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Epiphany: At the hour of our death… January 6, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Life, Theological Reflection.
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SOMETIMES the truth hits you right between the eyes and leaves you reeling. That’s epiphany, I guess, and this was one of those moments for me, especially in this year of 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

From the funeral service of an old soldier:

At the hour of our death, it is to Jesus alone that we have to justify our life. He will not look at our accomplishments, he will look at our wounds, because he came not to be our judge but to be our saviour. No one is so lost that they cannot be redeemed by Christ.

There will be a final reckoning for all of us, of that I am sure: but that reckoning will not be by what we have achieved; rather by the wounds we have borne. So many lives lost, but not one wasted: by human standards, their wounds and the price they paid may well appear wasted; but to the One who sees all and knows all, those wounds are both salvation and healing. Judgement overturned, mercy in its place; or as James the Apostle put it, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

If you look back over your life and see only a string of failings, do not be afraid: for the One to whom we must give account does not weigh us up by our successes or failures; he sees the scars inflicted along the way. Do not despair at your failings, gentle reader, and above all do not be ashamed of your wounds: they are your salvation:

He will not look at our accomplishments, he will look at our wounds, because he came not to be our judge but to be our saviour.

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Reboot and Restore: Resurrection in Progress April 9, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Theological Reflection.
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RESURRECTION: it’s the very core of the Christian faith, the belief — reaffirmed by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Easter sermon yesterday — that Jesus came back to life. Not that he recovered from a near-death experience, as some have attempted to claim, nor that someone else such as Judas Iscariot was crucified instead, as some Muslims have claimed, but that Jesus himself died, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day.

Nor is this a throwaway belief, an added extra for addled minds: it’s the essence, the kernel, the central tenet without which the entire edifice falls apart to become nothing more than a pick & mix set of Cameronesque common-decency values that “people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire” as outlined in our beloved Prime Minister’s Easter Message. Not that there’s anything wrong with such values, of course, but without the resurrection they’re values without power that those with power can ignore as they please, which is, of course, precisely what Mr Cameron does as he cites Jesus — “Do to others as you would have them do to you” — then presses on with his welfare and health service reforms regardless of their impact on those at the bottom of the social ladder, trampled underfoot by those eagerly clambering to get to the top as they live out that twisted version of Jesus’ words — Do unto others before they do unto you — that seems to resonate so much more with so much government policy in practice.

Enough of Mr Cameron and his ilk, however. For me, this Easter weekend, belief in the resurrection has taken on a whole new significance as I’ve been forced to think about what a reboot means:

Reboot and restore: my ankle

Reboot and restore: my left ankle

Every morning, I have to reboot my left ankle, literally, strapping this contraption in place to hold it together to give the broken bone a chance to restore itself whilst still allowing me to get about on it. The medics say it’s going to take at least six weeks, then I go back for an X-ray and reassessment and hopefully — hopefully — get to ditch the boot and the crutches.

But with Jesus we’re not talking about a slow recovery, nor even a rapid one: we’re talking death, total shutdown and complete reboot into a whole new way of being human: new bioware configuration, complete mindware rewrite-and-restore and a brand new Resurrection-OS install that takes him to another level of existence. He doesn’t come back as a ghost or a disembodied spirit or even as an undead zombie but as a living, breathing, eating, drinking human being throwing beach parties for his disciples, upgraded. Here’s how I expressed it recently in another post:

[Jesus] dies and — the ultimate coup — suckers Satan into doing the dirty work of killing him: God’s biggest ever fart, right in Satan’s face, and Satan doesn’t even realise until it’s just too damned late. Once again, God does what Satan can’t: he dies, and he dies horribly with all the wrath, agony and hatred of humanity poured into his soul, into his very self. Satan, the one who hates humanity, delivers the death blow that finally nails God into the human story with no way out — and nails the lid onto his own coffin, for ever. The deceiver, deceived; the usurper, usurped; and whilst Satan throws a party in his fantasy world where he thinks God is no more, Jesus throws a party in the underworld, kicks down the gates of hell, breaks the chains, heals the wounds and sets every captive free — then returns, reboots his wreck of a body with a brand new Resurrection-OS, and throws a beach party for his confused disciples.

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything. The old dividing line between spiritual and physical, between heaven and earth, becomes nothing but a line in the sand, washed away by the tide: everything becomes sacred, gender distinctions are wiped away, the first become last, the last become first and in God’s new creation there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus becomes the point at which creation begins and the anchor holding it in place.

It’s hard, very hard, to get your head around that when you’re on the outside looking in, when you’ve got friends and family battling all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical; when you see nations tearing themselves and their neighbours apart in bloody warfare, missile launches, terrorist atrocities, roadside bombs and security cordons; when you see natural disasters, earthquakes, avalanches, famine, fire and floods; when you see road and rail accidents, ships sinking, aircraft crashing and senseless shootings, bigotry, hatred, inequality, injustice, unfair trade, sweatshops and slave labour, child abuse, adult abuse, sickness and disease raging out of control… the list goes on and on… and even the church, the very community that should know better, just as wartorn and divided as the world around it…

But when you’re on the inside looking out, then it’s another story. You’ve still got the same problems, the same fears as you face the same world; you break and bleed just as easily as the next person; but inside you, you’ve got this kernel planted: the complete package downloaded. You won’t find it with a surgeon’s scalpel anymore than you’ll find a software download on a computer with a screwdriver. In the Bible, it’s called the Holy Spirit: God’s guarantee, the down payment, the deposit; and at times it’s like a fire in your bones, like lightning in your veins, an explosion in your heart waiting to happen; other times, it’s a quiet presence, a calm in the storm, a voice that whispers; and sometimes it’s an ache, a void, a gutting absence. But you know, you know that no matter how shitty it gets out there, no matter how much shittier it gets inside or outside, when the shutdown comes — and it will — there’s a reboot waiting.

That, my friends, is what the resurrection is about: death defeated in a transformation that puts every science fiction writer’s dreams of nanotech upgrades into the shade. Why? Because it’s already happened. And because it’s available, gratis, to anyone who wants it. Which brings me full circle back round to the Archbishop’s sermon:

How do we know that it is true? Not by some final knock-down would-be scientific proof, but by the way it works in us through the long story of a whole life and the longer story of the life of the community that believes it. We learn and assimilate its truth by the risk of living it; to those on the edge of it, looking respectfully and wistfully at what it might offer, we can only say, ‘you’ll learn nothing more by looking; at some point you have to decide whether you want to try to live with it and in it.’

Or as the people who run the national lottery say, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Only in this lottery, every ticket’s a winner.

That is what gives those values summarised in that statement of Jesus their power: when you’ve got the full download, when you know there’s a reboot waiting, you don’t need to trample everyone else underfoot to get to the top. You can give yourself away and you can give yourself away and you can give yourself away.

And I’m not talking about dying and going to heaven or any of that wishy washy nonsense. I’m talking about God’s kingdom come, here on earth, living it now: do to others as you’d have them do to you. Get the download and join the revolution.

If you dare.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: Reflections and Refractions April 6, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Lent & Easter, Poetry.
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LORD OF LIFE, Lord of Light, Lord Christ:
You who washed your disciples’ feet,
stooping so tenderly —
setting aside your outer garment,
taking up a towel,
washing away the dirt,
the grime…

Stepping
so tenderly
amongst the fragments of shattered lives,
picking up the pieces
and wondering why…

Why? The eternal question.
Why did you bother?
Why did you come?
Why did you die?

We take the scriptures and hammer them
home. like. nails.
into unresisting flesh:
God hates fags:
God HATES fags:
HATES fags;
and God hangs,
suspended,
crucified by hate.

My God, my God, why?

The blood flows freely into famished ground,
life poured out
like water…

and fags go free:
Grace:
God,
whose radical action changes everything.
Time. stands. still.
Infinity unfurled,
love explodes:
new creation:
acceptance,
welcome.

May we, like you, set aside our outer garments,
our self-righteousness,
our convictions of others’ sins,
and take up that towel instead,
drying the tears
of those desolate years…

We look back,
amazed,
into betrayal’s gaze:
a kiss,
a sword,
a healing touch
and a riven side.

Truly this man was the Son of God.

I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave March 8, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Life, Theological Reflection.
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7 comments

And lo, I looked, and I saw camels dancing on Satan’s grave. And I spoke to the angel standing beside me, and I asked, “Who are these camels and why are they dancing?” And he replied, “When camels dance, the universe roars with laughter: for behold, these camels, they’ve got soul, and Satan, he’s got no soul, therefore these camels dance and the universe rejoices. Blessed shall be the ox who gets the yoke.”

— Recently discovered fragment of an early MSS of the Book of Revelation

Have you ever seen camels dancing? No? Then believe me, my friend, you haven’t lived: dancing camels are an absolute must-see phenomenon — and as this ancient writer discovered, they rock the universe with laughter. Total hilarity. Especially when they’re dancing on Satan’s grave.

Yes, that Satan: the ancient enemy of humanity, the betrayer, the deceiver, the usurper, the Father of Lies, the Whisperer of Dark Thoughts, and any other unpleasant and nefarious title that you can think of. The one who wants you, above all else, to believe that he does not exist — because once he’s won that little battle, he can get away with anything, from murder to rape to theft, even to the point of you taking your own life without you realising that yours wasn’t the hand that took it. Satan sucks, and given his way, he’ll suck you dry, drink your soul and leave you feeling like an empty husk wandering the empty pathways of despair.

Why? Because he exists; because you exist; and because God doesn’t. He hates that, because he wants to be all in all and he can’t be. Oh, there was a time when he was nearly there: top dog amongst the angels; but top dog wasn’t good enough for him: he wanted to be top god. But God — and how I love those two words, But God — put a stop to those satanic ambitions, simply by creating you. Yes, you: the you reading this and wondering what on earth that nutjob Phil Groom is on about this time.

Prepare to be amazed: he’s on about you. Because you, like the dancing camels, have got soul. Which means you can dance too, with or without the camels, and all that damned Satan can do is rot in his grave and fade away. True, he’s a pain in the butt right now: lop off a chicken’s head and it’ll run around flapping and spurting blood and making a right mess for a minute or two before it drops; and Satan’s one big headless chicken who’s gonna be running around for a while yet. But up there in the future, the camels are dancing on his grave: it’s just a question of laughing in the meantime, along with more than a bit of weeping, sure; but God’s promise is that damned devil is done for, finito, for ever.

How? One word: Jesus. In Jesus, God steps out of the realm of the Almighty into what might be and makes all things possible. The non-existent God steps into human space-time and takes on existence: the author writes himself into the story, the artist paints himself into the picture, in a way that Satan simply cannot copy. Oh, Satan and his pathetic bunch of minions can possess, certainly; and as we all know, possession is nine tenths of the law. But as anyone who has ever faced a Compulsory Purchase Order knows only too well, that final tenth has more power than all the other nine put together — and that’s all God needs, all God has ever asked for and all Jesus needs to send Satan packing into that empty no man’s land where the camels dance on his grave.

Proof? You want proof? Simple: God farts and Satan flees. It’s right there in the Bible: Jesus went into the wilderness, where he farted for forty days and nights; and when the forty days were over, Satan fled. Ask Martin Luther: fart and the devil flees. The Christian God is a God who farts, and this — one of the most profound parts of the Christian message — terrifies Satan, because it’s something he can never do: he’s full of wind, but he can never fart. Try to imagine what that must be like: for ever flatulent but unable to fart. The best he can do is fart by proxy when he or one of his minions manage to possess a human being that they’ve sucker-punched into submission; but he can never fart himself. But God can: because God didn’t simply take over someone else’s human body, he grew his own and suffered all the indignities that went with it — alongside all the joys and pleasures. Seriously, you don’t think Jesus turning water not merely into wine but into the best possible wine was a one-off, do you? Practice makes perfect: Jesus knew his wine because he enjoyed the stuff, and if it had been a wedding today you can be sure that at least one of those water jars would have become Guinness, as well as maybe a flagon of champagne. Go ask his mum: she understood.

Our God farts. He also sings, dances, drinks, laughs, weeps, bleeds, parties, loves camels, tells stories, tells the bigots to bog off and makes friends with prostitutes. This is life in all its fullness. This is Jesus, God with us, one of us and loved and hated in equal measure by those who meet him.

He also dies and — the ultimate coup — suckers Satan into doing the dirty work of killing him: God’s biggest ever fart, right in Satan’s face, and Satan doesn’t even realise until it’s just too damned late. Once again, God does what Satan can’t: he dies, and he dies horribly with all the wrath, agony and hatred of humanity poured into his soul, into his very self. Satan, the one who hates humanity, delivers the death blow that finally nails God into the human story with no way out — and nails the lid onto his own coffin, for ever. The deceiver, deceived; the usurper, usurped; and whilst Satan throws a party in his fantasy world where he thinks God is no more, Jesus throws a party in the underworld, kicks down the gates of hell, breaks the chains, heals the wounds and sets every captive free — then returns, reboots his wreck of a body with a brand new Resurrection-OS, and throws a beach party for his confused disciples.

This is Christianity at its best, at its most basic and its most glorious: completely down to earth with the God who undermines every rule of religious propriety, turns every dogma and social norm on its head, tears down the walls and raises the dead. God with us, God incarnate, God one of us; and it doesn’t stop there: once God has written himself into the story, the story itself is rewritten with the promise of the same Resurrection-OS reboot for the entire universe. Quantum theology: time and space explode, ripping the old order apart as the Jesus Event reverberates backwards, forwards and every which way in time, rewriting history and writing an even better future. New creation, new beginning, new everything. The old dividing line between spiritual and physical, between heaven and earth, becomes nothing but a line in the sand, washed away by the tide: everything becomes sacred, gender distinctions are wiped away, the first become last, the last become first and in God’s new creation there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus becomes the point at which creation begins and the anchor holding it in place.

Following Jesus is not about some airy fairy pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die afterlife where we’ll all be floating around on clouds playing harps or cellos or whatever musical instrument takes your fancy with occasional breaks to laugh at the torments of the damned. Following Jesus is about life on earth now, in a world where Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christianity is firmly rooted in reality and reality is rooted in Jesus who makes all things possible; and the future hope Jesus holds out to his disciples is reality rebooted.

Earlier I said you’ve got soul; I was wrong: you are soul. Be careful how you say that, but don’t be fooled by anyone who tries to tell you you’ve got an immortal soul that’s going to heaven or hell or some place in between; you haven’t. You are soul, body/spirit/mind synched together in imperfect harmony, but in God’s reboot the imperfections get the boot, your hard drive gets defragged and you get the upgrade that Apple, Microsoft and all the other computer geeks out there can’t even dream of, even in their wildest flights of imagination. Doesn’t matter if the original hardware’s rotted away, been incinerated or recycled because Jesus saves and he backs up too. Which means there will be cats and dogs in heaven because heaven will be here on earth; and for those with eyes to see, it’s already arrived.

God farts, Satan flees, camels dance, heaven, earth and humanity are rebooted and in the words of the hymn writer, Jesus sets our souls ablaze: be careful how you sing that; and I don’t know what was in those mushrooms I ate last night, but the shop assistant told me they were a special purchase from Patmos: blessed shall be the ox who gets the yoke.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21:1-4


Acknowledgements: Post inspired by my good friend @narky, who apparently believes there won’t be cats and dogs in heaven; and I owe the ox who gets the yoke gag to Kruppe, a character in Steven Erikson’s ‘Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen’ … everything else, apart from the bits I made up, is true.

Helping Jesus Get Started March 14, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity.
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9 comments

From Jesus and the Interpreter: A modern-day christian helps Jesus get started. Watch and weep…

Changing my socks January 12, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Frivolity, Life, Watching and Waiting.
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13 comments

SOMETIMES DRASTIC MEASURES ARE CALLED FOR. This is one of those times: I am changing my socks. Yesterday I tweeted:

and because I am such a hyperconnected person, oh yes, that tweet went via friendfeed to facebook, where a friend suggested that I should change my socks next time I take a shower. This horrified me. Quietly disregarding the fact that I don’t shower, that it’s at least a year since I last showered, I was utterly flabberbegibbergasted. Consider the implications: it would seem that my friend takes his socks off when he showers.

I invite you, gentle reader, to think this through: the removal of socks exposes the feet. Yes, you’ve got it: naked feet! Feet exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with no protection from the moneymakers and swindling bankers who want to take those ten little piggies to the stock market and rip off their toenails and — well, you get the picture. Putting it bluntly, it’s unnatural.

I ask you, lovelies: how could anyone shower, bathe, get into bed or — horror of horrors — walk down the street with naked feet? Imagine if you stepped in some dog poop and then got into bed. Dearly beloved readers, will you stand with me on this matter of principle? I put it to you that socks should not be changed, exposing feet and tootsies to the air and other unmentionable dangers, except as an absolute last resort.

But today I am in such a state of shock that needs must and my socks will be changed! I will peel them from my feet, then gently, oh so gently — as if the very hands of Jesus were doing the job, as he is wont to do — wash those feet and put on clean socks. Do not be afraid: the sockless interval will last no more than 10 minutes.

Whence my state of shock, you ask, as if the very idea of showering with naked feet were not bad enough? Herein, dear hearts: my good friend Ali Quant — who routinely walks barefoot all over me in Scrabble — has become a porn star! Yes, a porn star: described by someone in a Guardian comment thread as “misery porn”.

There is no choice: I am changing my socks!!

I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

Where next?

Meet Jesus on Thyface October 6, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Books, Christianity.
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2 comments

THIS is promises to be entertaining, methinks…

h/t @simonschusterUK | www.thy-face.com | @ThyfaceJesus

Broken Church July 23, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Church, Theological Reflection, Watching and Waiting.
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RECENTLY I tweeted:

What is church? It’s people, broken people … pretending not to be broken … and that’s what breaks it…

… but things, maybe people too, are easily lost in the twittersphere, so I thought I’d say it again here.

I find church difficult: I love the fellowship, the shared communion, the sense (sometimes!) of common purpose, of being on a journey together; but then we get to the Bible readings, creeds, hymns, liturgy, prayers … and inside of me, just beneath the surface, there’s a voice screaming, “It’s not real!”

Or is it? Is there, somewhere amongst all the hype about God almighty, something real? Something deeper, something … transcendent?

People — myself included — talk about mission, evangelism, good news. But what’s good about believing fantasy? On what basis are we, is anyone, expected to invite people to become part of a community that so often can’t even see its own brokenness? What’s the good of lighting candles only to snuff them out? What’s the good of faking it for Jesus when Jesus reserved his harshest words for fakers?

And Jesus himself? Where are you, Jesus? Would we recognise you if you came to one of our services? Would you recognise our church services, meetings, fellowship groups — whatever we want to call them — as having anything to do with you?

Or would we find you sitting on the wall outside, having a smoke, broke and broken and wondering what it’s all about?

Prayer of the Bánfaith February 1, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Books, Prayer.
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Came across this prayer in Scarlet, Book 2 of Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy (pp.243-244). Hope it touches your spirit as powerfully as it touched mine; even more, I hope that you can join me in making it your prayer:

O Wise Head, Rock and Redeemer,
In my deeds, in my words, in my wishes,
In my reason, and in the fulfilling of my desires, be Thou.
In my sleep, in my dreams, in my repose,
In my thoughts, in my heart and soul always, be Thou.
And may the promised Son of Princely Peace dwell,
Aye! in my heart and soul always.
May the long awaited Son of Glory dwell in me.

In my sleep, in my dreams, in my repose,
In my thoughts, in my heart and soul always, be Thou.
Thou, a bright flame before me be,
Thou, a guiding star above me be,
Thou, a smooth path below me be,
And Thou a stout shield behind me be,
Today, tonight and ever more.
This day, this night, and forever more
Come I to Thee, Jesu —
Jesu, my Druid and my Peace.

I guess it’s the idea of Jesus as Druid that connects with me most powerfully: not some majestic, other-worldly Lord of the Universe but a fellow human being on the same journey through life with me, yet one who has already touched the mystery, upon whom I can call to sustain me in my journey.

Walking with him, the veil is thinner and hope grows stronger.

Farewell to Jesus September 20, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Theological Reflection.
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Jesus

Jesus

This is Jesus.

He’s been a good friend these last couple of years, always there watching over me. He was there before me; he’ll be there long after me, I guess. But he isn’t mine and I can’t take him with me.

He’s standing on the mantelpiece in our bathroom. Yes, I do mean mantelpiece: our home — the home we’re about to leave — is a old vicarage converted into upstairs and downstairs flats, and when this room was refitted as a bathroom, they left the fireplace in place.

He’s standing on a blue cloth because I’ve just given him a shower: he was getting a bit dusty. But other than that, he hasn’t moved since the day we moved in: the bathroom mantelpiece is where we found him and it’s where we’ve left him. I think he’s in good company with the cream cleanser and my deodorant.

I’ve thought about moving him around a bit: maybe stand him on the TV digibox, see if he improves our reception; or by the wireless router, see if he gives us more bandwidth; but on the whole, I kinda like him where he is.

He watches over me when I perform my morning ablutions (Sue will tell you, it is a performance), but he doesn’t intrude of interrupt, just stands there quietly.

He’s not really my kind of Jesus: the Jesus I read about in the Gospel was a Mediterranean peasant, a wildcard who stirred things up, annoyed the powers-that-be, led a group of rebels. I can’t imagine this Jesus leading a group of rebels. I guess one thing this Jesus and the gospel Jesus have in common is they wear their heart on the outside: this Jesus wears his heart on his breast; the Jesus of the Gospels wore his heart on his sleeve, all his emotions raw and open for all to see.

Another thing — the thing that stands out most to me, the thing that has prevented me just throwing him out, the thing that makes me hope whoever moves in here after us will want to keep him too — is he’s got no hands.

Every morning — every time I visit the bathroom — he reminds me of that old saying: Christ has no hands on earth but ours.

I don’t know whether I can live up to that challenge: to be Christ’s hands here on earth. But with him standing there, I know I can’t escape it. Even in the bathroom.

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