Keynote Addresses

Life More Abundant?

by Ralph Blair  

This is the text of Ralph Blair’s keynote at connECtion2oo6, the summer weekend gatherings of Evangelicals Concerned, held at Kirkridge Retreat Center on the Appalachian Trail (June 2-4, 2006) and on the campus of Reed College in Portland, Oregon (July 27-30, 2006).


Jesus told some Pharisees: “Unlike those who come to butcher my sheep, I’ve come that they may have life more abundant.” (John 10:10)

What’s life more abundant? Do you have any opinions‘?

Okay. Enough of your opinions! What’s my opinion?

Okay. Enough of my opinion!

Who cares about opinions on life more abundant! They’re irrelevant. Life more abundant isn’t made up of what we might make up.

Was “Who cares!” your response when I asked for your opinion? When I asked about my opinion, I did notice some people rolling their eyes and mumbling “Who cares!” What did that mean? It meant: Some naughty people can get the words right for the wrong reason.

Back in the 1920s, some prominent ministers and Bible scholars were asked to contribute essays to an anthology to be called My Idea of God. Here’s how J. Gresham Machen began his essay:

  • If my idea of God were really mine, if it were one which I had evolved out of my own inner consciousness, I should attribute very little importance to it myself, and should certainly expect even less importance to be attributed to it by others. If God is merely a fact of human experience, if theology is merely a branch of psychology, then I for my part shall cease to be interested in the subject at all. The only God about whom I can feel concerned is one who has objective existence, an existence independent of man.
  • But if there be such a really and independently existent Being, it seems extremely unlikely that there can be any knowledge of Him unless He chooses to reveal Himself. … I reject, therefore, the whole subjectivizing tendency in religion that is so popular at the present time.

Subjectivism is still the suffocating air that chokes us. At a recent meeting of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Tony Campolo cautioned them: “You have no right to be a spiritual leader if you haven’t read Scripture. … If we don’t recognize this, we don’t know squat.” Sure enough, a subjectivist who didn’t know squat, piped up: “I thought this was a spiritual progressives’ conference. I don’t want to get validation from something other than ourselves.” Read more →

One in What Spirit?

by Ralph Blair

One in What Spirit? is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote at the connECtions2005 at Kirbridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.


A new resident introduces herself to two new patients on the psych ward.
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Brown.”
“I’m Julius Caesar.”
“How do you know that?”
“God told me.”
The other patient pipes up: “I did not!”

Some people are crazy. They think they’re God. They think they’re the final authority on what’s what—what’s true, what’s false, what’s right, what’s wrong. No one can tell them otherwise. Know anyone that crazy?

Well we all slip into such self-centered self-deception. We’re all just crazy enough to make up meaning to suit ourselves as we footnote our three favorite authorities—me, myself and I.

This delusion that we’re the final authority has been one with the spirit of the times since the time of Adam and Eve. But it’s never been more conceited and cocksure. Ravi Zacharias notes: Today, “there is no transcendent context within which to discuss anything. … Meaning dissolves into the subjective, rendering it beyond debate.”

Our parents in Eden hesitated a bit before yielding to the demon of self-deception. But, these days, people rush right over undetected assumptions of autonomy to unexamined assertions of authority. Insisting that “truth” is merely a power play, a construct of self-interest, they say there is no Truth with a capital-T. But they assume that’s Truth with a capital-T. Moored in a makeshift autonomy, they fail to realize they’re marooned from reality. They think we construct reality itself—without a Creator with a capital-C. They assume Carl Sagan’s cliche: The cosmos is “all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” That’s not poetry, as Sagan’s producer pretended. That’s the arrogant assumption of the apologetics of atheism. It’s an affectation that’s getting more strident and even hysterical. Psychologically, it may be a matter of reaction formation, for as C. S. Lewis recalled: “When I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” Read more →

Freed for Freedom!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Freed for Freedom! is Ralph Blair’s 2010 keynote at the eastern and western Evangelicals Concerned connECtions at Kirkridge, on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, and at the Marriott City Center in Oakland, California.


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” – Paul

A graffiti artist tags trash bins with a tag of trash of his own: “Become Your Dream.” Salon gushes: He’s “the most revered street artist.” And people who know they can’t afford to buy his stuff at Christie’s steep prices still think that they can afford to buy into his pop psych prescription for power.

“Become Your Dream.” He tells folks who deem they’re not their dream, to dream up a dreamy self out of the un-dreamy “self’ they wish to escape. “So: If see myself as third-rate, kind of bland, I, by myself can dream me into something first-rate and really rather grand?” You’re dreamin’, dude.

Now, I’m not dissing random firings along the neural network during sleep or loving intentions and visions for others’ good. I’m critiquing self-centered fantasy.

Besides, haven’t we all changed our minds about a daydream or two? What about that childhood dream to be a fireman or prayers to be “ex-gay”? Have you ever said: “If I knew then what I know now”? But you’re buying into what you “know” now just as you bought into what you “knew” then. Well, they say hindsight’s 20/20. But what do they know? Even 20/20 can’t see around the bend of a road not taken. Hey, 20/20 can’t even see the road. And have you ever heard that old adage: “Be careful what you pray for”?

Well, some wake up and move on. But many merely move to some other daydream they’ll later dream of escaping to yet another daydream they’ll dream of escaping later on. It’s really so much wiser to wish, as in a prayer to the wise and loving Father: “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” Read more →

“Were You There?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote

ConnECtion2017

June 3, 2017

Were you there when this question and response was heard each week across America?  “What sort of day was it?  A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times – and you, were there.”  Were you, there?

Those words were spoken in the mid-1950s – so, as a more familiar voice echoes in your ears, “So, you couldn’t have been there, could you.”  You couldn’t have been there? Really?!

I was there.  As the only one here from The Silent Generation, I speak up to say: “I was there.”  Each week in my mid-teens, I heard those sonorous words – there in Youngstown, Ohio, in front of our 21” black-and-white Capehart television set in our living room. Walter Cronkite spoke those words at the end of every episode of You Are There.  It was his CBS series of reenactments and film clips of great historical events.

Watching them, we did have a sense that, yeah, we were there! Of course, that generation was reared to “be there” through radiosound filtered through imagination. Now, we “were there” through sound and sight, so, less was left to imagination and we were there! As it were!

Cronkite’s sign-off made a big impression on me.  His sound and inflections, even his cadence, echoes in my long-term memory.  And, he made good sense!  We all, throughout history, have, as it’s said today, “been there, done that”. Every day is, “a day like all days”, filled with experiences and opportunities that, if used wisely, can be illuminating and life altering.  Live and learn!  But, often, we don’t.

Even facing what we haven’t experienced personally, we should remind ourselves that others, with less experience, less advantage, have “been there, done that”, and have managed fairly well.  As Terence, the ancient playwright who’d also been a slave, learned: “I’m human, so nothing human is alien to me.”

Today is yet another day like all days when, again, we get to live and learn, if we know well enough, and will enough, to do so.  And we may do that from all the hard-won wisdom still available to us.

Throughout the ups and downs of human history, the wise have been wise to the fact that every day is, indeed, a day like all days.  At our recent weekly Bible studies and at our most recent Bible Study Weekend, we’ve seen evidence of this in the timeless truths from the old Hebrew wisdom literature.  As Kohelet said: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)  Of course, if we don’t know what they knew and we don’t bother to learn from what they passed on for us, none of it is of any use to us.

Yet now, in our turn, we have opportunity to learn what they learned (or didn’t), if we pay attention to their wisdom and folly. Read more →

Wesleyan Practice & Homosexual Practice

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is a slightly expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the Annual Michigan Area United Methodist Pastor’s School, August 22, 1983 on the campus of Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Blair’s address followed one by Dr. Robert Lyon, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Lyon had been invited to focus on biblical and theological considerations and Dr. Blair had been invited to focus on clinical and scientific data, though both speakers included other material as well. A question and answer period followed both presentations.

(PDF version available here.)

Introduction

I suppose that an audience of United Methodist preachers isn’t the very easiest audience to address with much of what I have to say tonight, but I guess that there are preachers of other denominations (unnamed) with whom I might have an even harder time. In spite of all the seeming openness about sex today, we all, including clergy, have a certain uncomfortable feeling about it. And there is even more uncomfortableness about homosexuality. Even though the Bible leads the way in our thinking of God as the great Cosmic Lover, no less than John Wesley himself felt a sort of homophobic squeamishness over Charles’ phrasing: “Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom fly.” [1] So I thank you for this opportunity to “calmly consider”—as Wesley might have put it again [2]—some material on homosexuality.

I’m tempted to try to win you over by adopting the strategy Thomas Coke used in another controversy. Your first American bishop reported having “found out a method of delivering [his testimony against slavery] without much offense, or at least without causing a tumult.” His tactic was this: “by first addressing the negroes in a very pathetic manner on the duty of servants to masters, … the whites will receive quietly what I have to say to them.” [3] As there are not very many openly gay people here this evening, however, I cannot really begin by “first addressing the homosexuals in a very pathetic manner.” I assure you, though, that when I’m speaking before openly gay groups, I’ve been known to come down hard against self-destructive patterns of what too often parades for homosexuality per se in some gay lifestyles, especially those of some urban gay males. [4]

Need it be said here that what I’m supporting is not every expression of homosexuality anymore than what most of you support is every expression of heterosexuality? I had hoped not. But apparently it does need to be said, in view of the negative caricature of all so-called “pro-homosexual” advocates painted by the first speaker [Robert Lyon of Asbury Seminary]. Need it be said here that what I support is not every expression of every homosexual anymore than what most of you support is every expression of every heterosexual? Sadly, it seems that I do need to say that I don’t support every expression of every homosexual. May I say, too, that I’m not in favor of the ancient forms of homosexuality known to the Apostle Paul, e.g., rape, cultic prostitution, “call boy” prostitution, and the inequalities of Roman and Greek master-slave pederasty. [5] There are some types of contemporary same-sex expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, and so-called “value-free” gay pride rhetoric that I don’t support any more than you support some types of heterosexual expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, “kiddieporn,” sex with minors, and so-called “value-free” open marriage. Neither you nor I want to be identified with all homosexualities or all heterosexualities any more than we want to be identified with all expressions of Christianity, be it Donald Wildmon’s, Jimmy Swaggart’s, or Mary Baker Eddy’s. I no more support the silly lesbian separatism of a Sally Gearhart than you support the stupid racial separatism of a Bob Jones. I am no more to be confused with advocating the gay est delusions of a David Goodstein than you are probably to be confused with the straight est delusions of a Werner Erhard. When “Gay is Good” becomes “Gay is God,” I protest just as I do when, failing to see the implications of the incarnation, others fail to see that “God is Gay” as well as God is all the rest of what we are, “yet without sin.” Read more →

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

An expanded version of a lecture by Dr. Ralph Blair to Courage Trust at the Anglican Church of St. James the Less, Pimlico, London, November 2, 2001.

(PDF version available here.)


When it comes to the subject of gay and lesbian evangelical Christians, most evangelical Christians agree with most gays and lesbians. Just as Grape-Nuts is neither grapes nor nuts and Christian Science is neither Christian nor science and Therapeutic Touch is neither therapeutic nor touch, to most evangelicals and to most gay people, a gay evangelical Christian is neither truly gay nor truly Christian. For most people, you cannot be both an openly evangelical Christian and an openly gay man or lesbian.

Evangelical and Gay/Lesbian Diversity

Actually there are all sorts of evangelicals—from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t. And there are all sorts of gay men and lesbians—from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t.

According to an evangelical history professor: “Once past a shared commitment to a supernatural gospel, evangelicals are all over the place theologically.” [Mark Noll] The president of Southern Baptist Seminary joins a church historian at Westminster Seminary to declare that “No single evangelical tradition exists.” [Albert Mohler, Jr. and D. G. Hart] A Regent College theology professor states: “Evangelicalism is a network and tradition of Christians united on a few select convictions. As such, evangelicalism is not essentially committed to this or that … so long as Christ is glorified, the Bible obeyed, the gospel preached and the kingdom extended.” [John G. Stackhouse, Jr.]

“Evangelical identity,” says an Anglican evangelical, “has come to embrace such a wide range of theological options.” And he grants that it has been so ever since the 18th century split between John Wesley and George Whitefield—during the very beginnings of what is known as evangelicalism. [Gerald Bray] He notes that “from that day to this, there has never been an evangelical church or even a confession of faith, which all evangelicals can accept as definitive of this movement.”

In his new book, Christian America?, sociologist Christian Smith again reports research that undercuts the notion that evangelicals make up a monolithic community. Evangelicals are divided along political, racial and class lines. And contrary to popular opinion, evangelicalism and the Religious Right are not synonymous, though most people who identify as evangelicals do not approve of homosexuality.

The president of the board of the Religious Right’s World magazine has proposed that a group of conservative Christians start a daily newspaper “from a distinctively Christian point of view.” If his World magazine is any indication, what he means by reporting the news “from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God” is a perspective that’s against homosexuals and for capital-gains tax cuts. But, at any rate, he laments that there’s an even bigger obstacle than the raising of the millions of dollars it would take to finance such a daily newspaper. He complains: “We Christians are woefully disunified and unprepared ideologically and philosophically to define and then live out the profile of a ‘Christian’ daily newspaper. We Christians still disagree way too much on what it means to be a ‘Christian’ anything.” [Joel Belz] Evangelical Christian diversity is “way too much” for him.

As the dean of American church historians puts it: “There are evangelicals and there are evangelicals.” [Martin E. Marty] Read more →

Undoing Every Do; Doing Every Don’t: The Ten Commandments, the Religious Right & the Lesbigayt Left

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Based on Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtions2000, Evangelicals Concerned’s summer conferences at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania and at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.


A couple months ago, in Uganda, under the banner of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, more than a thousand men, women and children were exterminated. They had been told that the Virgin Mary demanded strict enforcement of the Ten Commandments in order for them to escape damnation. But in the end, the Ten Commandments cult leader was the one who broke every one of the Ten Commandments. And in doing so, she caused the death of more people than any other religious movement in modem history. Also in Uganda, there’s the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army—with its goal to run Uganda according to the Ten Commandments. It’s notorious for kidnapping children and turning them into sex slaves. Today happens to be the day that Christians around the world are remembering the martyrs of Uganda.

Are these anomalous—these atrocities rationalized under the cover of the Ten Commandments? We’ll see. First, for something lighter.

If you do a Web search of The Ten Commandments, you’ll come up with everything from “The Ten Commandments of Tennis” and “The Ten Commandments of Tea” to “The Ten Commandments of HTML” and “The Ten Commandments of HMOs.” There are even “The Alternative Ten Commandments” of an atheist in the U.K., e.g. “Thou shalt not tell atheists that thy God loveth them.”

The Ten Commandments are for sale on “simulated parchment” ($1.50), in stone ($78—“museum quality suitable for outdoor use”), and on T-shirts, sweatshirts, jewelry and of course, bumper stickers.

The Ten Commandments Project and National T-Day are ministries of “Operation Save Our Nation.” The enterprise distributes stone copies of the Ten Commandments to government officials.

A “Ten Commandments Resolution” in defense of the display of the Ten Commandments “against all enemies, domestic and foreign, public and private” is a feature of another Web site called: Take Back Georgia, Inc.

You’ll also find tencommandments.org. Here it gets darker. According to this group, the Constitution’s “an inverted document” because of its “ability [through The Bill of Rights] to create the abominable and death-worthy crime of homosexuality.” The site features a diatribe entitled “Against Homosexuality.” It’s stated: “God has not prescribed that homosexuals should merely be spoken against, rejected, discriminated against, or banished from the nation, but God requires that they be put to death by the governments under which they reside (Leviticus 20:13) and no sorrow should be had for them. … Any homosexual who thinks he or she is accepted by God and His true Church has to be cursed with the deepest depths of blindness and satanic depravity.”

There are more familiar names behind these Ten Commandment arsenals. Gary Bauer’s old “Family Research Council” is sponsoring an effort to get public officials to hang copies of the Ten Commandments in public schools and court houses. This campaign is called “Hang Ten.”

And there’s an Alabama county court judge who gives new meaning to the expression “a hanging judge.” The ACLU brought a lawsuit against him for his hanging Ten in his courtroom. The suit was dismissed on a technicality. Now he’s defeated three other candidates for the Republican nomination for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice. Read more →

Immortal Intimacy: Where, When, Who, Why & What of Heaven

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1991, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at the University of Denver.

Copyright ©1991. Ralph Blair, 311 E. 72nd St New York, New York 10021


Peggy Lee sings of going to “the greatest show on earth” when she was twelve years old. She remembers:

“There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.”

And she recalls that:

“As I sat there watching the marvellous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to the circus?’
Then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks down by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
And then one day he went away
And I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t
I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to love?’”

Have you ever thought like this? Remember your disappointment when the cartoon show flashed those three unwanted words: “That’s All, Folks!” Remember the emptiness late on Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened and abandoned, and all the excitement that had raised expectations for weeks was gone? I’ve heard it for years in therapy: Is that all there is—to sex? to love? to career? to success? to rational living? to life? And if we don’t go deeper with such questions, we settle for superficial solutions. We sing along with Peggy Lee:

“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball,
If that’s all there is.”

She goes on:

“I know you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all.
Oh no. Not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes
And I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee and The Preacher of Ecclesiastes agree: all is vanity. But one responds with calls to reverence God and the other calls for a ball and booze. But the ball ends. Lust doesn’t last. Does anything? Well, after the hangovers we still fear the futility of life we sought to escape. Said Malcolm Muggeridge: “It would be a terrible prospect, wouldn’t it, to just go on and on and on. Everything is bearable because we die.” Yet who wants to die? We die against our will. We may pretend it’s “death with dignity.” There’s a nice lie: Dignified death—“Cold Obstruction’s apathy!” [Byron]. Read more →

Empathways

by Ralph Blair

Empathways is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address at connECtions98 in the summer of 1998.


INTRODUCTION

“Can I see another’s woe, / And not be in sorrow, too? / Can I see another’s grief, / And not seek for kind relief?”

What William Blake here had in mind was empathy as we usually think of it—in connection with another person’s misfortune. But empathy can also connect with another person’s good fortune. In his prayer-poem, “The Celestial Surgeon,” Robert Louis Stevenson reproaches himself at the thought that “beams from happy human eyes / Have moved me not.”

Someone tells of a man who came by to meet his friend and saw her talking with a shabbily-dressed woman with a small child at her side. As he approached, he saw his friend give money to the stranger who then, with her child in tow, quickly moved on. When he reached his friend she told him that that little child had leukemia. He said: “Nonsense. That kid’s not sick. It’s a scam!” His friend said: “You mean that child doesn’t have leukemia?” “Of course not,” he insisted. “Oh,” she replied, “That’s a relief!”’

Who do you think was practicing empathy here? The woman who gave money to that mother or the man who said the mother was lying? Maybe both? Maybe both. You might be as surprised about that as you were with the woman’s expression of relief. We’re going to think about empathy so we might do empathy better.

Some people insist on distinguishing empathy from sympathy. These purists want us to say we empathize with people in the same boat and sympathize with people in a different boat. To them, “I feel your pain” is empathy but “I can imagine your pain” is sympathy. Fair enough. We don’t want to be so insensitive as to tell people we “know exactly” what they’re going through when we’ve never gone through exactly what they’re going through. But fussing over rigid distinctions might mean we’ll miss the boat on empathy—no matter what we call it. Besides, are we not all in the same boat? Some may be in First Class and some may be in steerage, but we’re all on the “Titanic.”

In addition to empathy as this ability to feel for or identify with another in his or her situation, there’s another dimension to empathy. The emphasis here is on accurate prediction. Empathy can be the ability to predict accurately the thinking, feeling and behavior of others.

Back when I was in grad school I studied a psychometric instrument called The Empathy Test. Its validity was established on the basis of how well car salesmen (they were all men in those days) could predict the difference between those who were serious about buying a car and those who dropped by only to take a ride. Obviously, an ability to predict which were serious buyers and which were not could save lots of time and money for the dealer. He didn’t want to be taken for a ride. Here, empathy wasn’t about warm fuzzies; it was about cold cash. So empathy isn’t just hand-holding. The better we are at empathic accuracy, the more successful we’ll be in all sorts of relationships with other people. Read more →

Anger!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of his address on anger at connECtion95, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge and Mills College, June and July, 1995.

©1995. Ralph Blair, 311 East 72nd Street, New York, New York 10021


INTRODUCTION

In a promo for New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, cartoonist Howard Cruse depicts a gay guy asking his lesbian friend: “Where’s the meeting for people who’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?” She consults the Center’s schedule and replies: “Hm—Depends on what night of the week it is.” Gay columnist Bruce Bawer rightly objects to the fact that “many gay leaders and commentators persist in encouraging us to celebrate rage.” Of course, lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are feeling angry these days.

According to the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern [Baptist] Seminary: “The whole Christian Right movement feeds off of a ‘theology of resentment.’“ [Ken Chafin] A prominent evangelical journalist reports that “Moods of … anger dominate the conservative evangelical subculture.” [Rodney Clapp] Evangelist Luis Palau warns: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things, … we American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.”

And how did the angry evangelicals react to Palau’s concerns? Harping on the so-called “gay agenda,” one asked: “Has [Palau] never heard of prayers for God’s judgment on the wicked?” Said another: “Clinton is vile … Yes, I pray for our president … but most of those prayers are imprecatory.” A U.S. News poll finds that most people who say they hate President Clinton call themselves “born again” Christians. Just before last fall’s elections, the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert urged voters to pray down evil upon the Democrats on the group’s so-called Philistine List, “enemies of Christianity and/or biblical morality.” The prayer warriors were told: “Don’t hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them!” This kind of “make-my-day religion” gives rise to placards proclaiming: “God hates fags” and “Thank God for AIDS,” the popularity of Frank Peretti’s novels of politico-spiritual warfare, the fundamentalist flavor of apocalyptic rhetoric in the self-styled militia movement, hateful messages on the Internet, and the increasing incidence of religiously-motivated hate crimes. Read more →

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