The Lord of the Rings: Spiritual Themes Part III

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Friendship

Today is the last in my series about the Lord of the Rings. The final chapter of the story is about friendship. I think friendship is an important part of life. Many of you are familiar with the Purpose-Driven Life. I think all five purposes could be considered different forms of friendship. Fellowship is obviously similar to friendship. Ministry is being a friend and serving people. Worship is about expressing our friendship with God, and evangelism and discipleship are basically introducing your mutual friends, "Bill, meet Jesus, Jesus, Bill," that's evangelism. "Now let's all get to know each other better." That's discipleship.

The problem with friendship is that it's hard. It's hard to find a friend and it's hard to be a friend. Proverbs 20:6 "Many proclaim themselves loyal, but who can find one worthy of trust?" We all walk around with such high opinions of ourselves and such low opinions of other people. Friendship requires two things: 1) we have to make other people higher, showing mercy and forgiveness, and 2) We have to make ourselves lower through humility and sacrifice. These are two things that God has done for us so he could be our friend.

Mercy

Before Frodo was born his uncle Bilbo took the ring of power from Gollum's cave. Gollum told Sauron that the ring had gone to a Baggins who lived in the shire, then Sauron sent out the Black Riders to find the ring. So when Frodo is forced to leave his home, it's because of Gollum's treachery. When the fellowship travels through the mines of Moria, Gollum begins following them. After all of the trouble that Gollum has caused, Frodo wishes that Bilbo had killed him when they first met. But Gandalf says something that stays with Frodo till the end. [Video:

Frodo: There’s something down there.
Gandalf: It’s Gollum.
Frodo: Gollum?
Gandalf: He’s been following us for three days.
Frodo: He escaped the dungeons of Barad-Dur!
Gandalf: Escaped? Or was set loose?
Gandalf: He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it.
Frodo: It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance!
Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?
Gandalf: Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.]

Later when Gollum attacks Frodo and Sam in the wilderness they are tempted to kill him, but Frodo remembers Gandalf's words and he shows mercy to the pitiful creature. As they get closer to Mordor the ring begins to take its toll on Frodo. He now gets a little taste of what Gollum's life has been like. He begins to have sympathy for Gollum. As Frodo comes to understand Gollum and really feel pity for him, Sam is getting more and more suspicious of Gollum. [Video:

Sam: Hey Stinker, don't go getting too far ahead!
Frodo: Why do you do that?
Sam: What?
Frodo: Call him names. Run him down all the time.
Sam: Because. 'Cause that's what he is, Mr. Frodo. There's naught left in him but lies and deceit. It's the Ring he wants. It's all he cares about.
Frodo: You have no idea what it did to him, what it's still doing to him. I want to help him, Sam.
Sam: Why?
Frodo: Because I have to believe he can come back.]

Because he was tempted by the ring, Frodo started to understand Gollum and he wanted to help him.

When Jesus was tempted in life, it made him sympathetic toward us. Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin." And Hebrews 2:18 says, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Because of his sympathy he showed mercy to us. And he wants us to do the same for other people. Jesus told a vivid story about this in Matthew 18:21-35:

21Then Peter came to him and asked, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?"
22"No!" Jesus replied, "seventy times seven!
23"For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25He couldn't pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. 26But the man fell down before the king and begged him, `Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.' 27Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28"But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. `Be patient and I will pay it,' he pleaded. 30But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full.
31"When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. 32Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, `You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?' 34Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.
35"That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart."

Jesus sympathized with our temptation and forgave us, and so he wants us to forgive other people, too. We can definitely relate to their temptations. So, like Jesus and Frodo, we should show mercy to our friends, and even to our potential friends. Sam lectured Frodo about the dangers of trusting Gollum, and people of his day were upset with Jesus for being friends with sinners. He said in Matthew 11:19, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."" You'll also get criticized for showing mercy. People will tell you that you'll be corrupted or that you're supporting their sin but you'll just be doing the same thing that Jesus did. He loved people, he showed them mercy. He was their friend. But Christians have always wanted to judge other people. That's why Paul had to write Romans 14:4- "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."

How did Frodo's mercy affect Gollum? Frodo had saved Gollum's life twice. Once from Sam and once from Faramir. Then the little beast led them into the lair of the giant spider. He betrayed Frodo. They didn't see him again until they were on Mt. Doom, almost to throw the ring in and destroy it. Frodo suddenly has a change of heart. He tells Sam that he's not going to destroy it, and he puts it on. He starts to leave and then Gollum appears and springs on him. Gollum bites Frodo's finger off and then he finally has the ring. He has given in to his addiction one last time and he's so excited that he can't keep from falling from the ledge. And so the ring is destroyed. Frodo has shown mercy to Gollum, but been doubly betrayed. God must feel some of this pain when we fail him time and time again. And yet he continues to be merciful to us. This pain is part of friendship. There will always be disappointment and betrayal, but true friends never stop working toward healing. When you heal a friendship, you'll heal yourself. In the end, Frodo didn't save Gollum's soul, but he may have saved his own.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice is an important part of friendship. It helped advance the quest several times. Gandalf gave up his life to help the fellowship escape Moria. Boromir tried to take the ring, but then he repented and gave up his life fighting to defend Merry and Pippin. When Frodo decided to leave the fellowship alone, Sam, who like most hobbits was very afraid of water, was willing to do anything to help his friend. [Video:

(Frodo closes his hand over the Ring, and puts it into his vest pocket. He pushes the boat into the river and jumps in. Just then, Sam emerges from the woods. He sees Frodo paddling away and runs after him)
Sam: Frodo no! Frodo! Mr. Frodo!
Frodo: No Sam. (continues to paddle away)
(Sam runs into the river after Frodo. Frodo, hearing the splashes, looks back)
Frodo: Go back Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.
Sam: Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!
Frodo: You can’t swim! Sam!(Sam struggles to swim then sinks into the water)
Frodo: Sam!!!(Sam sinks deeper and deeper. He sees the sun shimmering up on the surface. His arm floats limply as he descends into the water. Suddenly Frodo’s hand reaches down and grabs Sam’s wrist. . Sam tightens his hand around Frodo’s. Frodo pulls him out of the water and up into the boat and Sam tumbles in)
Sam (dripping and crying): I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise! "Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee." And I don’t mean to! I don’t mean to.
Frodo: Oh Sam! (hug) Come on. (Frodo and Sam paddle towards the eastern shore)]

Friends will go to any lengths to help each other. Aragorn and Theoden, the great kings, were on the front lines of the battles, willing to die to save their people. And Frodo himself volunteered for the most hopeless and dangerous task Middle Earth had ever heard of.

One day Jesus was talking with his friends about love and friendship. One of the things he told them was this: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) I don't think they knew at the time that he was talking about his own upcoming death. It wasn't until later that they understood what his life and his death meant to them. When you read 1 John 4:10, you can see that they finally got it. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Jesus gave us the ultimate gift in dying for us. But what he told his friends still holds true for us. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." We can still do this today. For some people that means giving up their home, going abroad and giving their life to introduce people to Jesus. For some that means giving up your career for a while to raise a child. Or you may lay down your life by constantly putting other people's needs before your own. Philippians 2:3-4 "3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." When you're thinking of other people first, you're laying down your life and showing the love that Jesus told us about.

Jesus in Middle Earth

So where is Jesus in Middle Earth? Which character is most like him? Tolkien's story is not an allegory. He was very clear on this. An allegory is when there one-to-one correlation between the story and the principle being taught. For example, in the story Jesus told, the king was God and the man who owed millions would be like us. Or in The Chronicles of Narnia, the lion Aslan represents Christ. He is always the Christ character and no one else ever is. The white witch is Satan for the whole story. But Tolkien hated allegory. He was very critical of Lewis for making Narnia so obviously Christian. I think that what Tolkien did instead is even better. His story contains little hints of similarities between his characters and Jesus. This is much more interesting and it's why his story became so much more popular than Lewis'. So where is Jesus in this story? Gandalf is a little like Jesus, because he was sent to Middle Earth to help in the fight against evil. He died to save his friends and then came back to life. Aragorn is like Jesus because he was a lowly ranger from the north who was really the rightful heir to throne. He was a humble king, whose reign would fulfill the old prophesies. He was a healer. He passed through death and temptation before he could receive his crown. Bilbo wrote this poem about him.

All that is gold does not glitter,
not all who wander are lost,
the old that are strong do not wither,
deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
a light from the shadows shall spring,
renewed shall be blade that is broken,
the crownless again shall be king.(Fellowship of the Ring, 193)

Jesus was like Frodo because he carried evil on his shoulders, he bore not a ring, but a cross. He walked headlong toward death and suffering so he could save the world. That's what Jesus did: he gave his life up for the good of his friends. It was the only way. And now he is our only hope. If you want to be saved from the evil that surrounds you and the evil that you're fighting on the inside, then put your trust in Jesus.

Some of you may need to think about becoming friends with Jesus for the first time, and during our invitation song, I hope you'll make that choice. Many of us just need to think about being a better friend to our fellow humans. Some of us may need to stop thinking of other people as our projects, and start thinking of them as our friends. A friend is merciful, a friend does not judge, a friend is willing to lay down their life for others, whether that means actually dying or just laying down 30 minutes to talk with someone. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" Friends help each other up. And sometimes a friend is that person who just convinces you not to give up. [Video:

Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.
. . .
Sam: I wonder if we'll ever be put into songs or tales?
Frodo: What?
Sam: I wonder if people will ever say, "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring", and they'll say, "Yes, it's one of my favorite stories!" "Frodo was really courageous, wasn't he Dad." "Yes, my boy, the most famousests of hobbits, and that's saying a lot. "
Frodo: You've left out one of the chief characters... Samwise the Brave! "I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam."
Sam: Now Mr. Frodo, you shouldn't make fun. I was being serious.
Frodo: So was I.
Sam: Samwise the Brave.]

Films © 2001-2003 New Line Cinema
Books © J.R.R. Tolkien

Linux modem

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I finally found a modem for my Linux computer (the cheap winmodem in my old PC didn't work). Apparently old-school serial port external modems work best with Linux.

Icestorm

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Gerold, quick on the draw with his camera phone, caught this picture of Collin's car during the ice storm today.

Best Blog Ever (note: this is not really the best blog ever)

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

VH1's Best Week Ever now has a blog, called (naturally) Best Week Ever Blog. So if you need entertainment news and you can't wait until the next episode of ET, then check it out. Also, you can post comments.

I'm Tired of Religion

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I used to think God was just waiting for me to mess up so he could smash me like a bug. I used to lie awake at night so afraid that I would go to hell because I wasn't good enough. And I'll bet some of you have been told that you're not the right kind of person for church. You've been told that good Christians don't smoke or drink or cuss or get mad or get sad. Well, I've been a believer for 10 years and I have yet to meet a GOOD Christian. All of the believers I know have issues. Some use colorful language. Some smoke cigarettes. Some gossip. Some pirate music and software. Some just get on my nerves. So I don't know any good Christians (I know I'm not a good Christian), but I do know a lot of people who are loved and forgiven.

Do you know what I'm tired of? Religion. I'm tired of religion. Religion is like a club. Did you ever have a club when you were in elementary school? Remember how it works? Two or three people decide to start a club and they think of a name and a place to meet and then they think of who they're going to let in. Only certain people can be members of the club. You have to be smart enough or tough enough or you have to wear clothes from the right overpriced store. Nobody ever questions whether the leaders of the club even deserve to be in it, they just are. So a club is exclusive. And then come the rules. When kids make clubs they come up with the most arbitrary and stupid rules; rules that are designed to exclude some people and include themselves. And that's what religion is like, too. Some people get into the church and then they get the idea that no one else is good enough. They take it upon themselves to make sure that people don't get into the club unless they wear a suit or a dress, know all about the Bible, never cuss, chew or go with girls who do. Those are the people who are telling you that you can't smoke a cigarette out on the church lawn. They're saying that if you drink on Saturday night, you better not show up for church on Sunday morning. Religion is about saying the right things and acting the right way. Religion is about always showing up for the club meetings on Sunday and Wednesday. Religion is about doing things and excluding people and being proud of yourself and looking down on other people and enforcing rules on other people. In a word, religion (as I've defined it) is about FEAR. And I'm tired of religion. Do you who else was tired of religion? Jesus. The religious people of his time were always ticked off at him because he didn't follow their rules. They said if you want to be in the club, you always have to wash your hands a certain way before you eat. They said if you want to be in the club you have to take Saturday off (and they had detailed rules about how much work you could do). If you want to be in the club, stay away from certain people, like hookers, crooks. But what did Jesus do? He ate with dirty hands. He healed people and did other work on the Sabbath. And those people club members avoided, he hung out with them. This is important, so let me give you an example.

Tax collectors. In the first century the nation of Israel had been taken over by the Roman Empire, so all Jewish people had to pay taxes to Rome. But the job of collecting taxes from individual people wasn't done by the Roman soldiers who were in charge. They got locals to do it. They hired Jewish people to go around and collect the money that would be sent to Rome. So when a tax collector showed up at your house, it could be someone you went to school with or a kid down the street, or it could be family. They were doing the dirty work of the Roman government. That would be enough to make you hate tax collectors, but there was one more thing. They got to charge whatever they wanted and keep the extra for themselves. So these guys would take huge amounts of money and get rich off of their own people. What a bunch of creeps. Today it would be like a crooked IRS agent or a televangelist that steals from his donors. These people were messed up and no one liked them, especially not the leaders of the religion. They had no place in the club. Enter Jesus.

Luke 5:27-32

27After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

The fact that Jesus would even talk to this guy is amazing. Asking him to follow him must have shocked everyone, including Levi. But he did it. And then what did he do? He did the same thing that he did every time he took in a bunch of money in a good week: He had his friends over and threw a party. He was excited about the hope that Jesus offered him and he wanted to celebrate.

29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

Then the club members hear about it, the religious people. They can't believe Jesus is hanging out at a party with these sinners! Doesn't he know that those people can't be in the club?

31Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

This is why the religious people hated Jesus. This is why they killed him. And this is why I'm tired of religion and religious people. Jesus said, "It's not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick." He didn't come to be our club president, he came to be our doctor. And the church is not a club, it's a hospital. The church is not a place for perfect people to come and all act the same. It's not a place to enforce rules on each other and judge each other. It's a place for people to come when they're sick, scared, ashamed, worried, sinful, hateful, drunk, crooked, slutty, stoned, prideful or dishonest. And all of us who are sick come so we can meet the doctor, the only one who can help us. The saddest thing is when we finally get the courage to come to the hospital and get some help and all we find is a snobby club. But don't give up on Jesus because of that. He's you're only hope. Can you imagine what Jesus would have sounded like if he said some of the things that religious people say today? [video]

I'm tired of religion and Jesus was, too. He didn't care about starting a religion, he cared about healing people. He cares about the problems that you're having in your family. He cares about the trouble you're having at school. He cares about you when people hurt you, and he cares about you when you hurt yourself. Most of all he cares about you when you're separated from your creator. And we all are. Every person is separated from God because we all mess up. We all need a doctor. And God loves us when we're separated from him. Even if you don't believe in him right now, he still loves you so much. And that's why he sent Jesus to pay for our sins. Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." When Jesus was killed his perfect life paid the price for all of our screw ups. This did something amazing. It opened the door that our sin had closed between us and God. Jesus did all of the work, and yet we still have to walk through that door. We have to put our faith in God. We have to take steps toward a better life (repentance). One of the steps we should take toward God is to be baptized. There's a lot of debate about whether this step comes before or after we're actually through the door, but I don't really care, the important thing is that you do it. If not right when you're saved, then shortly after it. Jesus opened the door, we walk through it, and then we're back with God. There's no other way to get right with God. You can't be a good enough person, you can't be religious enough, you can't just believe that God will overlook your sin.

What I want you to know is that God loves you no matter what you've done, no matter what kind of person you are. The worst thing you can do is decide to stay away from God until YOU change your life. That's like saying, "I don't want to go to the hospital until I'm feeling more healthy." If you're sick, you go to the doctor. You can't heal yourself, but he can make you better. God wants to change the things that are wrong with your life, but he has to have you first.

And if you are a believer already and you have friends that are hurting themselves, don't judge them. Don't shut them out. Love them and introduce them to the good physician. And remember that you're not a member of a club, you're a patient in a hospital, and from time to time you get to show someone else the way to the doctor's office.

Meet Hippy Dave

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I'd like to introduce you to a friend I've never met: Hippy Dave. He's one of the crew over at www.brendoman.com. I've added him to my link list (I should be adding the others soon.) I was just looking at his site and he and I have a lot of interests in common. If you like me, you may just like Dave. (If you don't like me, maybe this site will be more to your taste.)

The Passion of the Christ

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I'm doing some research for an article about Mel Gibson's new film The Passion of the Christ. There are some questions about whether the pope really liked the movie or not. I can't find anything very official sounding that talks about Mel Gibson's cameo in the film. And I got an email forward that gave Paul Harvey's thoughts on the film, but in my research I found that those words were actually written by Keith Fournier. Maybe Paul Harvey read Fornier's review on the air and someone got the wrong idea. This just goes to show you, never get your info from email forwards

Quirks may give a car character, but this is ridiculous

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Danny and I own a 1992 Honda Accord, which is a great car because (1) It rarely breaks down and (2) It was a gift, so we don't have to make payments. That said, it is a virtual anthology of oddities. Here are the top 5 quirks (we don't like to call them 'problems').

1. The windows
First, the back windows: One does not roll down at all, due to the fact that it costs over $200 to get it fixed and we already did that once. This window has the amusing habit of falling down as you are speeding down the highway, blasting either very cold or very hot air on your backseat passengers (usually our 2-year-old, Emma). The other does roll down, but refuses to go all the way up when you would like it to. These problems result in either Danny or myself putting our hands on both sides of the window and pulling up until there is almost no space between the window and the seal. Nothing's perfect. The front windows are okay, except in the winter-the driver's side window makes a horrible sound when you roll it down (a cross between a Ringwraith and one of the monkeys on the Wizard of Oz). This is also bearable, except at drive-thrus. Sorry McDonald's employees.

2. The sunroof
When we first got this car, I was so excited that it had an electric sunroof. Until a few months later, when the sunroof cover went into its home and mysteriously never came out. Yes, that's right, we get to see the sun in all its glory (or lack thereof) through our open and our closed sunroof.

3. Soda in the backseat
The car's previous owner apparently dueled with a can (or 2-Liter, possibly an entire soda fountain) of Coke, and lost. Three years and numerous cleanings later, we still find traces of the sticky stuff.

4. The cigarette lighter
Since our car was made before CD players were standard, we own the only other option-a portable CD player that is powered by the cigarette lighter. (That, and our extensive collection of mixed tapes.) At some point, Danny thought he would 'enhance' the quality of our cigarette lighter-it now hangs out of the socket at a weird angle and you must be very careful to not bump it with your knees, or bye-bye CD.

5. The door handle
A major inconvenience to our passengers, the plastic piece of our inside door handle has repeatedly broken, so that you have to carefully pull it just the right way to exit the car. A mistake leaves you with the handle in your hand, separate from the car itself (and a trip for the driver to open your door from the outside).

Mike Rowe Soft vs. Microsoft

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

"Since my name is Mike Rowe, I thought it would be funny to add 'soft' to the end of it," said Rowe, a 17-year-old computer geek and Grade 12 student in Victoria, British Columbia. Read more

Microsoft doesn't think www.MikeRoweSoft.com sounds like a very good web site, so they're suing this kid.

Let the paranoia begin.

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

www.reversespeech.com

This site claims that all human speech contains secret subliminal messages when played in reverse. I did an experiment and found that it's true. When I say "Reverse Speech dot com" and play it backwards, it says, "Make loony famous."

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