This Is What It Means To Be Included

“This is what it means to be included.”

The mother’s words jumped out at me from the radio.

Included.

Two year old Tatum Bakker had never been able to swing on a playground swing set until they visited Brooklyn’s Playground on their way through Pocatello, Idaho. It’s a playground designed for children who are physically able and for those who are less able to play on together, named for the little girl who started it all, Brooklyn Fisher.

Kids with conditions like spina bifida usually can’t take part in playground games and activities, kids like seven year old Brooklyn and two year old Tatum, but in Pocatello they can. As Tatum’s mother explained:

And I put Tatum in a swing and kind of sat back and absorbed it all, and looked up and saw an older child, maybe 10 or 12 – a little girl – in a motorized wheelchair up on the pirate ship, surrounded by three or four friends her age who were able-bodied children, playing and laughing.

It’s a place where everyone can come together and play to their heart’s content.

It sounds like heaven to me. Literally.

But I’ll get to that in a moment, because this also sounds a little bit like my courtroom, and few people mistake my courtroom for heaven.

All Rise and Come to Order

Courtroom shows on TV start every trial with the same phrase: “All rise and come to order.”

In the early days of being a judge my court used to start with the same ceremony, my bailiff calling everyone to order as I walked through the door behind the bench and took my seat. Then he’d announce, “You may be seated.”

This works well. People who may be chatting while they wait for court to start can’t help but see that things are starting when everyone around them is standing up and quieting down. And for those who kept their seats and carried on their conversations, my bailiff would walk over right beside them and – using a voice loud enough to be heard in the next county – would say, “I said ALL RISE AND COME TO ORDER!” Several people have jumped nearly to the ceiling from their seated positions. I had a very effective bailiff.

Then one day I saw someone who didn’t rise and no matter how loudly my bailiff shouted in their ear they were not going to. The man was in a wheelchair.

He was sitting toward the front and as everyone rose around him in response to my bailiff’s call, he of course stayed seated. Then it struck me.

He was being excluded.

My bailiff, as an officer of the court, ordered everyone to stand and this man not only did not but could not comply. A ceremony designed to preserve the dignity of the court actually placed this man in a position where he was unable to participate along with everyone else.

I decided I would never put someone in that position again and instructed my bailiff that court would now being with the phrase “Remain seated and come to order.”

The dignity of the court – and of those who appear before it – is preserved.

Heaven for Everyone

God’s home is a place where everyone gets to participate and enjoy everything, living life to the full. (John 10:10.)

Jesus gave a taste of this as he ministered to the people around him:

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31.)

Now we look forward to the fulfillment of his work of redemption and reconciliation and renewal when he brings us into the new creation:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5.)

And that, my friends, is what it means to be included.

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Knock-knock Joke Redux – because I am a very funny guy

This joke cracks me up. Then again, I’m my own best audience and I crack myself up all the time.

knock-knock***

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A Marriage That Works – what happens when the dad stays home and the mom goes to work

[Today’s guest post is from Natalie Collins, who blogs at God Loves Women, and can be found on Twitter as well. I asked Natalie a while back to write on her marriage to Baggy Collins, a marriage that does not fit the stereotypical expectations for a relationship between two Christians. She came through with this post, and it will be reassuring to some and an eye opener for others.]

Who are Natalie and Baggy?

We are Natalie and Baggy Collins.  We live in the UK, in England.  We’ve been married over nine years and have three children.  When we got married, Natalie brought two children to the relationship, they were four and eighteen months and within the last year we gained a four-year-old when a family member became unable to continue parenting their child.  Natalie is a gender justice specialist working freelance on addressing male violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice (both outside and within the church).  Baggy is a stay at home parent.  We were both raised in Christian families and we got married after God directly told us to in a rather miraculous and unconventional way.

How do you experience living in roles that are rather unconventional within Christian culture?

We love it!  For the first four years Baggy worked full time and Natalie was mainly at home with the kids.  This was great for a season, but as God began to call Natalie into the work she now does, our roles began to shift.  Baggy had been on a secondment and was about to re-enter a job he hated and Natalie was offered the opportunity of paid work that would allow us to be able to survive financially.  After praying about it over a period of time, we discerned that was the right way forward.  We have found Christians to be on a spectrum between “Baggy when are you going to get a proper job?” to “that’s a great way to live!”

When we first got married we found that Christian men seemed to struggle with the idea of Baggy marrying a woman with children.  There were comments like “I couldn’t raise anyone else’s children” which is ironic, given that’s exactly what Jesus’ earthly father did.  Within a few years of being married we really felt God called us to not attempt to have any children together.  This seemed to surprise a lot of people.  It wasn’t an easy decision and was done sacrificially but we felt strongly that the two children we do have needed to know that they were enough.  And it felt quite selfish to need to bring another human into the world, just so we could experience a pregnancy and baby together.  So Baggy had a vasectomy.  (We would really advocate vasectomies as a feminist issue and one of the things men can do to be good allies AND good husbands!)

In the past few months we’ve had the interesting experience of our roles shifting for a while.  After a number of years where Baggy had been a volunteer police officer (this is called a Special Constable in the UK) we felt God was calling him to apply to become a police officer full time.  This led to a significant period of psychological and practical upheaval as we changed roles.  For Natalie it was hard to give up the freedom of freelance work, and to become a full-time mum, for Baggy it was the shift into long hours away from home in a job which was extremely stressful and difficult to cope with.

We discovered that this new “role reversal” was actually not for us.  (Natalie has written about this journey here: In the Dead End.) In the last month we have moved back to Baggy being at home full-time with the children, responsible for housework, finances and administration for Natalie’s freelance work.

We love challenging people’s perceptions of what men and women can or should do.  Natalie is really gifted at the work she does and Baggy is brilliant at the day to day work of being at home and caring for the children.  He loves supporting Natalie and together we can be a great team because we live according to our gifts not any arbitrary rules based on our genitals.

What would your advice be to people who feel called into unconventional marital roles?

Do it!  Living differently challenges people in a way that offering an opinion can’t.  It’s so liberating to spend your life doing something that you are truly good at, that you enjoy and that you can be confident God has called you to.  It can be difficult to consider how your community might respond, especially your family and friends.  However, if they care about you, then they’ll want you to be in the place that is best for you and your family and if nothing else, living out a different path may prove to them that this can be God’s plan for people’s lives!

How do your children experience this way of life?

They’ve known Natalie to work full-time, Baggy to work full-time and both of us to work part-time, for them it’s no big deal!  We do a lot of explicitly talking about patriarchal expectations and gender roles in our family as well as the way we live.  Natalie grew up in a Christian family that was quite extreme in various ways, but this was never explicitly explained as being different to how most other people lived.  This meant she was ill-equipped to deal with how abnormal her life was compared to most other people.  We want our kids to know that the world is ubiquitously oppressing women and girls and hurting men and boys through toxic masculinity.  We want them to be as equipped to deal with patriarchy as they are at crossing the road safely.

What are the pros and cons of the way you live?

Perhaps we should start with the cons…?  Due to Natalie’s work being freelance, we don’t have a secure or guaranteed income.  However, we also experience this as a positive because it means we have to practically trust God every day for everything.  We have to expend energy challenging people’s presumptions about who does what, which again isn’t really a negative as it provides an opportunity for consciousness raising and helping people see there are different ways to live.  The pros are that we love our life, we are living out of our gifts and calling, not people’s expectations.  Most of all we are being obedient to God, and there’s no better place to be than where God is calling us to!

gods-calling***

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Book Banning Hasn’t Accomplished Anything For Six Hundred Years

"Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects. The books which have been burned are a loss to the whole people." Jan Hus

“Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects. The books which have been burned are a loss to the whole people.” Jan Hus

This is Banned Books Week, described as:

… an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. (Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, American Library Association.)

I completely agree, even when it comes to books which “some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” It may seem promiscuous, but if so I am in good company since John Milton (one of the great 17th c. English Christian thinkers) advocated nothing less than promiscuous reading. As Karen Swallow Prior noted, Milton’s “approach is still both the means and the mark of the intellectually – and spiritually – mature person.”

Getting Your Head Into Books Is Godly

There’s a lot to be said for learning new things, because there is much to learn about this world God has created and the people he has put in it.

Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
    guard it well, for it is your life. (Proverbs 4:13.)

The point is not to seek out junk, of course. Noble thoughts are the goal.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8.)

God has not left you groping in the dark when seeking these wise and noble thoughts. Jesus said you have a much more powerful guide than your own intellect and reasoning. You have the Holy Spirit.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:3.)

No matter what you read or who you listen to, always compare their words to the word that has come from God. That is how you know whether it is worth holding on to.

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 4:13.)

But why allow books that run counter to God’s word? For that matter, why go even further and encourage they be allowed to remain in existence? Because you won’t know what is worth holding on to and what is to be rejected until you test it.

Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22.)

Don’t be afraid of reading something you’re not yet sure of. Just make sure you read it under the proper light. As Louis Brandeis said:

Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.(Other People’s Money – and How Bankers Use It (1914), quoted at Wikipedia.)

If a book’s ideas are not worth paying attention to, the way to show it is by bringing those ideas into the light. We have the best light of all to see them with, too:

God’s word,

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105.)

and the Word of God, Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1, 4.)

Banning Books Never accomplished Anything

Jan Hus got it right when he described those who seek to control thought by banning books:

Fire does not consume truth. It is always the mark of a little mind that it vents its anger on inanimate objects. The books which have been burned are a loss to the whole people. (Quoted in To Build a Fire, John Fudge, Christian History No. 68.)

Burning of Jan Hus at the stake, Diebold Schilling the Older, Spiezer Chronik (1485) Wikimedia

Burning of Jan Hus at the stake, Diebold Schilling the Older, Spiezer Chronik (1485)
Wikimedia

He said those words as his own books were condemned to the fire, and soon after so was he. Hus died at the stake in 1415, labeled a heretic for teaching that the Bible has greater authority than the teachings and traditions of the church. A century later, Martin Luther looked on him as an example of steadfast faith in God and reliance on his word.

Banning books isn’t worth it. Reading prolifically and promiscuously is a much better way to discern God’s truth.

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Immigration Status and the Right to a Fair Trial

I was picking a jury a couple years ago when one of the people waiting to be called forward to answer questions handed my bailiff a note: “Is the defendant in the country illegally?”

After the next break I had the potential jurors wait in the hall while the bailiff directed the note-writer into the courtroom. The attorneys and the defendant were present, I read the note out loud, and asked the man what his concern was.

He pointed to the man sitting next to defense counsel and said, “I just want to know if he’s here legally or not.”

I said this wasn’t really the concern of the trial, and that the only thing the jurors needed to determine is if the crime charged is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The man said, “I know that. But I think I’m entitled to know if he’s here illegally.”

I told him that type of information is almost never brought up as relevant to a case, and the jury probably wouldn’t hear evidence about it one way or the other. I reiterated that the jury’s job was to assess the evidence, and then I asked if he thought he could do that fairly.

He said, “Sure, but I want to know if he’s here illegally. Don’t you have a duty to look into that?”

I said immigration was generally an executive branch issue while the criminal trial was a judicial branch issue, and that I was going to focus on the trial.

The man asked, “Are you refusing to tell me if he’s here illegally or not?”

“Yes.”

The Irrelevance of Legality

As my dad later said when I told him about the potential juror who wanted to know about an accused man’s immigration status, “What on earth does that have to do with anything in the trial?”

Exactly.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34.)

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15.)

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:8-9.)

As Jesus taught us in the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), being neighbors has nothing to do with national boundaries. And getting a fair trial in a courtroom should have nothing to do with immigration status.

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Today is my day, and everyone wins a prize

Today is my day and everyone who can tell me why in the comments gets 10,000 interwebz, a fabulously illusory and non-existent prize that has the added advantage of being completely worthless! (You can even use the clues and still get full credit.)

Clue #1:

Clue #2:

Clue #3: What’s in a Name?

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A Founding Father on Flourishing Faith

“Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of government.” James Madison

“Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of government.” James Madison

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The God Die Thing – a child’s view of the cross

[Today’s guest post is from Cara Meredith, with tender and powerful insights on childlike wisdom, mama bears, and the cross.]

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“Look, Mama! It’s the God die thing.” We’d just gotten off the freeway when he said it. My husband and I looked at each other across the console of the car, and asked our four-year old son to repeat himself: “What’d you say, buddy?”

“It’s the God die thing. That’s the church where God died!”

All correct theology aside, we watched his sticky little fingers pointed skywards toward a simple but ornate cross on the top of a faded church steeple. We drive past this particular church on the corner of Fruitvale and Harold all the time, but it wasn’t until my little boy pointed it out that I actually noticed the place. I saw the straight lines of metal, the peeling green paint, the delicate leaves of hope and new life, twisting and wrapping their way around the ancient symbol like tendrils.

And it was like I saw the cross for the first time.

My eyes filled with tears, while my husband shook his head in disbelief. Somehow, our son gets it, and microscopic neurons in his brain have connected the basics of Jesus + cross + death. Man, I think to myself, maybe in the midst of everything we seem to do wrong when it comes to parenting, we really have done something right. Grand ideas and beliefs and truths have wiggled into his brain and taken up residence in his soul, and now he’s the one teaching me.

But if I’m honest, I want him to understand the whole story of Jesus now. I want to pull out the Sunday School felt board and build that bridge to God; I want to show him that journey of resurrection, of life after life after death for Jesus and for all who believe. I want him to glory in and focus on Jesus’ life on earth, on how he loved and cared for the poor and the marginalized, and how really, the main part of all of this is that we’ve been given new names.

We are children of God, we are, we are!

child-of-god

This is what I want to shout when we’re stopped at stoplights and sitting around the dining room table and wheeling the shopping cart through Target alike. I want him to see the cross, the absurd and horrid instrument of death Christ died on, but I want it to be the briefest of encounters so we can skip on to the stuff that makes us feel good.

But mostly, I want to tell him the rest of the story so that he doesn’t have to feel the pain.*

It’s me protecting him from the bad. I don’t want him to come from school with news about “Mean Johnny” and “Nice Johnny,” because I don’t want to hear that another child hasn’t dared to see him as I see him – kind, likeable, more than worthy of friendship. And I don’t want to put seemingly insurmountable obstacles like moving and starting over and making new friends in front of him, because I don’t want him to feel the tension of his heart being in one place while his body is in another.

I’m Mama Bear. This is what I’m supposed to do.

But I also know that mama bears also push their kids out of the den. They push them toward the fullness of life. They let their cubs experience the real world, in all its grit and glory.

And they let them sit with the stark reality of the cross, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable, even if it’s not their favorite part of the story.

So, for today, I too am choosing to see the God die thing, even if it’s not my first choice.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25.)

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* = I’m a seven on the Enneagram, if you can’t tell.

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cara-meredithCara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the San Francisco Bay Area. Co-host of the Shalom Book Club podcast and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she is passionate about racial justice and reconciliation, the great outdoors and dinner around the table with people she loves. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

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Dealing with Issues

issues

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Make Me A Leper

[Today’s guest post is from my friend Aleah Marsden, who brings us a reflection on God’s provision, our cynicism, and the way of a leper.]

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Sitting in Starbucks, spicy Chai latte in hand, I flip open my soft leather bound Bible to 2 Kings 7.

There’s a famine. The Syrians have camped themselves outside the wall while the people inside are literally starving to death. As the king of Israel walks along on the wall—perhaps formulating a new plan of attack, or perhaps considering jumping off—he is abruptly faced with a dispute between women who have boiled one’s son and ate him. The other has not followed through on her end of the bargain to boil her son for food now. A desperate, nauseating and horrific time in the history of God’s people.

The king blames the prophet Elisha for all these problems, and by association the king is blaming God. He sends his right hand man to go kill Elisha. But then the prophet Elisha receives word from the Lord that this time tomorrow food is going to be so abundant it will be sold at bargain-bin prices, even though at the moment a donkey head was being sold for eighty shekels of silver. (Pre-famine you could have bought a whole live horse for 150 shekels.) These people were living in a desperate space where half a liter of dove poop was being sold for what an average worker would earn in six months of wages.

Elisha tells the good news to the king’s right hand man, a captain, and the captain doesn’t believe him. Even if God broke heaven open, how could there possibly be that much food overnight? The prophecy was impossible. Too good to be true.

Scene change: Night has fallen. There are three lepers sitting outside the city gate, weighing their future options. If they stay outside the city, they will die. If they go in the city, they will die. If they go seek mercy from the Syrian army, they will probably die. Well, probably dying versus certainly dying is good enough odds for them. They make their way to the battlegrounds and are amazed to find the entire Syrian army has deserted their extensive camp.

Scripture tells us that God did this. He made the Syrian troops hear the sound of a vast army marching against them. They lost their heads and tore off, leaving everything behind.

The lepers unknowingly walk into a feast. They eat and drink until they’re content. Then they start hauling off the riches of the camp and ferreting it away in caves. They continue operating under this game plan until one of them says, “We are not doing this right. This is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.”

They call to the gatekeepers and declare the good news. Word travels to the king’s chambers and gets him out of bed. He’s convinced it’s a trap. They Syrians are attempting to lure them out. So he sends out a search party, who finds, behold, the army has indeed fled, leaving a trail of garments and equipment stretching all the way back to the Jordan.

It’s true: there is provision waiting outside the city walls. The starving residents awake to plunder the camp; in their frenzy, they trample to death the doubting captain – the king’s right hand man – standing in the gate.

I sip my tea and take another bite of the sugar-sprinkled, slightly bitter scone. About as far from starving as you can be.

Forgive me, Father. For I am often like the captain. I doubt what God is capable of. I see the size of the army outside. I know the price of meat in the market. I do not see how the entire world could possibly be transformed overnight. Forgive my scarcity mentality. Even if God were to open the Heavens it would not be enough. I have given up hope. I lack faith. Forgive me, Father. Help me in my unbelief.

Forgive me, Father. For I am often like the king. I am cynical and slow to trust good news, quick to assume the worst of others. Quick to assume the worst of Your plan for me. I would rather gather all the information before I act. I want to fully understand what You are doing, I want to count the cost before I’ll commit to move. I think I can understand the mind and mysteries of God. I believe my risk aversion will protect me. I am proud. Forgive me, Father. Help me in my selfishness and self-sufficiency.

Father, make me like the lepers. Make me like the least of these among your people. Give me empty hands that I would not be weighed down nor held back. That I would live a life of worthy risk, of exposing vulnerability, knowing I truly have nothing to lose. Humble me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Make me brave enough to seek you outside the city, outside my comfort zone. Make me generous with the riches you provide, always seeking to share the good news of the treasure outside the walls.

For Jesus, my Savior—the Son of God who lived a righteous life—He died outside the city walls. And the scripture tells us that God also did this: He raised Him to life, chasing away the threat of sin and death. Leaving in death’s wake an eternal feast and treasure waiting for us.

And the doubters didn’t recognize their Messiah. They had no imagination for a kingdom other than the one they could see and taste and touch and smell. This kind, humble carpenter couldn’t be the man who was going to change the world. He couldn’t even get himself off the cross.

And the prideful sought to protect themselves. Quick to assume the worst: Jesus is working on the authority of demons. They chose to defend their way of life, even at the risk of their people spiritually starving to death, even if it meant killing an innocent man.

And in the backwards economy of God’s kingdom, those best off are those with nothing to lose. The ones who seek the kingdom and do not hoard its treasures for themselves, but go and proclaim the good news to those still sleeping in the city. Those best off declare the good news to the starving: there is bread which truly satisfies out there! All you who are starving to death run through the narrow gate to life!

Father, open our eyes to the reality of your kingdom, of what you have done; more present than impossible. Keep us from the doubt of worldly captains, from obsession with the comfort and safety of kings. May we be as humble and openhanded with our futures as the lepers. Trusting in your patience, may we continually call out to the ones still waiting, still watching at the gate.

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aleah-marsdenAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up before 5am to study scripture and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She shares stories of life, faith, and Bible study on her blog, and is also the Director of Communications at Living Bread Ministries as well as the Social Media Manager at Redbud Writers Guild. You can also chat with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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