A young woman in a relationship asks “What’s OK and what’s sinful?  Thinking about his inherited faith, a college student declares “not my parents’ faith!”  A recent grad moans “Another day, another dollar.  Is that all there is?”

“Spring of Christian Life: Understanding the Faith Journey of Younger Adults” is a LifeCrossings resource (participant book and leader’s guide) that contains six sessions for church discussion groups.  The table of contents for “Spring” reads like a list of some of the most challenging issues in early adult life:  “Who am I becoming?”, “The Searching Years”, “Sexuality – God’s Good Gift”, “Values for a Technological Age”, “Another day, another dollar – Is that all there is?” and “Developing Faith amid Questions.” 

Christian Scharen, M.Div., Ph.D., writes in the Foreword “They (the authors) go for depth along side the simplicity of their approach.  No easy answers here, or prematurely resolved challenges.  They instead use trusted ‘travel guides’ who are well-known theologians and biblical scholars, psychologists and sociologists, turning their insights into carefully set out bits of insight at just the right moment in order to keep the conversation going deeper into the complex issues those in the ‘spring’ of life now face.”

In session 1 a Christian college student describes her rebellion against her parents expectations and her roller coaster faith journey and we ask “How can your Christian community become a place of acceptance and refuge for the prodigals and support their faith journey?”  In the story “Not My Parents’ Faith” in session two another college student rejects the insincerity he sees in his parents’ church, but expresses admiration for the more honest faith journey of others.  The key question here is “How do churches assist those wrestling with questions of faith?”

The contrast between one Biblical picture of our sexuality in Song of Solomon extolling the blessings and pleasures of God’s gift of sexuality and another picture in I Corinthians of our bodies as members of Christ forms the foundation of the session titled “Sexuality – God’s Good Gift”.  The discussion explores the tension between these two Biblical viewpoints and how the church can support its members in living out their sexuality.

Session 4 on technology considers religious use of the media, ethical issues related to the power of the media, consumerism, privatism and compulsive behavior.  Stories from the world of work form the foundation for session 5.  “Is my job my identity?  Could I use my gifts better in a different job?  Work: survival or vocation?  Is work central in my life?  Do I have a calling?”

The last session, “Developing Faith Amid Questions”, focuses on “faith stages” or “ways of believing” as a structure for thinking about maturing faith.  A reading points out important influences on one’s faith development.

Click here for more details on this terrific resource for church discussion groups.

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We continue our review of Lester Brown’s recent book The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy (Earth Policy Institute; W.W.Norton & Company publishers, 2015).

In our previous blog we reviewed some of the downsides of non-renewable energy from burning fossil fuels, especially their contributions to global warming.   Now we turn to renewable energy: 33% of global electricity generation is due to renewable (hydroelectric, wind, biomass, solar) and nuclear energy.  An important reason for the rise of renewables is their increasing price competitiveness and negligible contribution to global warming. 

World solar capacity is growing at 60% per year! (p. 34).  The cost of solar electricity is now less than 1/100 of the cost in 1972.  Panel prices have decreased by about two-thirds since 2008 (p. 68-69).  Brown details trends around the world as follows: (1) one out of seven houses in Australia has rooftop solar, (2) utility sized solar power plants are multiplying around the world and becoming ever larger, (3) solar is providing 7% of Germany’s electricity, (4) China is positioned to lead the world in solar installations, (5) shared “community” solar projects are being installed in the United States, and (6) home builders are building and promoting solar-equipped houses in Japan and the United States.  The author also points out that for those parts of the world that are not connected to an electricity grid or that have unreliable electricity, solar power offers an opportunity to bypass building a grid and instead have independent electricity generation.  This is similar to what has happened with cell phones bypassing the necessity for interconnected telephone lines.

“The sun-light striking the earth’s surface in just one hour delivers enough energy to power the world economy for one year” (p. 69).

Several items in Brown’s chapter on generating electricity from wind caught our attention.  The footprint (land area occupied) of the turbines and access roads is only about 1% of the land area of a wind farm project leaving the rest for crops.  Royalties are high enough for farmers and other landowners in the United States so that finding development land for wind farms is not a limiting factor.  The author asserts that the three states of North Dakota, Kansas and Texas have enough wind to provide electricity for the entire United States.  Iowa and South Dakota now provide more than 25% of their electricity from wind.  In Denmark wind generated 34% of the country’s electricity in 2013 and in Portugal wind generated 25%.  In three northern states in Germany wind provides more than 50% of the electricity for those states.  The potential of wind is impressive.  “A 2009 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that at the global level, on-shore wind farms could supply 40 times the electricity the world uses each year” (p. 87).

Much of the encouraging information in Brown’s book points to increasingly rapid progress in converting from fossil fuels to wind and solar for the world’s electricity production.  However, humanity as a whole does not realize the importance of everyone’s efforts to mitigate the increasingly catastrophic effects that climate change will bring.  Lester Brown concludes “As we were wrapping up this book, … we realized we are in a race.  It is a race between tipping points.  Can the world’s economies move to wind and solar fast enough to avoid crossing key thresholds that could cause climate change to spiral out of control?” (p. xiv)  Green Energy Ohio is working toward the goal of 50% renewable energy use by 2030.  This kind of urgency needs to happen in Ohio and throughout the world.

In a subsequent blog we will review what one church is doing to encourage environmental awareness and action.

Please share your ideas by responding in the comments section.
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We have previously published blogs on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si as well as stories of establishing solar panels in the church environment and the home environment. Sometimes the individual efforts seem small compared to the huge change that needs to occur quickly if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.  Yet, many individual efforts to change our world energy economy seem to be adding up to something significant.  We would like to share some information and insight from Lester Brown’s recent book The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy (Earth Policy Institute; W.W.Norton & Company publishers, 2015).
Brown reviews what is happening in the energy economy around the world with a chapter on each of the primary sources of energy.  We will include some information on coal, oil and natural gas in this blog.  Burning of these fuels causes carbon dioxide to increase in earth’s atmosphere causing temperature increases across the globe and the melting of polar ice.

The United States is the world leader in oil consumption, equaling the combined use of Japan, China and India (p.22).  Total world oil use is still climbing but declining rates in Germany, Japan and the United States offer some hope for an overall decline in oil use. Germany leads the way with a 29% decline between 1979 and 2013.  In the U.S. several trends are leading to less use of gasoline: increased use of public transportation and decreased use of private vehicles for commuting, more people working from home, driving distances decreasing, fewer teens getting drivers licenses, car sharing schemes, increasingly fuel efficient vehicles including those with electric motors and gas-electric hybrids, and increased use of bicycles including bike sharing programs in many cities and campuses (pp. 24-33).

China uses more coal than all the rest of the world together (p. 48).  Use of coal as a fuel causes lung disease for miners, air pollution, and pollution-caused illnesses.  Coal use in many European countries is decreasing and coal-fired generating facilities in the United States are being closed at an increasing rate.  However, coal use in the developing world is increasing, especially in India.  China, the world’s largest coal user, seems to be near peak usage and a decline is anticipated in the future (pp. 44-49).  In some areas natural gas is being substituted for coal or oil.  “… U.S. natural gas production has boomed in recent years.  The increase in production has led to a drop in prices for the fuel, which in turn lures utilities away from coal.  But natural gas is only a short-term stopgap.  Like coal, gas is a depletable resource, one whose full environmental damage is slowly being uncovered.  … recent research suggests that methane leaks all along the supply chain can make natural gas even more climate-disrupting than coal”  (pp. 40-41).  Methane is a more efficient contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide but has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere.

Brown points out that in 2013 world governments subsidized the fossil fuel industry by more than $600 billion while spending only $120 billion for renewable energy (p. 12).  Reversing this balance would do a lot for global warming without spending more.  We will review the current situation with renewable energy sources in our next blog.

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What is a case study?  It starts with a true story or description of a situation in which choices or decisions have to be made by the discussion participants. The case is constructed in a manner that allows learners to become deeply involved in the story and become de-facto decision makers.  Because discussion of alternatives is embedded, the case approach also encourages learning from each other in the group.  One gets to “take ownership, to feel the pressure, to recognize the risks, and to expose your ideas to others.”*

Although case study learning is common in business schools, medical colleges and other disciplines, it is not commonly used for adult learning in churches.  It should be - due to its power to encourage critical thinking, to learn from other participants, to develop reasoned choices, and to influence behavior.  People in churches frequently make important decisions about everything from upkeep of the property to deciding whether a particular service program needs to be modified or ended or replaced.  Using case studies from stories other than one’s own allows for practice in individual and group decision making.  Case studies meet all of the “eight key points for adult learning in churches”. (http://www.lifecrossings.com/2/post/2014/05/how-are-adults-learning-in-your-church.html)

LifeCrossing’s Winter of Christian Life: The Generations Consider Difficult Choices contains a case study that spans five of the seven sessions.  In the first session we learn that “Mom” is an elderly invalid confined to wheelchair and bed at home.  After learning about her medical condition, participants are asked to discuss what is ahead for Mom and husband/caretaker Henry.  What are key preparations that must be made?  What should they discuss with their three adult children?  Already participants in the discussion group are beginning to feel like one of the family.

In the second session Mom’s deteriorating medical situation is described in more detail and then participants are asked to put themselves in Mom’s slippers and describe how they would feel.  “Have you ever been dependent on others for care or support?   What was it like?”  In the third session the focus is on Henry, the care-giver.  He does just about everything for Mom and discussion participants are asked “Have you ever been a caregiver?”  How did you feel?  Who is helping Henry care for Mom?  How much help should he expect from family members?

In session four we see Mom deteriorating to the point that the family must make a life-or-death decision about hospitalization for her heart failure and other medical problems.  The family, including children and their spouses, is told that Mom’s death is near.  To help the discussion group get ready for further decisions, a thorough analysis of end-of-life alternatives is included from an ethical and religious perspective.  Those further decisions come in session five when Mom’s continuing decline forces a series of family choices about removing life support and allowing Mom to die.  As the discussion group analyzes the details of the medical information and the choices to be made, they literally put themselves in the shoes of the family members in this true story.

“The kind of study and reflection this course offers is a way to prepare.  It is a chance to take counsel with one’s own thoughts and absorb the contributions of others before being thrown into an end of life situation, too tired and emotionally drained to function.”  James M. Childs, Jr.,  Professor Emeritus, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, OH.  This quote describes well the power of the case study approach for adult learning.

*Learning with Cases by Louise A. Mauffette-Leenders, James A. Erskine & Michiel R. Leenders, Richard Ivey School of Business, Univ. Western Ontario (1997).

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Guest blog by Rev. Julie Reuning-Scherer, ELCA pastor, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Newington CT

The gathering was just a week after a nearby mosque had been shot overnight.  The bullets penetrated the walls of the mosque, but no one had been in the building at the time of the shooting. The FBI was conducting an investigation; the mosque was nonetheless open the next day for prayer as usual.  With this as the backdrop, the interfaith thanksgiving gathering hosted at this mosque in Berlin, Connecticut seemed timely.  This year, the mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims who usually attended were joined by Hindus and the Church of the Latter Day Saints. 


 The representatives told stories of abundance and spoke of the need to join together to stand against violence and to stand up for religious freedom.  We remembered how the people who celebrated the first Thanksgiving were in many ways refugees, fleeing religious persecution.  We shared prayers for peace and for the refugees who today seek safety from the brutality of violence in the name of religion.  http://iaghhighlights.weebly.com/thanksgiving-gathering-2015.html

The voices were many and varied.  The planners of these interfaith gatherings no longer plan a ‘lowest common denominator’ worship service.  Instead, each speaker is welcome to share scripture, prayer, or thoughts from their own tradition.  Others can join in if they wish, or simply ‘listen in,’ if that is what is most comfortable for them.  After the reception, the Muslim community invited attendees to observe the prayer Muslims share five times a day.  While we express ourselves in different ways and have different points of view, we found that sharing our differences, rather than pretending that they do not exist, helped us to appreciate one another and make connections.  One attendee expressed the sentiment of many when she said, “This gathering restored my faith in humanity and religion.”

Pope Francis made headlines as he visited a mosque in the Central African Republic this week, saying, “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters; we should act as such.”  Brothers and sisters do not always agree, but they do care for one another and share mutual goals around the needs and joys of the family.  Pope Francis spoke a central point of all religions: that we are one human family.  At the interfaith thanksgiving, we had a taste of what that means.

Today’s question:  Several key points for adult learning are exemplified in this blog.  What are they?  See a previous blog for possibilities: http://www.lifecrossings.com/2/post/2014/05/how-are-adults-learning-in-your-church.html

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“Most of us leave no time for introspection, reflection, or any kind of contemplation of the meaning or lack of meaning in our lives, about who we really are apart from the roles we play in life, about God, about death.  And yet we are here to grow and to become the person we have always been destined to be.” (Kathleen A. Brehony, Awakening at Midlife: Realizing Your Potential for Growth and Change).

What gives meaning to your life?  Is it your job, your family, your church?  Or is it the golf course, your favorite sports team, or the concert hall?  Is it travel, learning something new, or learning about others?

For many people midlife and retirement years trigger a more serious search for meaning.  Questions become more urgent.  Do I have the right goals?  What about the ones I will never achieve?  What needs changing in my life?  What about my spiritual life?  And ----- what about death?

From a Biblical perspective there are at least 23 “one another” phrases in the New Testament that speak of what is important in life.  “Welcome one another, comfort one another, be at peace with one another, build one another up, forgive one another, pray for one another, have fellowship with one another” are a few of these.

Several authors concur on what makes later years in life worth living:
* Love, friendship and compassion towards others give meaning for all ages.
* Successful aging means using effectively the capacities that remain and adjusting to the inevitable losses.
* Older people find meaning by staying active and involved in life.
* Older people have valuable stories and wisdom to pass on to younger generations – including one’s faith in a loving and forgiving God.
* Older people should be “moral conservators” serving the young and the future by passing on the best of society and knowledge.  We could include our previous post on solar panels under this rubric. http://www.lifecrossings.com/2/post/2014/12/congregational-learning-leads-to-solar-panels.html

Want to hear stories of others and have the opportunity to share your thoughts about the quest for meaning in life?  Check out Autumn of Christian Life: Finding Meaning and Joy Amid Change and Loss from LifeCrossings,  http://www.lifecrossings.com/autumn-of-christian-life.html, and use it in a small group or class in your church.  Autumn of the year is a great time to get started!

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Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ – On Care for our Common Home, has many themes among its 184 pages.  We will focus on just one: there is urgent need for action at all levels of society across the globe.  The following quotes are a beginning for our learning. (Encyclical paragraph numbers are noted.)

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” (25)

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” (26)

“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.  We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.” (202)

The encyclical goes well beyond global warming.  However, the need for action on global warming is indeed urgent and the consequences for inaction are huge.  What do Christians need to learn to motivate action?  Is it the understanding that global warming threatens huge disruptions and catastrophes, some of which are probably occurring already?  Or is it that individual actions make a difference?

In two previous blogs we have shared stories of the learning involved in our own installation of solar panels in our home (http://www.lifecrossings.com/2/post/2014/12/congregational-learning-leads-to-solar-panels.html ) and the learning involved with the installation of solar panels at a church in California (http://www.lifecrossings.com/2/post/2015/08/congregational-learning-leads-to-solar-at-church.html ).  Thus far, three friends have decided to install solar panels as a result of the learning we received in our Christian community.  Others are seriously considering similar action.  As these examples show, much can be done at the personal and local levels.

What will encourage people to act?  What if better incentives were created to encourage builders to include renewable energy components in new homes, businesses or factories?   What if incentives were created for a huge tree-planting program?  What if incentives were created so that utilities would generate at least 30% of their electricity from renewable resources rather than fossil fuels within a few years?  What can we do to encourage congress to renew the 30% income tax credit incentive for individual homeowners to install solar power (current incentive ends in Dec. 2016)?   What kinds of urgent action should church bodies be taking?  

Please share your ideas by responding in the comments section.

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                            HERE?                                                                         HERE!!!
Guest blog by Dr. Eric Jurgenson
“In the red”, “coming up short”, “making ends meet”, “over-budget”, “in the hole”. We have so many idioms, it is clear we’ve all struggled with scarcity at some point in our lives. This scarcity could come in our personal finances or our business contracts. It can come in our social organizations and it can even show up in our congregations. Scarcity thinking has both practical and moral aspects.

In the fall of 2012, our church (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Livermore CA) was facing a scarcity threat. We were running a 10% deficit. Tensions ran high at council meetings. What could we do about it? Why is giving down? Why has attendance fallen? Where is this all leading? One month, the topic came to a head. Our financial secretary laid out the deficit situation. What are we going to do about this? The finance committee and the property committee had been talking together about how to cut operating costs and the electric bill came under scrutiny. The existing furnace and AC units were nearing their end of life and costing a hefty monthly bill. Then we heard the magic words: “We think we should go solar!” Others added, “This will also help with global warming, a threat to God’s creation!”

Now, this story is set in intra-coastal California and the members are blessed with 330+ days of sunshine a year. (But, don’t let that stop you from thinking this could work for you too!) Several members already had small residential systems on their own homes. So there was some experience with such systems. But a project of this scale is quite a risk if it doesn’t pan out.

The plan called for a combination of a capital donation drive and a mortgage refinance (at historically low rates) that would raise $140k for the solar system equipment and the new HVAC units. Of course, there were naysayers. The format we chose was to ask for $1000 pledges toward the system. I heard plenty of off hand grumblings like “we just don’t have that kind of money right now”. And, unfortunately, too many of those were from individuals who had no problem affording new iPads for their kids. Other voices said, “If we have budget problems, why are we buying all this expensive stuff?” It was evident that some learning was needed on the difference between an expenditure and an investment.

Now, a new idiom applies here: “Go big or go home!” Most people can see when a plan has been well thought out and organized and they are willing to take a risk. More importantly, most of our members knew the power of their faith. When everyone chips in a bit extra, it amounts to a lot! We raised over $70k on pledges alone, in 4 months time! A well chosen contractor made everything go smoothly. Much work was done to improve efficiency throughout the church campus, by exchanging old light bulbs for LEDs and making sure insulation was appropriate. Between the utility savings and the mortgage refinance our budget was reduced by 10% and our deficit gap was closed!

Like any project, none of it would have happened without the champions on the finance and property committee who kept the long term benefits front and center for us. It could have dragged on for months while we struggled to raise the cash and perhaps became disenchanted with the promised benefits. The project champions who led our plans to fruition became enablers of our faith.

In this instance the congregational learning that took place was remembering that God has endowed us with a multitude of resources and that we have an obligation to use them for the common good. We do not remember or account for many of these resources when we add up our balance sheets. Even our own human creativity is a resource that enables novel solutions. When we face a moment of scarcity, we have to stop and remember what resources we are forgetting.  When a project like this succeeds, many of us finally step back and say “Wow, it’s amazing this worked out! Look what we did together!” Every time someone has a moment like that, they have learned something about how God works through people every day.

Question for the day: Do you remember a time of scarcity in your personal or community life? How was it resolved? How did people react? What remembering or relearning occurred? What impact did your faith have? How did your faith grow?

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It has been a little more than one year that we have been blogging on the theme “Church as a Learning Community.”  We have focused on the factors that facilitate learning, not only as an individual, but primarily as a group of religious people living in a secular American culture.  With this background, perhaps now is a good time to evaluate the learning in your own church.  Is there real community learning going on that leads to change and action? 

Rate your church: Excellent, OK or Needs work.  Make note of your answers.
E  OK  N   1. Our Christian community expects to be different from much of current culture since we live in the freedom of Christ’s resurrection.
E  OK  N   2. Mutual forgiveness and attention to the needs of the other person are hallmarks of our Christian community.
E  OK  N   3. We discuss important moral issues rather than arguing, pretending they do not exist, or being told what to think.
E  OK  N   4. We work for the common good through small group ministries and partnerships with community groups, social service agencies and other churches.
E  OK  N   5. We do more than tolerate the Questioning Christian.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss the ambiguities of life.
E  OK  N   6. We know that grateful giving can lead us to new faith commitment.
E  OK  N   7. We are stewards of God’s creation as well as our personal and community resources.

It’s good to have an honest look at ourselves from time to time.  If there are areas that need work in your “learning community,” check out our curricula http://www.lifecrossings.com/books-for-groups.html  and the comments of those who have used them. http://www.lifecrossings.com/user-comments.html

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We humans like to avoid thinking about the difficult issues of our time.  We often feel inadequate and wonder if we can really make a difference.  One of these issues is that our American democracy is not working as well as it should for everyone in our society.  Most of us just prefer to choose sides in the political arena rather than trying to analyze what would work best for the common good.  This behavior can also be observed with respect to the environment, questions of war and peace, questions of societal morals, and others.  Really important stuff! 

George Johnson tackles this behavior head on in “Idols in the Church: Possible Blindspots in our Theology and Practice,” a chapter in the book Courage to Think Differently.  Pastor Johnson uses a “no holds barred” approach as illustrated by this quote: “Why hasn’t the religious community taken more leadership in changing the values and structures that have messed up our world?”  He then goes on: “In spite of all our charity and grace preaching we continue to dominate others, put profit before people, destroy the environment and support the status quo.  Working to end poverty is not part of our theological discussion.”  WOW! 

These strong words can provide an emotional aspect that helps motivate us to learn and to act.  Such huge problems really need our attention.  But that is only the start.  Pastor Johnson continues by discussing several “idols” in the church that inhibit our learning and our influence on big, difficult issues.  His idols include: how Christians use the Bible; the church focusing on itself; focusing on sacraments rather than feeding the poor; emphasizing grace to the exclusion of making a difference in the world; and worshiping Jesus (he never asked us to) while not following Jesus (he did ask us to do this!).  Learning how these “idols” affect our actions or lack of action is the beginning of having influence on difficult issues.

There is much to be learned by confronting the difficult issues of our time.  Courage to Think Differently is a good place to start. www.adventurepublications.net

Like Courage to Think Differently, Lifecrossings curricula address significant problems for Christians living in American culture.  Lifecrossings Resources use a unique approach when difficult issues are addressed in a Christian educational setting.  The following “key points for adult learning in churches” apply to significant cultural problems: (1) consequences are great, stakes are high, (2) one’s attention is problem centered rather than subject centered, (3) questions are raised that connect to deeper understanding and application to life and (4) emotions are strongly involved. (http://www.lifecrossings.com/2/post/2014/05/how-are-adults-learning-in-your-church.html)

The challenges of being a Christian community, of dealing with the “busyness” of society, and of making wise choices regarding our sexuality are examples where the difficulty of the challenge motivates us to learn.  LifeCrossings deals with this by using questions that connect story, drama and readings with the life stories of participants, which are then shared in order to facilitate group learning.  The success of this method has been validated in field testing.  Check out our curricula http://www.lifecrossings.com/books-for-groups.html  and the comments of those who have used them. http://www.lifecrossings.com/user-comments.html

Today’s question: What significant issue do you want to discuss and act upon?  How will you begin to learn about the issue?  Can you involve your church? 

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