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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This is my prayer as I begin this day

Lord, there is more to do today than I can possibly accomplish. I don’t believe that You spun the Earth too fast, so grant me the grace to do only those things You expect of me so that, when the day is over, I will know that I got everything done.

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“Mary, Did You Know?” (An a capella delight.)

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by | December 11, 2015 · 12:04 am

What do we call Jesus’ mother?

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. — Isaiah 7:14 [emphasis mine]

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. – Luke 1:41-42 [emphasis mine]

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. – Luke 1:46-48 [emphasis mine]

When Protestants refer to Jesus’ mother they call her by her name, Mary. That makes sense. It was, after all, her name. But people are sometimes put off when they hear Catholics refer to her as “the Blessed Virgin Mary.” I don’t think it is wrong either way, but I do want the show that the Catholic appellation is at least consistent with Scripture.

Isaiah prophesied that “a” virgin would conceive. Not “some” or “many” virgins. So when the fulfillment of the prophecy occurred, Mary was “the” virgin whom he foretold. So it would be completely scriptural to call her “the virgin.”

The Holy Spirit, speaking through Elisabeth and Mary said that all future generations would call her “blessed.” I think that includes us. So it is scriptural to call her the “blessed virgin.” And it is common in the English language, when referring to a person of title, to attach an appellation to the title. “His Majesty, King George the First.” “The President of the United States, George W. Bush.” “The Blessed Virgin, Mary.”

Oops! Did I just use a Protestant Bible to explain a Catholic tradition? Yes, I did. Does that mean that Protestants are wrong and Catholics are right? No, it certainly  does not. Both are correct. So during this Christmas season (we call it Advent because we await His appearance) we should stop and consider how much she was favored by God and at the very least ponder in our own hearts how such a miracle could be so.

Bless you all.

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An observation on “Christmassy” music

We are bombarded by the usual overabundance of “Christmas” music. I noted some time ago that many songs had nothing to do with our Christian holiday. I have since created a classification system for the music of the season.

See if this makes sense:

Class I: Songs about Jesus or specific Christian themes.

  • Silent Night
  • Away In A Manger
  • Joy to the World
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

Class II: Songs about the season but not specifically Christian (although they may use the word “Christmas” in them).

  • It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
  • Deck The Halls
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  • The Christmas Song
    (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Class III: Winter and snow songs. (Why don’t we sing these in February when it’s really winter? Are these considered Christmas songs in Australia?)

  • Sleigh Ride
  • Frosty The Snowman
  • Jingle Bells

I hope I haven’t ruined Christmas for you. Now, every time you hear a song, you’ll be thinking “Is that a class I or II song?” Actually, it doesn’t matter. If we only hear “Frosty” during Christmas at least we only have to put up with it for a month or so.

“And though it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”

 

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Often seen at football games

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)

john316signCan the Gospel be reduced to one verse? In one sense it can. John 3:16 cuts to the very core of God’s plan of salvation: His great love for the world, His great sacrifice freely offered, and our response to that call.

On the other hand, Jesus expounds a Gospel that encompasses so much more than that. Although this verse might be sufficient to achieve salvation alone, it can not even begin to inform a Christian life.

What is the answer? Very simple.

Hold up the sign.

Jesus said that when He is lifted up (exalted) He will draw all men to Himself. But after that, we who follow Him must care for the souls drawn to Him. A “John 3:16” Christian may escape Hell, but he will not experience the joy of a Christian life and he will not be very effective in drawing still more to the Lord.

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In the beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. – John 1:1-3 (NIV)

It’s terribly tempting to get into the intricate theology that is contained in these few words. And I started to do just that. But as I became more and more bogged down I realized that my real purpose here is not to instruct or convince. Rather, it is to share my thoughts. They may be insightful, they may be shallow and they may (certainly at times) be dead wrong. But in the end (no pun intended) they are mine.

I am examining this text with the benefit of centuries of Christian theology. So it is easy to read into the words meaning that wasn’t intended at the time. The Holy Spirit often does that. Holy men, as they are inspired by God, write things without always understanding what the fuller meaning of their words are. So it is here, I think. The first thing that jumps out at me is the idea of “being” and “being with” as simultaneously possible. Things, created things, can’t do that. I can’t “be” myself and “be with myself” at the same time. So John is either stating an obvious impossibility, or he is more likely stating something much more profound, namely that the Word is not a created thing, that the Word is in fact God. This meshes perfectly with the more fully developed doctrine of the Trinity which will not be elaborated until the fourth century. God is both Himself and His Word: they exist in perfect unity yet they are distinct.

The “word” he is referring to is the Greek word “logos.” Without getting into all the finer philosophical points, one of the obvious meanings of that word to readers at that time would have been the Greek philosophical concept of the logos as the active creative principle in the universe. And that is pretty much the meaning that John is conveying. God, the Word, creates all that there is by His Word. That’s a pretty obvious theme in the Old testament. “God said ‘Let there be light, and there was light’.” It was God’s Word that was the active agent of creation. We see this in verse three and also in this well-known passage from Isaiah.

11 So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

“In the beginning” is the opening both of this Gospel as well as Genesis. John is talking about the time before creation. But we now know that time and space are two different ways of looking at the same thing. Physicists use the term “space-time” to refer to the matrix of being in which we exist. I believe that prior to creation there was neither space nor time. It makes no more sense to ask “when” the universe was created than to ask “where” it was created. There was no “where” there and there was no “when” then. We’re dipping our toes into that arcane subject called ontology, the philosophy of “being.” One of the main questions ontology addresses is  “Why is there ‘is’ “?” Obviously the kind of “being” God possesses  is profoundly different than what we perceive to be “being.”  (What an unavoidable  swarm of bees.) The existential theologian Paul Tillich approached it this way:

Paul Tillich was critical of the view of God as a type of being or presence. He felt that, if God were a being, God could not then properly be called the source of all being (due to the question of what, in turn, created God). As an alternative, he suggested that God be understood as the “ground of Being-Itself”.

http://religiousnaturalism.org/god-as-ground-of-being-paul-tillich/

Or as another Paul (the apostle) put it when expounding the Gospel among the philosophers at the Areopagus , “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) (He is quoting the Cretan philosopher Epimenides.) The word “ground” here is taken is the artistic sense of figure and ground. In other words, the variation (figure) is only possible against the unchanging ground. A black stroke on canvas exists because it is something other than canvas. Analogies can be helpful if not carried too far. Think of a glassy smooth body of water. No motion, no disturbance of any kind. And then think of a ripple moving across the water. The ripple exists but it only exists as a change of the otherwise unchanging water. The water s the ground and the ripple is the figure. By extension, then, our “being” is nothing more (or less) than a ripple on the ground of God’s being. We know that God is unchanging in His essence but he is also omnipotent and therefore unconstrained by His own nature. And here we come to the mystery of creation. Why, if God is complete in Himself, does He choose to create? Why is there “is?”

 

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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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Prophylaxis

Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. – Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 60-61

This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

 

We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one. – Alcoholics Anonymous, pp.66-67

In the last few posts, we have been looking at the ways fear and anger have poisoned our well. We saw how old “stale anger” from the past reached into our present lives and made living such a chore. We also saw how fear could cast a cloud of worry and suspicion over the future. And, as I said earlier, there are direct measures we can take to “cure” this spiritual malady.

But there are also steps we can take to nip he problem in the bud. As any doctor can tell you, it’s far easier to prevent disease than to have to cure it. The term for this is “prophylaxis.” Here’s a definition:

prophylaxis

Measures designed to preserve health (as of an individual or of society) and prevent the spread of disease.

I always read that first quote from pages 60-61 as applying specifically to alcoholics.  I completely missed the “most people” part. Of course I would. We’re so convinced of our alcoholic uniqueness that we don’t realize that “most people” labor under the sames burden of self-centeredness and fear that we do. Let me make haste to point out that we are prone to saying the “sick man” prayer and forget that we are probably sicker. It’s really a prayer of humility, a spoken admission that we’re all pretty much in the same boat and that other people are probably doing the best they can

So the key to spiritual prophylaxis lies in our realization that the people who wrong us are themselves dealing with same spiritual malady. The difference is that they CAN in some measure “afford it.” It may make them miserable, but they have the option of being miserable the rest of their lives. We all know people like that. But we also come across individuals who can spot it and take corrective measure. We know people like this as well. They have recognized a need in their life and have followed a course of spiritual action to remedy it.

We alcoholics, on the other hand, can’t “afford it” because it kills us. We don’t have the option of suffering through it because our only response to pain has always been escape through alcohol or drugs. So, if we are to survive, we also have to find a course of spiritual action that can solve the problem. The AA program is not unique. It is not even original. It is simply a synthesis of the most effective and proven methods for overcoming this human condition. And it is extremely pragmatic. AA does not require years of rigorous discipline before results are seen. Quite the contrary. It cuts straight to the core of the problem and offers a “kit of spiritual tools” that have proven over the years to be extremely effective. That does not mean that we never grow beyond this point, only that AA offers first aid to the alcoholic so that he or she can survive long enough to become the healthy spiritual being that He intended.

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The wreckage of the future

I’ve been structuring these posts around the discussion of time I laid out a few posts earlier. In our review of the Fourth Step inventory, we saw how our old response to fear had created in us a stubborn unwillingness to forgive, and we remained mired in resentments that were eating away at our lives. A good deal of the “obsession of the mind’ consists of our inability to feel comfortable sober. And these old resentments played a big part in that. Further on, we will discover the complete solution to resentments, but for now I want to focus on the way that fear distorts our view of the future.

All animals are imbued to a greater or lesser extent with a natural fear response, often termed the “fight or flight” instinct. In mammals (including humans) it arises out of a very primitive part of the brain, is mediated by neurohormones, and is entirely beyond our control. Sometimes we get addicted to the feelings and seek out activities designed to trigger it in a controlled way. I think this is why amusement parks exist. A “thrill” ride is designed to elicit a primitive fear response but in a way that our conscious minds know is still safe.

But we differ from every other animal in one important regard. We have the mental capability to anticipate future events based on our past experiences. As a child, I learned pretty young that Christmas came once a year and that it was going to be the very best day of the year, even better than my birthday which I also eagerly anticipated. (I wish I still felt that way.) This also means that we can project our fears into the future and anticipate them with dread. When this is conscious we call it worry, but it isn’t always conscious. Sometimes we deflect these feelings onto other people or situations and (surprise!) get angry at something that hasn’t even happened. My friend Don C. tells a very funny story that illustrates this perfectly. Allow me.

A man is returning from a trip, and while driving home one of his tires goes flat. As he gets out to change it a steady rain begins to fall. He is quite angry at his circumstances already, but as he opens the trunk he sees that the jack is missing. His son was probably using it to work on his car and forgot to put it back. Now he’s really getting perturbed and very angry at his son. Thinking of what to do, he remembers passing a house a mile or so back and there were lights on. He decides to take the long walk in the rain to see if he can borrow a jack. As he approaches the house, he notices that there are no longer any lights on. He thinks to himself, “This family has already gone to bed. I’m going to wake them up and they’re going to get upset. They may even tell me to go away and this entire walk would have been for nothing!” Reluctantly he arrives and rings the bell. No response. He rings again and sees a light come on. He’s now convinced that he’s going to have to deal with someone who is more concerned about their own sleep than his plight. The nerve of some people! The door opens and a man asks, “What can I do for you?” “I’ll tell you what you can do,” he yells. “You can take your jack and shove it up your ***!”

It’s funny because we have all had these kinds of experiences. Have you ever had that unpleasant talk with someone in the future? We imagine how the conversation will progress based on nothing more than fantasy and fear. I still go through that every time I have to let an employee go. I will ruin an entire weekend re-running the scenario. Of course, when it actually happens, it’s nothing like what I expected.

In reality, the future we fear almost never happens, and we never anticipate the bad things that sometimes do. In other words, we never worry about real things. If we could all adopt the attitude “Don’t worry; be happy” life would be a whole lot better. But this is not natural for an alcoholic. It is a skill we must learn and practice until it becomes a part of our nature. The Steps provide a practical and proven way to get there, but it will always be a lifetime struggle.

My next post will discuss just how we go about that.

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