Tag Archives: Legalism

Controlled Comparison

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the connections between legalism and narcissism is the use of comparisons to manipulate. You will find a system of comparisons at work in legalistic churches and narcissistic workplaces, besides families and even marriages. And, somehow, you are always losing the comparison.

The most beautiful women will find ways to lose in comparison with others. So will the most successful men. As long as comparisons exist, there is a way for you to lose.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a funeral home. I watched as the salesperson talked through the purchase of a casket with a grieving family. First they went to the most expensive casket, a beautiful example of fine craftsmanship with an exorbitant price. Then they went to the cheapest caskets, the ones designed for and sold to those who have no money to spend. The family couldn’t afford the most expensive and couldn’t imagine using the cheapest. So they were left with the idea that they either have to break the bank or feel terrible. Then the salesman took them to the casket he really wanted to sell them. It looked very much like the most expensive one, but the price tag, while still high, was much more manageable. By making easy and regular payments, the family could feel good and still pay other bills.

Anyone who has bought a car off the lot or a house through the realtor has experienced this kind of controlled comparison. It is a process of manipulation by pushing you to feel either good about yourself or bad about yourself.

When the legalist sets up a controlled comparison, it will often be a model family or an individual who has exemplified the values of the church or legalist system. For example, one man is particularly mentioned as a great witness because he shares tracts with everyone he meets. Everyone else compares poorly to him. The model family is lifted up because of their well-behaved children, their showroom house, or their debt-free living (or all three). You don’t measure up to them. In either case, the comparison is carefully controlled for you. You are not to compare yourself with everyone. You are certainly not to look for others against whom you can compare yourself favorably. (Of course, that’s just what happens because people want to feel better about themselves, but that’s another post.) No, you are supposed to get the message about your inferiority and adjust your actions accordingly.

The narcissist can find fault with everyone, we know this. But when he or she wants to find fault with you, the controlled comparison is offered. “Why can’t you be more like him or her?” you are asked. “The neighbor’s have a nicer house than ours, but he makes more money.” “I don’t know why you can’t do it, she can.”

Remember: the controlled comparison is just that – controlled. It is not real. You will always compare unfavorably against someone in some way. If you look for that, you will find it. At the same time, others compare unfavorably to you in some way. The narcissist and the legalist use our fear of comparisons to manipulate us.

But once you understand what is happening, how phony the system is, you can become free. Yes, you compare well against some and poorly against others – so stop comparing! If the neighbors have a nicer house than yours, good for them. If your co-worker seems to be able to sell more than you, good for him. So what? Knowing that you will never win the game can set you free from the game.

Stop comparing yourself to others and stop using comparisons as a way to manipulate. It never works. It doesn’t motivate, and it doesn’t lead to health. Rejoice in the blessings others enjoy. Do something to encourage those who have less. But don’t let yourself get sucked into a system designed to manipulate you.

You will be amazed at the power of the freedom from comparisons.

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Bait And Switch

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I just had the pleasure of listening to a song entitled “Love is Here,” by Tenth Avenue North. Great lyrics!

“Come to the water, you who thirst, and you’ll thirst no more. Come to the Father, you who work, and you’ll work no more.”

This is the message of the gospel of Jesus. This is the life-fulfilling promise we have to share.

But, as I listened, I realized that so many who try to come to that water in their thirst find only more dryness; and so many who come to the Father to lay aside their works are given more work to do. This is the perversion of the gospel by the legalist churches. They promise one thing but give another.

And it struck me again how much legalism and narcissism are linked. You get into the relationship because you think there is love and acceptance, only to find that you are abused again. You trust because of the kind words and tender promises, but those words prove to be lies.

When I meet people who have been convinced that the God who loves them only loves them when they perform a certain way or amount, I get angry. I know they came to the church, to the Christian faith, because of hope and found a greater burden.

And when I meet people who have been abused by narcissists, I feel much the same. They came expecting rest and peace in a good relationship and found pain and fear. Whether it is in marriage, at work, or in a family, narcissism promises one thing and delivers another.

In the world, that’s called the “bait and switch.” You might see it at the car lot. One car is advertised but really isn’t available. Then you are taken to the real car covered by the special sale. When you read the fine print it doesn’t actually say that the first car was for sale. It was just a trick to get you onto the lot.

The real problem with the bait and switch is that it breaks trust. I have stores I will never go to again because they have baited me too many times. It took a while, but I learned. Not only will I not return to those stores, I will also be a lot more wary when I read the ads of others.

In the same way, some people have given up on the Christian faith altogether because they found greater burdens and less love than they had in the world. They lost their trust in the truth because of the lie.

And, in the same way, some find it very hard to trust any person because of the abuse suffered from the narcissist. Dating again, finding a new church, trusting co-workers: these are so hard after the narcissist.

All I can say is that the truth is only covered by the lie, not destroyed. The love of God is real. The message of hope is true. There are people who are kind and caring and accepting. The real deal is out there. Please, even while you doubt and try to protect yourself, seek the truth.

“Love is here: Love is now; Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow. Love is near; it satisfies; streams of mercy flowing from His side.”

Don’t give up!

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That Obnoxious Person

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The folks over at Babylon Bee write satire in the form of news articles. This one fits our discussion so well!

Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk

 

The sad thing is that this article isn’t even as strong as the truth. Almost all of the obnoxious “witnesses” and “admonishers” I have known were actually proud of their offensiveness. Yes, they suffered rejection for Jesus, in their minds, but they loved being able to boast about that rejection. The more they suffered, the more they convinced themselves they were better than others. These “legalists” believed they were doing God’s work as they put others down.

Narcissists seem to be able to criticize freely and harshly without hesitation. They won’t do it in front of certain people, people they are trying to impress, but the criticisms flow as soon as the person leaves the room or the narcissist gets in the car. And, if you are unfortunate enough to be considered beneath the narcissist in status, you will probably receive obnoxious criticisms and comments openly and regularly.

And, as the article suggests, I have known narcissists/legalists who actually turn up their volume when they criticize in a public place. They claim they do it so the people around can have the benefit of their wisdom. But the truth is that they just want to embarrass their victim until he/she submits. The narcissist/legalist does not believe that a public spectacle will make them look bad; it will only make you look bad.

Scolding a teenager loudly in a restaurant, criticizing a customer in the grocery, ridiculing a cashier while checking out of the store, confronting the pastor as people shake his hand—these are public manipulations, expressions of superiority for all to see. While the rest of us would be ashamed to do such a thing, the narcissist/legalist uses the exposure to convince others of his/her righteousness and power.

Now, the hard part.

How do you handle this public display? Most of us will do almost anything to get them to shut up, including give in. But remember this: the loud critic exposes only himself as a jerk. We live in a culture where that is not considered good form. You don’t have to give in. You will be embarrassed either way, so why not make it clear that you are the victim in the situation? Ask: “Why are you doing this here in front of everyone?” Others are wondering the same thing. You don’t have to shout or cry. Just recognize the tactic for what it is.

Oh yes, there will probably be a price to pay for not playing your part in the situation. But you have to sort out the real cost of your actions. If you will be physically abused, then don’t leave that public place without some protection. And don’t go home with the abuser. But you may decide that you can endure the lecture on the way home, the rejection throughout the day or evening, or the angry scolding later. The narcissist/legalist doesn’t have to always get his/her way. Be careful. Just understand what the jerk is doing.

Oops!  One more thing!

As I read this after it posted I realized that sometimes the narcissist tries to get others to act irrationally in public places.  If, on reading this post, you wondered if you are the narcissist, but then realized that he/she provokes you to that point, please understand this.  Another tactic of the narcissist is to manipulate what you think of yourself and what others think of you by pushing you to the point where you react like someone out of control.  That doesn’t make you a narcissist.  It just shows that he/she is more covert, at least in public situations.  (Sometimes we have to respond loudly just to hear ourselves think above the confusion of the narcissist’s manipulations.)

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Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Many of us knew very well which were Mom’s “good scissors.” There were other scissors you could play with, use to cut paper or tape or cardboard, but not Mom’s good scissors. Those were for cutting cloth only.

I was trying to come up with a distinction between guilt and shame when I thought of Mom’s good scissors. Guilt was what came on you if you used those scissors, especially for something you shouldn’t. Shame was what came on you when you tried to cut your own hair with them. Guilt would get you a scolding or a spanking. Shame lasted much longer. Shame became an identity.

One of the common factors I discovered in both legalism and narcissism was the use of shame to manipulate others. In a world where acceptance is given on the basis of performance, shame punishes the person who is inadequate. Notice that the person is shamed, rather than the action or lack of action. Shame attaches directly to the person. Shame is the lopsided haircut that shows everyone you used Mom’s good scissors.

We know how to handle guilt. We confess, apologize, make restitution, and/or endure punishment. The church teaches that guilt, the judgment that comes against a certain action, has been washed away from us by the cross of Jesus. God, in His love for us, provided the sacrifice for our sins to wipe away our guilt. There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, the Scripture tells us. No more guilt.

But shame is different. Shame says that the person is bad. Shame is a label, an identity, we assume for ourselves. We wear it for others to see. We may even tell someone about it so they don’t miss it. “I am a bad person,” we say. It isn’t enough to simply admit to the sinful or hurtful act, to deal with our guilt, we want to go beyond the action to our identity.

And, of course, those who would manipulate us want us to live under the burden of shame. So the narcissist is not content with calling attention to failure and accepting an apology. No, he/she must be certain that we attach the identity of failure to ourselves. The victim must feel like a failure—and listen—no apology can take that away. The legalist preacher or church member cannot be satisfied with saying that a certain action is sin, he/she must add that the person who does such a thing is identified by that sin. Thus, an act of adultery, which could be handled in a relationship or church community, becomes a label of adulterer—and the person becomes the label.

The narcissist uses words like “always” and “never” to drive home the fact of identity. “You always fail.” “You never do it right.” Those statements are meant to give the person shame. Abusers use shame to manipulate their victims. Shame weakens and moves a victim to submit. If the person will not automatically (usually because of years of training) attach the shame to themselves, the abuser will push them to do it. “You should be ashamed!” “Shame on you!” “Look at you in your shame.” The narcissistic mother may punish the daughter who used her good scissors to cut her own hair by leaving the hair that way, at least as long as the image of shame is useful.

The legalist does the same thing. By labeling a person with his or her sin, the legalist weakens even a believer who accepts forgiveness for his or her action. “Yes, God forgives you for your adultery, but now you are and always will be an adulteress.” The dissonance between the freedom of the forgiveness of God and the feeling of permanency that comes with the label is confusing and irreconcilable. And, again, there is nothing to do about the label. If the sin is forgiven, then the label no longer fits—and here’s the rub—but it feels like it fits. That’s the shame. The narcissist and the legalist both take advantage of the shame to manipulate and abuse.

Now, this is a deep subject, much more than can be presented in a simple blog post. At the same time, the link between legalism (performance-based spirituality) and narcissism (performance-based relationship) becomes clear. As long as acceptance is based on performance, shame will be part of the deal.

Let me close with the message God has for those of us who so easily remember our sin. First, there is no shame for those who belong to Jesus. When your sin was washed away, the shame was taken as well.

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11

“But,” you say, “I still did those things. Someone who has lied is a liar. Someone who commits adultery is an adulterer. How can that change?” Read this carefully.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

You were those things, but no longer. You did those things, but you have been made new. The sin no longer clings to you as an identity. You no longer need to feel shame.

Is this possible? It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? All I know is that this is the promise of our Lord. If He says that your sins are washed away, then they are. If He says you and I are no longer what we were, then that is the truth.

Don’t let anyone shame you! Don’t accept the shame the abusers want you to live. If you have done something wrong, deal with it in the right way. Then trust that your forgiveness from the Lord is real and honest. That sin is no longer connected with you. It has been washed away. There is no shame in it for you.

Overcome the lie that binds you with the truth of God’s love.

 

 

(If you are interested in learning more about the message of grace, type Grace 101 in the search box on the side of this post.  You will find several posts that are meant to teach the basics of God’s grace in Jesus.)

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About Jesus

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Every so often, I have to go back to why I started this blog.  It actually did not start to be about narcissism.  It started because of the people I saw trapped in what I called “performance spirituality.”  That simply meant that they measured their spiritual health on the basis of their performance.  They were usually sad or angry and stuck on a treadmill that took them nowhere.  Some of them left the Christian faith, never having experienced the joy of a relationship with Jesus and never knowing that they were fully accepted in His love.  Some of them are still stuck in churches that demand performance in order to receive acceptance.

As I wrote about this idea of performance spirituality, which I called (and still call) “legalism,” I thought about the teachers and others who seemed to work hard to keep people under this burden.  I had learned about narcissism from counseling marriages, particularly among those who had lived and breathed this type of spirituality.  As I understood more about narcissism, and as I continued to try to understand this legalism, I saw a connection that made sense.  There are so many parallels between narcissists and legalists, and between the narcissistic relationship and the legalistic organization.

Quite surprising to me, my articles on narcissism hit a niche that needed to be served.  Many Christians have suffered from narcissistic connections in marriage, church, family, and friendships.  And many of those same people have found themselves part of the performance spirituality mindset.  They believed they had to perform in order to be accepted, to be loved.  But their best performance was never enough.  They paid for their failures with condemnation and shame and abuse.

This has always been a blog centered on the love of God in Jesus.  I believe the true gospel has been usurped by the idea of performance and the message of shame.  Most of those who have rejected the Christian faith, in my experience, have never even heard the truth about God’s love.  They have been told a lie, and that grieves me.

In much the same way, and not coincidentally, the victim of the narcissist has often not understood her/his own value as a person.  The insufficiency of their performance, and the shame and self-doubt that results from it, opens their hearts to the manipulation of those who claim to love them.  Growing up under the system that grants love on the basis of performance sets people up for narcissistic abuse, just like growing up under the teaching of performance sets a person up for legalistic abuse.

Now, I understand that the posts on narcissism are helpful for people outside the Christian faith, and I welcome you here and to our discussions.  It just seems important for me to state once again where the foundations of my heart and intent belong.  I believe that the unconditional love of Jesus is the answer for anyone.  Those who have never felt love without strings attached, who have never been accepted without performance, can come to Him and find both.

It isn’t about church or giving or commandments or measuring up—it’s about Jesus.  It isn’t even about your love for Him.  It’s about His love for you.

We are all broken and hurting people living lives of weakness and limitation.  We make stupid decisions and suffer the consequences.  Sometimes other people suffer the consequences of those stupid decisions.  Not only are we not perfect, we don’t really know what it means to be good.  All of us.

So we look to Jesus.  Our hope and promise are in Him, because we know very well that we can’t save ourselves.  I believe He loves me—One on one—a real relationship.  There is so much I do not understand, but I trust in His love.  And that makes all the difference.

I invite you to look to Jesus with me.  If I can help, send me a note.  I am already praying for you.

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Is it I, Lord?

Now it’s one of our own. Someone who encouraged us along the way of grace. Someone who understood and said good words. Someone God used to touch our hearts. Now a good ministry is over and a good name is stained.

When the offenders were of the other camp, the one we escaped, we saw their sin as part of their teaching. It seemed natural to associate sin with the rest of the characteristics we saw in them. Yes, some of what they did surprised us, even disappointed us; but it allowed a separation from them that we felt we needed. In a sense, their sin let us think of them as evil.

But now what? Now they will say bad things about someone we respected. Now they will say that our teaching is the problem. Now they will try to take the focus off what they did and point at us. It is tempting to point out the differences between their sin and ours, but we know in our hearts that the differences don’t really matter. The moment we thought ourselves to be better, we opened the door for the attack—just like they did.

Now we have to ask ourselves if our way is really any better. The way of grace was supposed to be better. As long as sin stayed in their camp, we could think of ourselves as better. We could reject their accusations as long as the sin stayed over there. Good people don’t do those things. We wanted to think of ourselves as good people.

But it’s more than that.

Now we have to grow up, and we have to understand the real message of grace.

Here’s the simple truth: as long as we are in this world, all believers will battle the flesh. The choice we have faced is whether we will live under condemnation because of that fact or under the joy of knowing the forgiveness and love of God in Jesus.

That needs some unpacking.

The flesh is the old way we learned life. The flesh in us believes that we need to solve our own problems, that we are identified by our actions, and that compromise reveals truth. When we hurt, the flesh offers us pleasure. When we are afraid, the flesh offers security. When we are angry, the flesh offers us vengeance. The flesh knows what will make us feel better.

But the flesh lies. It only knows the old way. Life without Jesus. The flesh tells us that compromise will alleviate pain. The flesh tells us that compromise reveals who we really are. Then the flesh tells us that more compromise will make us feel even better. Soon we find ourselves walking a path we never wanted.

Even believers. The flesh did not go away when Christ came in. Nor did it lose its power when we learned grace. Legalism gave power to the flesh because it offered a religious system that made sense. Legalism offered the promise of overcoming evil in our lives, but the flesh learned to substitute some sins with other sins Nothing in legalism gave us victory over the flesh.

And neither did grace. Learning that we are no longer under the law did nothing to take away the power of the flesh. Knowledge may bring us to freedom, but it does not give us victory. In fact, knowledge of grace has made some more judgmental than before, more confident in their errors, more bold in their sins. Knowing grace does not make us better.

Victory over the flesh is found only in the person of Jesus. Only as we learn to walk according to the living Holy Spirit, as the Bible teaches, will we learn to walk apart from the flesh. Even then, our progress is slow and inconsistent. A lifetime can be spent just learning to walk. The transformation of our thinking takes time. But we do learn, more and more, to take our pain to the One who loves us and to trust Him for our victory.

The choice between legalism and grace is not which will be better at rooting out the sin in our lives. The difference is between truth and error. Grace is the message of the Scriptures. We are free in Christ, fully forgiven and acceptable and secure and loved apart from our works good or evil. It is error to tell believers that they are under condemnation and law or that they are still eternally accountable for their sins. Grace is true.

The difference is whether we will live our lives in shame or in love. Will we cower in the presence of Jesus, or will we bask in the love of His heart? Will we see ourselves as loved and accepted, the way He sees us; or will we live on the edge of rejection and condemnation? Hope and peace lie in the realm of grace, because hope and peace come from Jesus.

********

So I still choose the message of grace because I know it is the message of Jesus. It still brings hope and peace and joy to my heart. It is still the truth of the Bible, the one message that flows consistently through the revelation of God.

Nothing has changed. Abuse is still sin, and so is adultery. A legalist who abuses does not make the abuse wrong. Abuse is wrong because it hurts others, no matter who does it. A grace teacher who commits adultery does not make adultery right. Adultery is wrong because it hurts others, no matter who does it. We must never rationalize or excuse sin just because the sinner is “on our side.”

If we learn anything from this, we must learn that judgment is not based on sin, but on response to the truth of God’s love in Jesus. Those who taught legalism and brought shame on so many will not be condemned because of their sins. If they are condemned, it will be because they have rejected Jesus. Sin has never been the real issue. The cross of Jesus took care of sin. The only issue is whether we will let the cross of Jesus be sufficient for us and the life of Jesus be exchanged for ours.

And, yes, even grace teachers will sin. Some will stain their ministries and cause suspicion on their message. Hopefully, grace teachers will find a strength to admit the truth and avoid blame. Some will not. Some will look so much like the legalists in their response to their sin that we will wonder about the differences. And, perhaps, we will see that sin is not different in the lives of those under the law and those under grace. The difference is in the hope. The difference is in the reality of the love of God in Jesus. Those who live apart from that reality will continue in shame, rejecting themselves and others. Those who live in the reality of God’s grace will look to Jesus and find forgiveness and peace.

The grace of God in Jesus is still sufficient for us.

Pray for those involved in these sins. Pray for each other. Look to Jesus and be thankful for His love. And when you fall or fail, look to Him and find that His acceptance and love have not changed.

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Better?

 

Children learn the use of comparatives and superlatives quite young, even though they may not know them as parts of speech. Something might be big, but another might be bigger. A comparison will have to be done to discern which is biggest. Big, bigger, biggest. Adjective, comparative, superlative.

For years we participated in a group that had a slogan boldly proclaimed at conferences and in literature.

“Giving the world a ‘new’ approach to life!”

The word “new” was always in quotes, as I remember. That’s because it didn’t really mean new. It meant “better.” At least that’s what we all were to think. People even quoted the slogan incorrectly, saying “Giving the world a better approach to life.” To be fair, I think the official idea was that the approach was not new, but ancient, since it came from the Bible. But the folks in the program—and the world outside—got the message that the way of this group was better.

And it wasn’t just a slogan. It was the theme of the whole ministry. Comparisons to the way of the world or even the rest of the church were constant. Everyone else was doing life wrong. Only the ones in the group were right. Story after story was told about how the ways of others failed and caused heartache. Story after story was told about how the way of the group was successful and wonderful. Money, marital happiness, family harmony, business success, and even national superiority could be attributed to the “better” way.

Now, if you are bold enough to suggest that your way is better, you should prepare for the challenge to be accepted. In other words, if you tell someone you have a better product or way of living, the burden is on you to prove it. The word “better” begs for comparison. That means analysis, observation, scrutiny, and testing. And you should remember that you started the comparisons.

In order to sell a better mousetrap, you have to establish that the old mousetraps have failings. Then you have to show that your mousetrap does not have those failings. And the makers of the others have the right to put your product to the test to see if you really do have something better. Any failing they find will probably be loudly hailed as proof that your mousetrap isn’t really all that much better.

So that brings me back to the Duggars. While I have a great deal of sympathy for the whole situation, particularly for the girls who were victims, I really am neither surprised nor troubled by the media attention given to their recent exposure. Yes, I think it is more than I want to read about or hear about. Yes, I think some people are taking advantage of their vulnerability. Yes, I think Jesus still loves each one of them. But none of us should be surprised at this widespread discussion.

When you challenge the whole world, don’t be surprised when the whole world responds!

The Duggars, faithful to the same group with the same slogan I once participated in, were willing to hold themselves as models for a “better” way of life, and they should be willing to pay the price of inquiry and analysis by those with whom they compared themselves. Bill Gothard, the teacher himself, experienced the same phenomenon. He proclaimed a “better” way, but failed to prove the comparison under examination—even in his own life.

The church is undergoing scrutiny by the eyes of a world no longer intimidated. The flaws of “superior” spirituality are becoming more evident. We have covered our sins and have failed to remove the log from our own eye. We have excused leaders and teachers and supported systems that deny the truth of our own inadequacies.

When spirituality is centered on behavior or performance, we provide for the world and our own people nothing more than a different list of rules than they have. Our list is better, we say. Follow our guidelines and you will avoid the errors and sins that have plagued you. The only problem is that our product does not compare all that well. Our list is just another list.

The Christian faith was never about a list. It was and is about a Person. According to the mystery, the Lord God loved us so much that He took on Himself humanity in the person of Jesus. Jesus, the love of God personified, offered life to those who would come to Him. Those who will admit their need, their inadequacy and failure, can find forgiveness, life, and joy in Him.

Christians are not better people than the rest of the world. Jesus is better. Our hope is not in our good, but in His good. Our forgiveness is not based on our love, but on His love. Our success is not based on our performance, but on His performance. Christians are forgiven, righteous, and hopeful—because of Jesus alone.

What Christians offer to the world is not a better list, but a Savior. The heart of our message depends on our willingness to confess our need. The flesh in us is still pulled to everything the world struggles against. But our hope is not in us or our ways. Our hope is in Jesus.

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