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A God With Skin

With peals of thunder punctuated by blinding flashes of light a mother attempts to get her child into bed.”Mommy, I’m scared” he says not surprisingly.”Honey, nothing will happen to you. God is watching over us and nothing bad can happen when God is our protection. Now go to sleep and we’ll see you in the morning.” Mom gets into bed, but a couple of flashes later her son has jumped into bed with mom and dad. “Honey, I told you God was watching over you. Let me take you back to your room. You’ll be nice and safe there.” But, of course, it only takes a couple of flashes and back into their bed he jumps. The scene repeats itself a few more times,and finally mom says, “Honey, don’t you believe that God is watching over you?” “Yes,” he replies. “But right now I could really use somebody with a little more skin.”

 

This is an old joke but a favorite for one important reason. It’s easy to talk of God’s goodness and protection when things are not terribly frightening, or when they are happening to someone else. But what happens when things get real, when it’s no longer a matter of simply knowing that God cares for us? Sometime, God works in tangible and immediate ways. The rent is due and an unexpected check shows up. You need to hire a replacement for a person that just quit, and you run into someone with the right qualifications looking for a job. We have all experienced moments like that. They can be faith builders, but they aren’t a foundation for faith.

The central fact of Christianity is precisely the punch line of that joke. We need a God with skin. We need a God who took on human flesh so that as human beings, we have a God who knows our infirmities, who knows intimately our deepest fears. And our deepest, most secret fear is that God is an illusion, a story we tell ourselves to feel better. But the little boy in the story wasn’t buying it. He didn’t want a story: he needed real protection.

How, then, do I experience a God with skin? How do I experience the tangible reality of a God who is my protection? Jesus came in the flesh to conquer all sin and death. But that meant that he had to first die. And even though He rose from the tomb, it was still necessary for Him to leave us so that something more powerful could take the place of His earthly presence, limited, as it were, by time and space. What He gave us was more than His risen body. He gave us His Holy Spirit. And it was His intention,, and that of the Father, that those who are baptized into His death are likewise baptized into His life.

So take a moment and look at you hands. If you are a Christian, those are not your hands. They are the flesh that clothes the hands of God. This is not a metaphor. The highest expression of God’s incarnation is that he redeemed our own flesh that it might become His. But we do not experience it unless we use it. The Holy Spirit is power, and power is not dormant. It is only when those hands are animated by the Holy Spirit that the miraculous ensues. The irony, then, is that I am never so close to the protection of God as I am when my hands reach out to protect someone else. God made us for purpose. Not merely a purpose, but purpose itself. As Christians, that means that nothing ever happens outside of the purpose of God.

I am dealing with some very difficult struggles right now. It is Sunday afternoon and a group of friends who stopped by have gone home. It could be the saddest moment of my week. Nothing is easier than self-pity. I could go in my room, close my eyes, and let the tears flow. And there would be nothing inherently wrong in that. But it is less than God wants for me. So I grabbed my computer and did what I could to give the moment meaning. I wrote. And by writing about the reality of my life, perhaps someone else’s life will be touched, or they will touch someone else. After all, what is skin for if not for touching?

 

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Top of the Roller Coaster

I’ve been remiss in holding to my goal of blogging more often. I’ve tried a few times and the words just didn’t seem to come. But tomorrow night will be the last night I go to bed with my speech in this condition and Charlotte will be here and I won’t waste our time together blogging. I don’t know what condition I will be in this time next week, but it will be different.

While I was sharing at the meeting this morning, I came to the realization that the thing I really fear the most is knowing I might never be able to talk to an AA newcomer. It’s hard enough in Arizona even finding new people to sponsor. But if my speaking ability becomes more limited there will be even greater hurdles to overcome. The bright side of that is that, if I am open to the possibilities, God will find a way to use these new developments to reach people I might not have otherwise reached. I just can’t see how, at least at this time.

I have maintained for some time that my strongest natural talent lay in teaching. And when I became a teacher, I found that it was a talent like every other, present in potential but requiring a great deal of practice and humility to properly develop it. I may not be a great teacher, maybe not even a good one. But when I am teaching, I feel that I am in my natural element. Whether I am standing in front of a classroom, or at an AA podium, talking one-on-one or leading a small group, there is no experience to compare to it. When I see a flash of understanding cross someone’s face, I feel like I am doing what I was made to do.

So what do I do if I can’t talk? Obviously I can write, and I certainly plan to, more than ever before. There is on this blog alone years of postings, mostly about the Program but also about my faith and other philosophical areas. And for the most part, it seems no one has read it. Nor need they. I am, after all, just one person expressing his opinions which, while they might be  insightful at times, are mostly syntheses if things I’ve learned from other sources. So my writing eventually flowed to a trickle for one reason only. I want to be heard. That, ultimately, is the source of the joy I find in teaching.

Am I being self-centered? I won’t deny it. Recognition and positive responses make me feel very good about myself. But following one’s true vocation ought to be gratifying. There’s no sin in that if kept in proper proportion. And the apparent loss of one’s vocation can only have a couple of meanings. Perhaps it wasn’t true discernment, just a rationalization of what I wanted to do anyway. In which case, it’s actually a kind of guidance, showing me that I may have missed the mark somewhere. Or it could be a refinement, a deeper expression of what the true vocation is. What I have done up until now may have been a preparation for something more demanding but more fruitful. Or it might just be something that happened and doesn’t require a spiritual analysis. I have no answers.

So this is how I feel: almost to the top of the roller coaster. Frightened, eager and wanting it to be all over. I don’t think I could wait another week. For the most part, I am genuinely content, convinced that God would not have brought me this far to abandon me. But every morning, for a few moments after I wake up but before I really have my thoughts under control, I feel alone and weak and angry and genuinely frightened. Praise God that these feelings don’t last very long. But I do need to be reminded daily just how bad it could be if I were facing this with only my own power.

Once again I am doing something which used to be anathema to me: typing what comes into my head and publishing it without editing. But I can’t afford the luxury of that much time, and I may actually be a little more self-revealing if I don’t try to tidy it up as much. In any case, this is pretty much raw Steve. Let me know what you think.

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Disappointed, joyous and free

I don’t have problems. I have opportunities, and some of my opportunities are insurmountable – heard at a meeting.

It is a character trait of mine that my emotions run ahead of my reason. And the surest outcome of that tendency is to permit circumstances to toss me around. Let a storm cloud appear on the distant horizon, and I am already wet. Let a sliver of sunlight emerge, and the world is a perfect place. I strive to be temperate, I may even boast of it at times, but calm, rational acceptance of circumstances is hardly guaranteed.

Today received news that things actually are just as grim as we first thought. I had embraced the unexpectedly sunny prognosis, and have now made myself worse off than before in some ways. In addition to the fear I already faced, I now carry the additional burden of self-inflicted disappointment (not to mention some embarrassment over having celebrated a bit soon).

When I first had a confirmed cancer diagnosis, I resolved to glory in my infirmity. And God certainly seemed to be providing the grace to stare down this obstacle. But as is often the case, the price of grace can be dear. Thus the question becomes “is grace always sufficient for the trial?” Is the true measure of grace always to be found in the depth of the struggle? My theological self says “yes” emphatically, and my scared inner self says “shut up.”  They are not in conflict.

I will continue to proclaim that God is my fortress and my shield. As in the past, I will affirm that Jesus conquered death and that the grave no longer holds the victory. And I will do this with quivering lips because I am weak, as are we all. It is not bravado I wish to show to the world. Rather, it is the inexplicable peace that overcomes it. Don’t think for a moment that I am not frightened. To face something this dire and not be frightened is either insanity or stupidity. But beneath the fear is a joy that no one can take from me. And that joy is rooted in absolute truths: that I am loved and supported by the best people in the word, that the most spectacular woman in the world is my wife, and that God, in His boundless love, will never leave me desolate.

So be by my side as we navigate these “opportunities.” It’s going to be a hell of a ride.

 

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Making it easier

To all my friends that had trouble commenting:

I had the blog set to require moderation of comments, but since I am so lazy it meant that your comments weren’t posting until I got around to it. I activated a plug-in that should prevent spam so if it works, there won;t be any restrictions. If I have problems with spam, I may have to tighten things up a little, but I’ll let you know before I do.

 

And thanks for all the response to my last post. More will follow. I have a biopsy tomorrow which will give us a better idea of what we’re dealing with. Pray for Charlotte. She’s having a tough time.

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Never Too Late

My blogging slowed to a trickle lately. (Actually, to nothing) But I felt a need to journal so that my family would have a record of my thoughts. I almost started a separate blog, but realized that no one read this one anyway, so how better to stay anonymous than by blogging to an unread site. I felt guilty that I had waited so long to start journaling, but guilt should never be an excuse for inaction. I decided to start on my 70th birthday, but emerging circumstance dictate that I start now. So my next post, along with any I fell need to be seen,  will be shared on Facebook.

See you there.

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Did Jesus lie about the Flood?

Noah's FloodOur friends at christiannews.net posted this article regarding Ken Ham’s assertion  that Jesus’and the Apostles’ references to Noah and the Flood constitute proof of the literal interpretation of the Flood story in Genesis. His point is that, if the Flood is a myth, then so is the Gospel. My understanding of this reasoning is based on the assumption that Jesus of Nazareth, being entirely God, was therefore omniscient and would be lying if the Flood story weren’t literally true.

Ken Ham sets up a dichotomy but there are at least four reasonable postulates regarding His references:

  1. He was omniscient and spoke of a true literal Flood.
  2. He was omniscient and spoke of a literal Flood when He knew that it was only a story, in which case He lied and the Gospel is a myth.
  3. He was not omniscient and spoke of the Flood as any other Jew of the time might understand it, as being literally true.
  4. He was not omniscient spoke of the Flood as any other Jew of the time might understand it, as being a story.

Postulates one and two are Ham’s dichotomy and are entirely predicated on the assumption that Jesus, being God, was omniscient. But there is evidence in Scripture that Jesus Himself may not in fact have been omniscient which thus allows for postulates three and four.

We focus on Jesus’ divinity but don’t always see the correlate, namely God’s carnality. If Jesus was tempted “like us in all ways, except for sin,” He clearly shared our carnal nature, although untainted by original sin.

Furthermore

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Phillipians 2:6-8 (NIV) [emphasis mine]

So it is altogether plausible that, although Jesus was entirely God and entirely man simultaneously, he might not have possessed all the attributes of divinity by virtue of of His incarnation. It seems to me apparent that Jesus did not comprehend His full nature from infancy, that awareness of His being the Messiah came to him in stages. Yet He was God from His very conception, so there had to have been times when He was not omniscient. Similarly, although He possessed the power of prophecy (as no man ever had) yet the prophetic office does not imply omniscience per se. Even at the last, during His agony in the garden fully aware of the death He would likely soon suffer, nevertheless prayed

… Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Mark 14:36 [KJV]

Knowing that God the Father had spared Isaac, perhaps (and this is only speculation) He might have wondered if the Father would likewise spare His own Son. He clearly speaks as having His own will apart from the Father. In any case, it is clear that there was at least a sliver of uncertainty regarding the Father’s will, and a sliver is all it takes to render moot the question of omniscience.

So having established that God incarnate might not be all-knowing, we can allow the possibility that Jesus may have been referencing the “time of Noah” and the Flood according to the prevailing understanding of devout Jews of that time. Whether they saw it as literal or metaphorical is not a question with a direct answer. But it really makes no difference. It still obviates the necessity for a literal Flood.

Let me take pains to affirm that Mr. Ham’s reasoning is not in itself wrong except as it fails to take into account a fuller range of possibilities. My greater concern is that, in setting up a literal Flood as a litmus test for being a Christian, he may be turning some away from a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ who might otherwise have been saved if not for such rigidity.

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Orlando and the human heart

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.  – Rahm Emanuel

I have refrained from posting anything on Facebook regarding the Orlando massacre (and it justly deserves that name.) Most of it is either treacle or polemic, neither very enlightening. But I quote Mr. Emanuel for a reason. It seems that even before our nation has started to process the immensity of this act, the narrative has been seized upon as a platform to push various political agendas. I refuse to address any of them directly, but a short, incomplete list will suffice to give you the flavor:

  • LGBT
  • Gun control
  • Gun rights
  • Islamic barbarism
  • Islam, religion of peace
  • Border security
  • Anti-Trump
  • Anti-Obama

The real issue, and one that never occurs to the zealot, is that the human heart is inherently wicked. Many will nod in agreement, meanwhile believing their own hearts to be pure. This is the sin of pride, and a grave one it is. The moment we lose sight of our own fallen state, we cut ourselves off from the grace of God. Those who are well have no need of a physician.

C. S. Lewis spoke of it as “enmity to God.” There is an excerpt from Mere Christianity called “The Great Sin” and is worth reading. I could easily embed the entire thing but you can read it here. I will, however, quote it in part.

In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

The quandary we find ourselves in is beyond challenging. Jesus said to love your enemies and He placed no limit on that definition. I confess that I continue to be filled with self-righteous rage every time I see images of 9/11. And I seek them out deliberately to arouse those feelings. I want to hate, and hate strongly. This is pride. This is the spirit of antichrist. And it was against that spirit that Jesus directed His angriest comments. It was the spirit of the Pharisees. We are no different, and painful as it is to say, it is Christians who often display this in the greatest measure.

What, then can we do? I think first of all, admit to ourselves that our anger is more a reflection of our pride than a justified response to inhuman brutality. It is only by accidents of birth and the power of the Holy Spirit that we do not do such things. Secondly, I think we need to earnestly confess this to God and, if you are Catholic, to humbly partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what used to be called Confession. Most importantly, we should pray not only for those who suffered death and injury and for their families, but for the perpetrators as well. Their hearts are not beyond the reach of God’s healing Spirit and our intersession on their behalf is powerful and effective.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.- James 5:16
Having said all this, let me emphasize that I am nowhere near this degree of humility. I can see the way, but I despair of having the power to follow it. I only pray that God will impart to me by His grace the means to move forward.

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The day of consolidation has come.

For the last several years I have been blogging at friday600.blogspot.com. This was intended to carry on the tradition of an AA Big Book study started in Rochester Hills, Michigan back in the 90s. Since starting Verbus, I have decided that all that content could certainly find a home here and make this blog all the better for it.

I also had another blog called bbcatholics.blogspot.com intended to bring Catholic and Evangelicals into polite discussions. That content has be imported as well.

So welcome to the new improved Verbus. Please feel free to use the search feature to locate old posts you want to revisit, or to look up posts that may have some bearing on a subject that interests you. As time permits I will also be going back and adding category tags to old posts to make it easier to search by subject matter.

And please, please sign up as a subscriber and comment on the posts. I want to create a space for lively dialog on whatever topic interests my readers.

I have decided to keep on blogging, even if I find myself speaking to an empty auditorium. At least I’m keeping a journal now.

Hope to hear from you all.

 

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Opening thoughts, quirks and admonitions

So here I am again, firing up another blog. It can be said that one only fails when one stops trying. I’m still trying so I guess I’m not yet a failed “bloggist.” My other blogging experiences were frustrating. One was ignored (not uncommon) and the other was well-liked and read regularly. But I never received any comments. If I wanted to record my thoughts in a vacuum I could just have as easily done my writing in Word. But I want and need comments. So I depend on you who read this to contribute something, even if it’s just a brief note of approval/disapproval.

This particular blog grew out of the very pleasant exchanges I had over two years with my two speech therapists. I spent an hour twice a week hooked up to an electrical machine that still allowed me to talk. Very dangerous. Not the machine, of course. The part about allowing me to talk. And talk we did on a wide range of subjects. I know very, very little about many, many things and I am always keen on having an audience on which to demonstrate that. So our topics behaved like a non-linear system (which was, ironically, one of the topics), chaotic yet pleasantly so. We were usually around the areas of religion and spiritual development, science and math, and on rare occasions, politics as long as we agreed (which we did).

I assume that my two friends will be joining me here and hope that at least a few people will join us. Since the blog is private you won’t be able to find it by Googling it. Therefore I will need some word-of-mouth to add to our numbers. If you enjoy participating, invite your friends. Heck, invite your enemies. Sometimes they make some good points.

My friends are beginning a study of the book of John which is something about which I can say a few things . I don’t intend to do a detailed commentary. There are plenty out there to suit whatever hermeneutical inclinations you might have. I intend only to offer my limited understanding of Scripture in the hope that some light might arise both for me and my commentators.

I make no bones about my religious beliefs. I am Roman Catholic, a convert from a bible-believing Evangelical world. So I do know the book pretty well. I have no interest in converting anyone, and I’m willing to air all points of view. I won’t, however, allow this to become a debating society where more heat than light is generated. So feel free to strongly express your opinions. I will respect them, as I hope you will respect mine.

And so, as they say, on with the show. New post to follow soon.

 

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All things in moderation

Since this is my blog I am also the administrator. That means that I have the ability to moderate comments before they appear on the site. There are some discussion sites that block content they feel is not germane to their purposes. I suppose I would do the same if someone started directing their comment to unrelated issues such as politics or vegetarianism since this is not what we do. But I would never block content that challenged my beliefs or the beliefs of other commentators.

The only thing I insist on is civility and as open mind to other viewpoints. So I would like to propose some minimal ground rules.

  • No ad hominem posts. Please do not attack a person for what she or he says or believes.
  • No off-topic posts. Please address your comments to the actual matter at hand.
  • Please start your comments by stating something positive. You can almost always find common ground. And even if you can’t, you can thank the person and show that you understand their point of view.

I hope no one finds these guidelines onerous. I genuinely want my thinking to be challenged. I hope you each share that goal.


As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” – Proverbs 27:17 NIV

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