1].

What do Pagans believe in?
 Pagans respect nature as divine. Although Paganism covers a wide spectrum of ideas, these elements sum up the beliefs of the majority.

Nature
The recognition of the divine in nature is at the heart of Pagan belief. Pagans are deeply aware of the natural world and see the power of the divine in the ongoing cycle of life and death. Most Pagans are eco-friendly, seeking to live in a way that minimises harm to the natural environment.

Concepts of the divine
Pagans worship the divine in many different forms, through feminine as well as masculine imagery and also as without gender. The most important and widely recognised of these are the God and Goddess (or pantheons of God and Goddesses) whose annual cycle of procreation, giving birth and dying defines the Pagan year. Paganism strongly emphasises equality of the sexes. Women play a prominent role in the modern Pagan movement, and Goddess worship features in most Pagan ceremonies.

Pagan theology
Paganism is not based on doctrine or liturgy. Many pagans believe 'if it harms none, do what you will'. Following this code, Pagan theology is based primarily on experience, with the aim of Pagan ritual being to make contact with the divine in the world that surrounds them.[2]

Deut. 5: 6-8
    DT 5:6 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

  DT 5:7 "You shall have no other gods before me.

  DT 5:8 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Occult

Season of the Witch
Power of the book of Solomon over demons (not the words of Solomon in the Bible)
Adventure, crusade, demons, monastery, plague, power of words
Yes- words of Solomon, not God’s.
Constantine
John Constantine as a cynic with the ability to perceive and communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He seeks salvation from eternal damnation in Hell for a suicide attempt in his youth. Constantine exorcises demons back to Hell in a bid to earn favor with Heaven but has become weary over time. With death looming, he helps a troubled police detective learn the truth about her sister's death while simultaneously unraveling a much larger and darker plot.

Salvation, redemption

Horror, demons, angels, violence, hell
Yes- wrong theology of suicide, cannot earn flavour with God
The Exorcist
When a teenager is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Exorcism
Horror, exorcism, demon possession
Yes – too much emphasis on the demonic

Violence

Saving Private Ryan
Following the Normandy Landings, a group of US soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
Sacrifice, duty, loyalty, friendship
War, violence, body parts
No
300
Sacrifice, duty, loyalty, friendship
War, violence, body parts
Yes, graphic violence. Violence is honor
Resident Evil series
One person against large corporation
Horror, violence
Yes, glorification of violence

Christian themed movies

Chariot of Fire
Human effort versus divine empowerment
Biography, Racing, Olympics games
No
Amazing Grace
One man’s crusade
Biography, slavery, London, politics
No
Shadowland
Learning to love
Biography, Oxford,
No

Others

Thor
Consequences of favouritism in parenting (father)
Drama, Norse mythology, gods, violence
No
True Grit
Actions has consequences
Drama, cowboy, bad language, violence,
No
Shadowland
Learning to love
Biography, Oxford,
No

Useful movie review links

Movie Guide www.movieguide.org

Ted Baehr is Founder and Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®:  The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry, as well as a noted critic, educator, lecturer, and media pundit. His life’s purpose is to be used of God to redeem the values of the media while educating audiences on how to use discernment in selecting their entertainment.

Movies reviews at Crosswalk http://www.crosswalk.com/culture/movies/




Anime movies

Christian Anime Sites

Christian Anime Alliance
Possibly the most readily identified Christian anime site on the Internet, CAA has many Christian-focused reviews of anime and manga.  It also has a very active forum.

Christianmanga.com
Another well-known site, Christianmanga.com features a number of fanmade manga.  It also has a very active forum of believers.

Anime Angels
This site has been around for a number of years and contains art, reviews and articles published through the site’s magazine.  Users communicate primarily through an activity feed.

Let’s Love Japan
This amazing site’s goal is to reach out to the Japanese by creating a mobile website with animated stories and other tools.  Among their current projects is an anime about Jesus. 

Conclusion

To exercise discernment in watching movies, we need to ask ourselves three questions:
(1)   What is/are the message(s) of this movie?
(2)   What elements are used to convey the message?
(3)   Are there message(s) embedded in these elements?






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Friday, March 11, 2011

Christian Education and Spiritual Formation


There has been some confusion regarding the term spiritual formation and Christian education. In this post I will attempt to (1) differentiate between the two and also (2) identify when the two terms may be considered synonymous.

a. Definition of Christian education
The meaning of the term “Christian education” or “religious education[1]” or “Christian religious education” has over the years become expansive and ambiguous. Christian education is commonly associated with classes, resources, time-limited courses, the need for more trained teachers and teaching materials; most of these activities are conducted on Sunday in the church grounds using church facilities. Many educators have tried to map Christian education over the years in attempts to appreciate the diversity of the term. American Catholic educator, Mary C. Boys, in her seminal study, Educating in Faith, tries to map it into four categories: (1) evangelism, (2) religious education, (3) Christian education, and (4) Catholic education (catechetics). She approaches the subject from a historical and conceptual framework (Boys, 1989).

Jack L. Seymour and Donald E. Miller in their 1982 book, Contemporary Approaches to Christian Education, describe five different approaches or key metaphors in understanding Christian education (Seymour et al., 1982). These approaches are (1) Religious instruction; (2) Faith Community; (3) Spiritual development; (4) Liberation; and (5) Interpretation. Commenting on this book, Johnson has this to say,
This book proposes formation as a decisive image through which to understand Christian education. One can detect in Seymour and Miller’s survey the nascent appearance of spiritual formation as a guiding image, though its distinctiveness disappears into developmentalism, on one hand, and the faith community model, on the other hand (1989, 103. author’s italics)

Johnson is correct in her assessment as the theme of spiritual formation become stronger when Seymour (1997) re-examines Christian education 15 years later in Mapping Christian Education: Approaches to Congregational Learning. Here he maps Christian education into four themes: (1) Transformation; (2) Faith community (3) Spiritual growth; and (4) Religious instruction. Compared to the 1982 survey, the approaches of liberation and interpretation appeared to have been integrated into transformation. Transformation which has the goal of “assisting people and communities to promote faithful citizenship and social transformation” is a better category that includes liberation and interpretation (1997, 21).

Other significant and representative definitions of Christian education include divine-human interactions, shared praxis and socialisation. Concerning divine-human interventions, educator Pazmiño, offers the following definition:
Christian education is the deliberate, systematic, and sustained divine and human efforts to share or appropriate the knowledge, values, attitudes, skills, sensibilities, and behaviours that comprise or are consistent with the Christian faith. It fosters the change, renewal, and reformation of persons, groups, and structures by the power of the Holy Spirit to conform to the revealed will of God as expressed in the Scriptures and pre-eminently in the person of Jesus Christ, as well as any outcomes of that effort (1997, 87).

Christian education according to Pazmiño is more than schooling but less than socialisation. It emphasises the intentionality of a cooperative activity between persons and God. This activity includes the efforts to share the context of the Christian faith through the power of the Holy Spirit with preaching Jesus Christ as a goal. There is no emphasis on spiritual growth of the inner person, role of the church, and building relationships with other persons though those may be implied.

Catholic educator Thomas Groome defines Christian religious education “as a political activity with pilgrims in time that deliberately and intentionally attends with them to the activity of God in our present, to the Story of the Christian faith community, and to the Vision of God’s Kingdom, the seeds of which are already among us” (1980, 25). His definition highlights the intentionality of religious education, being sensitive to God, the Christian story, and the goal of the kingdom of God. The methodology of his religious education is shared praxis. There is the emphasis on community, shared practices, and working towards a common goal – shared praxis.

b. Spiritual formation and socialisation
Socialisation or enculturation is the approach adopted by several Christian educators. One of them, Westerhoff III, defines religious education as “all those formal and informal influences through which persons acquired their understanding and ways of living…deliberate systematic, and sustained efforts within a community of faith which aim at enabling persons and groups to evolve particular ways of thinking, feeling, and acting” (2000b, 14, 579). This is based on his theory of enculturation where a community nurtures and helps its members to develop a particular pattern of being. He calls it “catechesis” or Christian formation. Westerhoff builds on C. Ellis Nelson’s ideas about socialisation. His approach is based on the community of faith. He subsequently influences Craig Dykstra (1978) in his works on Christian practices in congregations.

Conclusion
I find the Christian education model of socialisation/enculturation closest to my concept of Christian spiritual formation. I define Christian spiritual formation as the intentional ongoing process of the inner transformation of the character of a person to become like the character of Jesus Christ himself, of becoming with others a community of the people of God, and of becoming an agent for God’s redemptive purposes.

While the elements of spiritual formation are present in Christian education, Christian spiritual formation is only synonymous with the socialisation model of Christian education.

Bibliography
Boys, M. C. (1989). Educating in Faith: Maps and Visions. Lima, OH: Academic Renewal Press.

Dykstra, C. (1987). The Formative Power of the Congregation. Religious Education, 82(4 Fall), 530-546.

Groome, T. H. (1980). Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, S. (1989). Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Pazmiño, R. W. (1997). Foundational Issues in Christian Education (2d ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Seymour, J. L. (Ed.). (1997). Mapping Christian Education: Approaches to Congregational Learning. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Seymour, J. L., Miller, D. E., Little, S. P., Foster, C. R., Moore, A. J., & Wehrheim, C. A. (1982). Contemporary Approaches to Christian Education. Nashville, TN.: Abingdon Press.

Westerhoff, J. (1976, 2000). Will Our Children Have Faith? (rev. ed. enl.). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing.


[1] In some countries, religious education refers to education in schools. In Malaysia, there are only one or two “Christian” schools which offer the national education syllabus with one or two religious subjects and chapel services. In practice they are closer to the National Type schools than to schools offering “(Christian) religious education”.

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