Archive for the ‘Church & Culture’ Category

The Jewish prophetic alive

May 17, 2015


It is getting to be a common occurrence at least in the USA that when a synagogue to its shame invites a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF),the cruel army of occupation in the West Bank, young Jews of Conscience protest. Last Tuesday Greg Williams and Dan Fischer protested at Temple Israel in Westport Connecticut.

What is impressive about the following statement of Williams is that his historical knowledge matches his moral passion. He begins by quoting Dan Berrigan’s famous lines from The Catonsville Nine about the burning children. This is a thinly veiled critique of Jewish theologian Irving Greenberg’s famous line that “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.” For Greenberg the only burning children were those who perished in the Holocaust.Basically, Williams turns this statement on its head by obliquely referring to the 521 children “burned” in last summer’s IDF massacre in Gaza. And the lies of Israel to justify such a horrific slaughter in light of these children.

A responder to Williams eloquently stated:
This courageous act of conscience should be publicized as widely as possible and emulated throughout the country. These two young men are pointing the way to a new non-violent tactic, in which Jews confront Israeli war crimes wherever their authors are invited to appear. It is particularly fitting that this event occurred at a synagogue which was shamefully involved in welcoming an active war criminal. The brutal response, crude lies and display of panic over two unarmed protesters shows which side possesses moral courage on this issue. To Gregory and Daniel, thank you and all good wishes for your complete exoneration.

Greg Williams Statement

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children; the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise, for we are sick at heart; our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning children.” – Daniel Berrigan, S.J., 1968


At around 1 pm on Tuesday, 12 May, my colleague, Dan Fischer, and I calmly walked into into Temple Israel, where the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces was holding a lunchtime meeting. So as to appear as non-threatening as possible, we had no bags, no literature – I had even left the small pocketknife I usually carry at home.

We were armed only with a written testimony by Nabila Abu Halima, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza strip, who watched her son be murdered by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead, and who had to flee her home during last year’s Gaza massacre.

Our intention was simple: to read the statement at the FIDF’s meeting, which was hosting a brigadier general in the occupying, colonizing army that is responsible for her suffering, and the suffering of so many other indigenous Palestinian women.
We were there, first and foremost, because we are Jews (additionally, I am a scholar of religious ethics), and we wanted to take responsibility for the racism in our community that fuels Jewish American support for the Zionist Apartheid regime’s continued occupation of Palestinian land.

Growing up, I remember hearing my mother and grandmother telling stories about members of our family who were killed during the Holocaust. One of the lessons that I learned from those stories was the lesson of collective responsibility.

History remembers kindly those Europeans and Americans who took responsibility for the racism in their community which had bred Naziism by protecting Jewish people, by lifting up their voices, and by working to build a political resistance movement to dismantle fascism.

I entered Temple Israel on Tuesday because I feel that, as a Jew living in the United States, the time has come to take responsibility for my community. Zionism is no less racist, no less hateful, and no less violent and threatening to human life and dignity than Naziism. Like Naziism, Zionism seeks to build a nation upon an ethnocentric vision which erases the lives of people it considers “undesirable.”

When Dan and I reached the second floor of the synagogue, we told staff exactly why we were there. We said that we had come to read a statement from a Palestinian woman at the FIDF event, and that we would leave voluntarily when we were done, or when we were ordered to do so by a police officer.The staff immediately assaulted us, and tackled us to the ground. We did not take any physical action against them. Instead, we started to read the statement that we had come to deliver and, since we were still outside the door of the meeting room, we did so loudly so that as many people would hear us as possible. The staff kicked our phones away, we began to say “Free, Free Palestine!”

Even though we had told the staff what we were doing, and had made clear that this was a nonviolent political demonstration, they turned around and, over the phone and in our hearing, filed a false police report, claiming that we were armed. “We’re unarmed!” we said, “Tell them we are unarmed! We are Jews coming to a synagogue!”

Because the staff (and apparently several others) filed this false police report, we are told that several schools were put on lockdown – this is one of the dangers of filing a false report or making a frivolous 911 call.

Since then, people from senators to judges to newspaper reporters have called us “violent,” “criminals,” even “terrorists.” I ask you, who is the terrorist? Someone who reads a statement from a Palestinian woman, or the general who helps murder that woman’s child?

What is violent, to protest that general, or to hold a public event to support her and the illegitimate armed force that she serves? There are those who say that they felt threatened by our action. I ask, what does it say about your community that you feel threatened by two nonviolent protesters testifying to the violence of that racist hate-ideology called Zionism?

Could this mean that your community is committed to racism and hatred? There are those who say that they felt threatened by our volume. I respectfully submit that there are times, especially times when children are being murdered by a colonial regime and a racist ideology, when it is an act of violence not to yell and scream.

Gregory Williams
New Haven

The most dangerous man in Israel

March 25, 2015


The most dangerous man in Israel, journalist Gideon Levy a man despised by most of his fellow citizens came to Toronto last night.

Two things came to mind.

First, Levy was warmly welcomed by the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral Douglas Stoute. He seemed to understand that even in the heart of Anglican Toronto, a biblical prophet was among us, a man struggling valiantly for peace in the Holy Land. The cathedral fundamentally exists to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of the most dangerous man in Palestine, Yeshua ben Miriam or as he is known to us by his Latinized name Jesus of Nazareth.

Even the most established church in Canada which celebrated the funeral of Tory Finance Minister James Flaherty, saw that it was right and fitting to provide a listening post for another brave Jew who is speaking truth to power in Israel.

Secondly, there was the absence of any fellow Jews to listen to Levy. This was very troubling. So inward looking and so defensive has diaspora Judaism become that it dared not open a major synagogue for him to challenge their ongoing blindness and failure to live up to the call for prophetic biblical witness. The silence of the synagogues over Palestinian oppression is staggering.

Contemporary Judaism desperately longs for the voices of prophetic men like Maurice Eisendrath, a towering American Reform rabbi who served Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple from 1929 to 1943 and dove into ecumenical and social justice work while he was here. “Nobody slept during his tenure,”wrote another rabbi, “for he was a disturber of sleep who brought discomfort to the comfortable.”


Eisendrath was followed by another “dangerous” man Abraham Feinberg (1943-1961) who championed radical causes and anti-war work. And then there was Reuben Slonim,the brilliant Conservative rabbi(d 2000) who was shunned as an Arab Lover for his criticism of Israel

Saddest of all for Catholics was the fact that our cathedral could never open its hermetically sealed (to the prophetic) doors to a man like Gideon Levy. As per usual no putative Catholic leaders were present last night.Catholics of course are used to this non-presence of institutional leaders.

Pope Francis has challenged what he believes is the Church’s fundamental illness: ecclesiastical narcissism.
“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize,” he said, “it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” And irrelevant he might add.

It was Johann Baptist Metz who reminded us that danger is a fundamental category for understanding the life and message of Jesus. Only in the face of this danger does the vision of the kingdom of God that has come near in him light up…the lightening bolt of danger lights up the whole biblical landscape especially the New testament scene.Danger and being in danger permeate every New Testament statement…thus the discipleship stories are not entertaining but stories in the face of danger, dangerous stories.

Fr.Metz went on to say “in bewilderment and mourning” when we lose “the dangerous memory of Jesus” we end up with a bourgeois domestic religion.’

And that’s where we are today, safe in the church and not in the streets, a danger to nobody and no threat to the unjust status quo..

Amazingly the cathedral was packed to hear this “dangerous man” who calls himself a true Israeli patriot sent to wake up his smug countrymen, comfortable with occupation and morally obtuse and apathetic.

The change in Israel needs to come from pressure from the outside. Alluding to his ecclesial surroundings he reminded us that miracles do happen.And as Christians move into holy week once again we are reminded that there is no Easter without Good Friday

Selma 50 years after Part 1

March 11, 2015


I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection…with them, the black men and white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all names that the races and nations shout…we are indelibly and unspeakably one.
Jonathan Daniels

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama was quite moving. In the land of amnesia both here and in the USA, it was fitting to remind people of the ongoing struggle for justice. This is a struggle which has to be won over and over again.
President Obama was there to salute one of his heroes John Lewis whom I will write about in a later post.

Let me say upfront this was a time of testing for the Christian church and it was the black church which would hear and live the gospel call.
Between February and August of 1964, four civil rights activists were killed in Alabama: Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, Rev. James Reeb and Jonathan Daniels.

Interesting that James Reeb and Jonathan Daniels were both Christian ministers who heard the call for racial justice and responded..At the same time rabbi Heschel who was there told the synagogue to put the Torah down and start praying with their feet.

it was a bracing time for authentic religion.

Both stories, Reeb’s and Daniel’s are powerful testaments to faith.

Jonathan Daniels was a 26 year old white Episcopalian minister from Keane, New Hampshire who lived with black families in Alabama. He had gone to Lowndes County trying to register blacks to vote. First he was jailed. They let him out of jail with 3 others, Father Richard Morrisroe a Catholic priest from Chicago, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales. They went to Varner’s Cash Store in Hayneville, one of the few stores that would serve blacks.There they were met by a man Thomas Coleman with a shotgun who said that he was not going to serve any blacks or Nigger lovers in his store. Daniels was killed and Fr.Morrisroe was critically wounded and the shooter Coleman was naturally acquitted and later bragged,”I just shot two preachers”—meaning white preachers, apparently traitors to their race. Southern justice.

Daniels was designated a church martyr and added to the episcopal calendar of lesser saints.

The notorious cracker sheriff Jim Clark said of Daniels “You are here to cause trouble; that’s what you’re doing. You don’t live here. You are an agitator, and that’s the lowest form of humanity” .

That’s what Christians do—cause holy trouble in the cause of greater justice.

Nice to see that 50 years later Jonathan Daniels was not forgotten.

What seems to be forgotten by the last generation of seminarians was the summons to the cross. Few ever seemed to have in Pope Francis’ words “the smell of the sheep on them.” Nor did many of their leaders.

Joanthan Daniels, presente

Rumours of Glory

January 11, 2015


Canadian troubador Bruce Cockburn just released what he calls a memoir” entitled Rumours of Glory.
The singer-songwriter described by Jackson Browne as “one of the most astute and compelling songwriters in the English language” is easily one of the most gifted practitioners of the art on the planet. If he were an American and if he promoted himself he would be acknowledged as the very best in the world.But alas and thankfully, Cockburn has never been at ease with celebrity and has allowed his art to speak for itself. And it speaks volumes and often prophetic truth to power.
What is staggering about a memoir by a person in the music biz is that it could be easily be read as a primer on an engaged Christian life.
This book hits you on the first page when the author says, “Along the way when i found Jesus Christ” you know you are in for either an emotional born again experience or a serious reflection on what it means to be a disciple in the modern age. Luckily, it is the latter. This book could be at home in a university theology class.It is that thoughtful and compelling.
The author’s knowledge of the world and how it works with all the power games governments play is quite astounding. His analysis of global politics as seen from the unique stance of life observed on the periphery is striking. Cockburn allows himself to hear the cries of the poor in Central America, Latin America, Asia and Africa. He goes to the killing fields of Cambodia,Vietnam, Guatemala, the chaos of Mozambique and the horror show of Iraq. He goes not as an expert but as a witness to the suffering and he allows it to inform his music.
Cockburn’s legitimate anger does not spare the real war criminals like George Bush ‘the half-wit Texas oilman’ whom he also calls “the King of Fools” and “His Highness” nor the bloodless US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright whom on a 60 Minute program told interviewer Leslie Stahl that the starvation of half a million children in Iraq because of an embargo “was worth it.”
We think the price is worth it! ..
tell the universe what you’ve done
out in the desert with your smoking gun
looks like you’ve ben having too much fun
tell the universe what you’ve done (2003)
Cockburn is astonished. His disgust was palpable as it was when he in 1983 saw the murderous activity of US sponsored Guatemalan madman Rios Montt.his response then was his song,”If I had a rocket launcher, some sonofabitch would die.”
Cockburn has deep respect for the heroic Catholic bishop Tom Gumbleton whose peace missions had taken him to Vietnam, Nicaragua,El Salvador, Hiroshima,Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru and had visited Iraq seven times when Cockburn caught up with him in Baghdad. And Gumbleton correctly is just Tom and not Your Grace.
The book is chock full of some of his great songs which he contextualizes creatively. there are so many! He advises his listeners to “don’t fear the spirit when it comes to call”. He constantly pleads to ‘remain open to the touch of the Divine, a reality that is so much bigger than our day to day selves. He purposely puts spirit in lower case to allow the experience of non-Christians to percolate.

It is his observation that “we spend excessive energy shutting ourselves off from spirit, distracting ourselves from it, and hiding from our inner works and it costs us dearly.The absence of a relationship with spirit allows us to do things like murder each other by the hundreds of thousands and play foolish power games among ourselves and between nations” (p.469)

In this brutally frank memoir this essentially shy man allows us to peer into his highly personal but public life, one that is always moving, developing and deepening.His faith is deeply incarnational, enmeshed in our beautiful, broken world. Unlike too many clerics i’ve know Bruce Cockburn does not invent the human, he takes him and her where he finds them in all their glory and fallenness.He never despairs. He tells us that “my soul is rooted in the divine; and that life is,or ought to be ruled by love.who or what God might be,what the cosmos actually consists of, how love and evil are so regularly cojoined in the human heart—all are questions that hail from a deep and overarching mystery that has forever teased and tossed us.”
The mystery, as the universe keeps reminding me, deepens and opens with every breath.
In 2004 he wrote a song called Mystery. He challenges us:

Don’t tell me there is no mystery
and don’t tell me there is no mystery
it overflows my cup

this feast of beauty can intoxicate
this feat of beauty can intoxicate
just like the finest wine

Rumours of Glory is a potent invitation to hear the music of Bruce Cockburn in a deeper way

Heather Eaton and Pope Francis on The Current

January 5, 2015


Anna Maria Tremonte on the CBC ‘s The Current this morning had a segement on Pope Francis and his increasing demands on the faithful to get moving on the greatest moral challenge of our time: climate justice.
Heather Eaton a Catholic ecologian on the staff of St.Paul’s in Ottawa responded by saying this new encyclical gives direction to the whole  Catholic world, and is expected to be taken seriously by all Catholics. “This is the first pope who has taken the environment seriously.”
The RC church according to Eaton has lost credibility in the last few decades with its obsession on sexuality and its abysmal record on women.Lots of Catholics have been engaged in these issues for deades and this forces clergy to be more serious about this vital issue.
Increasingly people are seeing 3 things—the natural world has always figured in the human imagination on what we consider to be sacred—teachinga on creation had been abandoned in Christian traditions  are now being revived so people are realizing that God is part of this and destruction of the planet cannot be part of God’s plan and thirdly morals, values and ethics are related to what’s happening to climate change.
The dilemma—the JP ll/Ratzinger bishops have been nowhere on this issue.They have been hamstrung on  ‘pelvic morality” an area they know little about. As former Ireland  president Mary Macaleese famously said on the bishop’s wisdom on family morality and sexuality: “How many have changed a nappy(diaper)?”

What will they do when Il Papa tells them: Get moving!

Pope Francis and ‘the signs of the times”

December 19, 2014


Pope Francis urged the Catholic Church’s top theologians on December 13 to listen to what ordinary Catholics have to say and pay attention to the “signs of the times,” rather than just making pronouncements in an academic vacuum.


The pontiff told International Theological Commission that they must “humbly listen” to what God tells the church by understanding Scripture but also by taking into account how ordinary Catholics live out their faith.


“Together with all Christians, theologians must open their eyes and ears to the signs of the times,” Francis said. He should have been speaking to the worldwide College of bishops as well. The theologians are the least of his problems.


This must be shocking news to the JPll/Ratzinger bishops who acted as if the Holy Spirit was their private preserve.Most of these are still autistic when it comes to the signs of the times especially to the sign that that we are collectively destroying the earth.The biggest moral issue of our time of course is climate justice, a “sign of the time” which is so stark and self-evident that it is beyond discussion.Creation is being mangled in the name of profit and the instityutional church ciollectively is doing litthle about it.


But apparently it is to these men.The best example was Cardinal Dolan’s absence from the 400,000 person march on behalf of the climate in New York city.Like many of his bishop friends raised to the purple for their slavish obeisance to Rome and not to the “sensus fidelium”, Dolan was missing in action.


As are most of these bishops.It would be interesting given the severity and seriousness of the issue to see how many have any pastoral plans on the go.


Poor Francis, a general with few episcopal troops in his army.

Bob Carty and Youth Ministry

October 10, 2014


The death of Bob Carty on September 21 led to several thoughts.


First, a life well lived, a committed passionate life on behalf of what the Bible calls the anawim, the little ones.


Skilled in many ways, personality and wit , written word and the audioword as well as with guitar, Bobby use his abundant talents on behalf of the kingdom of God. He lived for peace and justice.


His solidarity work on behalf of Chilean exiles and his reports from Latin America on public radio were respected by all.


A gifted documentarian on the radio waves with the CBC , Bob won all the awards there were to win always holding up the forgotten in a privileged place.


But when I think of Bob it struck a chord of sadness. All the lost years of Youth Ministry in the Toronto diocese after the clueless hierarchy ditched the Youth Corps where Bob got his start in the late 60s. As the old folk song said, Wasn’t That a Time.


Tommy McKillop hired people like Bob to take the energy of Vatican ll into the world and transform it. What a formidable group, lay and priest, on fire for justice inserted into the body politic as agents of change. Youth ministering to youth. What an original idea—and what great results. Those years were the halcyon days of gospel vitality in the Toronto diocese.


Naturally they were under-appreciated by hierarchs and dead heads but loved by the youth they came in contact with,What was there not to love?



The John Paul ll brigade literally threw away a miracle. Youth Corps of which Carty was a dynamic member was allowed to wither on the vine, to be replaced by what? Nada, niente, zip. McKillop was never understood by his fellow priests and like the prophets of old was treated very shabbily. Carty went on to do great things with his life.


Gracias for a sterling life, sadness for the lost opportunities to evangelize youth.

Yom Kippur and the Palestinians

October 3, 2014



Yom Kippur the holiest day in Judaism’s calendar is today.

The Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] is the climax of the ten-day period of repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. These ten days of reflection and inspiration bring us the eternal message that it is possible for human beings to improve their characters. They speak to us about our ethical conscience and moral responsibility, about self-examination and spiritual regeneration.”


Such a wonderful serious holy day ending the high holy days which began with Rosh Hashanah.


I have no way of knowing what will take place in the synagogues of my city. I wish all of them a good day.

In South Africa a group of Jews are dedicating their fast to reflect on being Jewish in the context of the occupation of Palestine. This seems to be a creative and very contemporary attempt to make the feast contextual and meaningful. All religions of course have similar times of serious reflection on our lives.

Isaiah’s admonition and warnings are germane to the point and this reading I have often used in the Christian period of Lent.

Why have we fasted,’ they say,
 ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
 and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
 and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
 only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
 and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
 and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
 and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
 and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Then these South African Jews cut to the chase

At the forefront of wrongs we need to right is the ongoing mainstream Jewish support for the Israeli colonization of Palestine, and its continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is being done in our name, and we have not done enough to stop it. It is for this reason that we believe that Gaza is the most urgent issue for us to reflect on this Yom Kippur. We will be going out and physically fasting and raising money for those in Gaza who have suffered unconscionable horrors.


Dedicating our Yom Kippur fast to the people of Gaza follows this line of thinking. Unlike the dominant Zionist organizations, some of whom preach ethnic and religious nationalism and the bombing of Gaza directly from the bimah (the Jewish equivalent of a pulpit), our beliefs are based on tolerance, inclusivity and social justice. We think that this is what Judaism, and Yom Kippur in particular, is all about.

This is prophetic Judaism at its best.

As one Jewish woman stated recently “Yom Kippur in Palestine and the Palestinian people are again atoning for Israel’s sin of occupation.”

Torah not the uniting factor?

September 30, 2014



That wonderful reporter from the NY Times Laurie Goodstein was at her best when she sussed out reactions which are simmering in the rabbinate over the stunning disproportionate response in the latest Gaza slaughter(515 Palestinian kids killed.


The usual childish responses were in evidence: I quit the synagogue because you criticized israel.(she didn’t but prayed for those dead kids and Israeli soldiers).3 left the synagogue. One said she was spreading Hamas propaganda. What planet are these so called religious on?
Goodstein reported that that many rabbis say it is impossible to have a civil conversation about Israel in their synagogues. Just too hot to touch. And the High Holy days are here!


The big problem is that young Jews raised in the USA have an inherent appreciation of human rights and can’t stomach Netanyahu and his coterie of warriors. They have exited the synagogue.

On the other hand the Alte kockers, the old folks mit the geld (no translation necessary) are more attached to israel as are the volunteers.
An interesting comment, candid to be sure was from Montreal rabbi Ron Aigen
It used to be that Israel was always the uniting factor in the Jewish world,said the reb who has served Congregation Dorshei Emet in Montreal for 39 years. “But it’s become contentious and sadly, I think it is driving people away from the organized Jewish community. Even trying to be centrist and balanced and present two sides of the issue, it is fraught with danger.”
The worst part of Goodstein’s article was this comment:
Israel is still, without a doubt, the spiritual center and the fondest cause of global Jewry.
The kindest thing you can say about this if its true: this is idolatry, making a state not the God of justice your god.

Peoples climate march but where’s Cardinal Dolan?

September 19, 2014


“It would be wonderful if there were a strong Catholic presence at the march, to indicate our prayerful support of God’s creation,”Cardinal Dolan of New York said about the huge climate justice walk expected to bring over 100,000 to Gotham City.
Dolan is typical of those John Paul ll prelates ,way behind the curve of where the Holy Spirit is, where too many Catholics are.

Some of the religious orders like the Franciscans, Jesuits and female religious have moved on and represent the cutting edge of the church.

The major moral issue of our time and the best Dolan can says is “It would be wonderful if there were a Catholic presence”. So much for episcopal leadership when it is most needed.


No pastoral planning, no public leadership on the issue, no personal witness or leadership from a church leader who should be at the front of this march.

Like so many other bishops who are absent from such issues, they simply provide links on their websites. Links however are no substitute for personal witness. Dolan is smart enough to know that he better say something or he will become almost totally irrelevant.

His absence is a dereliction of duty. It is an old story among Catholics who see the institution arrive a little bit late and a little bit out of breath.

Pope Francis is doing his best to goose these recalcitrant bishops but it’s a huge uphill battle.



Meanwhile with the collapse of institutional leadership there is a greater awareness that ordinary people have a sensus fidei that “the Holy Spirit anoints them and equips them for that high calling, conferring on them a very personal and intimate knowledge of the faith of the Church…As a result, the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel. (Sensus Fidei, 2014) .There is great encouragement for Catholics to go deep, to listen in their depths to what the Spirit is saying and it s obvious that the cry of the earth is addressed to all of us not just Cardinal Dolan.


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