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Saturday, January 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Religion

Faith and Values: In the flesh, here and now

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 21, 2018

Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for The Spokesman-Review. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Graves, Faith and Values columnist for The Spokesman-Review. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Paul Graves For The Spokesman-Review

“One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.” Wow, really? I think that Frederick Buechner was right when he wrote this irreverent insight in “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.”

He said this about the word “Incarnation,” a fancy word for God becoming a human being, specifically Jesus. God-in-the-flesh, here and now. Yet we have subtle ways to “spiritualize” Jesus, overemphasizing our images of Jesus as more divine than human.

The danger? We focus so much on the divine that we accidentally dismiss his humanity. And that can dismiss the central reason God became a human being. Earthy, fleshy (not merely fleshlike), honoring the divine essence of being human!

I sometimes wonder if we spiritualize God-in-Jesus because his humanness means he’s too much like us. And we want Jesus/God to be so much more than we are. Does that mean we really don’t think our humanness is all that great, it isn’t that big a deal? Maybe.

“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). For over 30 years, I’ve revisited a certain provocative thought by a theology professor. He believed “The Word” could also be translated as “Faithful Action of God.”

So John’s sentence would read “The Faithful Action of God became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Is your experience of God one of “faithful action?” Mine is. Does your experience of God have an earthy quality to it? Mine does.

I’ve mentioned this old preacher put-down before: “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” And I’ve rejected it for years. If a preacher, or anyone for that matter, can’t make even a tiny difference in someone’s daily life, on this side of death, then why bother?

We often further dilute the impact of God’s incarnation beyond our artificial division of Jesus into divine-human. How? We can miss the “coming of Jesus” in our daily, ordinary lives. While some wait for a second coming of Jesus, they may actually miss Jesus’ arrival in their lives today.

I know some will think me heretical here (but I don’t care). Here and now, if we have eyes to see, hands to touch, ears to listen and hearts to receive, we can recognize the experience of “grace and truth” John proclaims in his opening words.

Reflect for a moment here. Yesterday, where did you see, or touch, or listen to, or receive, a glimpse of truth? Or perhaps a moment of grace? Was it from another human being? Very possibly! Can you see that person as a “faithful action of God?” I hope so.

God in-the-flesh, here and now. I’m convinced God’s incarnation we celebrate in Jesus was meant for much more than we accept.

God didn’t become a human to make us Christian, or Jewish, or any particular religious identity. God’s faithful action was/is meant to help us experience the deepest essence of what being human is really about.

We play at being human, but it’s too frequently like a reality show. We play our parts, and then we go on our stumbling ways when the script is tossed aside.

Maybe we think that script is all that being human is really about. And we’d be wrong. Deep down, our view of our own humanity is too often very shallow. To me, looking beyond the words about Jesus to the faithful actions of Jesus helps us see the faithful action of God in daily life.

It’s Christmas time, folks! Honor Jesus’ birth. Honor your own too. You too are God in-the-flesh!

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