June 22, 2007


El Cabrero has been on a theological jag this week, with a special focus on the work of the great 20th century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

To recap briefly, Tillich had a way of bringing new meaning to old religious terms that have accumulated a lot of baggage over the centuries (without sacrificing the old meanings). Yesterday's post looked at his ideas of sin and grace as discussed in his sermon "You are accepted" from the book The Shaking of the Foundations.

For him, sin is a state before it is an act. Specifically, it is a state of separation which is the fate of all people. It is something that inevitably happens to us but also something to which we contribute by our own actions. By separation, he meant our alienation or estrangement from other people, from nature, from ourselves, and from the Ground of Being (which many folks call "God").

This would also apply to

the attitude of social groups within nations towards each other,and the attitude of nations themselves towards other nations. The walls of distance, in time and space, have been removed by technical progress; but the walls of estrangement between heart and heart have been incredibly strengthened.

But if sin or separation is a pervasive reality, it isn't the only one. There is also the reality that can sometimes be experienced when separation is overcome. His word for that is grace:

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!" If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

In the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life. We experience the grace of understanding each other's words. We understand not merely the literal meaning of the words, but also that which lies behind them, even when they are harsh or angry. For even then there is a longing to break through the walls of separation. We experience the grace of being able to accept the life of another, even if it be hostile and harmful to us, for, through grace, we know that it belongs to the same Ground to which we belong, and by which we have been accepted. We experience the grace which is able to overcome the tragic separation of the sexes, of the generations, of the nations, of the races, and even the utter strangeness between man and nature. Sometimes grace appears in all these separations to reunite us with those to whom we belong. For life belong to life.

And in the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to ourselves. We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater than we. If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self- complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life. We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say "yes" to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.

Official Goat Rope verdict on Tillich: dude was pretty good. Too bad he didn't know how to break up his paragraphs...

WAY TO GO, JOE! Thanks and congratulations to WV Governor Joe Manchin for signing on to a letter to the U.S. Senate in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill, which passed the House this spring, would allow workers to join unions by signing cards authorizing representation. It would also increase penalties for employers who illegally attempt to punish or intimidate workers trying to organize. The letter is here.

A LITTLE WIN FOR MINE SAFETY. From today's Gazette,

A Boone County man won a $2 million jury verdict in a wrongful termination lawsuit against a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary Thursday.

Rocky Allen Burns, 55, of Madison, sued Independence Coal Co. in May 2006, alleging that his firing in October 2005 was the result of his reporting safety problems at the Justice No. 1 mine to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

There's more here.



thinkulous said...

What a gorgeous excerpt from Tillich. I especially like the "Life belongs to life," and the equivalence of grace and acceptance. If we "receive the power to say 'yes' to ourselves," we can often then say "yes" to so much of life around us that we couldn't before (at least I can).

I'm sure he touches on this, but the only thing I would add is that I have to practice trying to get to this acceptance every day. It doesn't always work, but it's the groundwork that lays the path for grace to saunter down when it's time.

Thanks for an inspiring post!

El Cabrero said...

Glad you liked it. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I first read it. It was like it was exactly describing something that happened to me.

The thing about it is that it's sometimes not the kind of thing you can summon at will, and then at other times it just kicks down your doors.

Martin Buber talked about how you needed both will and grace to really meet life.

I have no idea whether that's where the tv series got its name.

Juanuchis said...

Official Goat Rope verdict on Tillich: dude was pretty good. Too bad he didn't know how to break up his paragraphs...

Ok, another OW! But damn, was that good. I posted a bit ago on your blog of yesterday about my difficulty with Grace. This really helps, and despite the Big Paragraphs.

(Why do theologians and lawyers have to use Big Paragraphs and Big Words and run-on sentences? But I digress.)

And onto mine safety: why am I not surprised at Massey's shenanigans? I was away from WV for 25 years, and returned in 2005. Immediately I went into "WTF" mode when I would hear reporting of Massey. I really should make a Don Blankenship Voodoo Doll.

El Cabrero said...

That one hit me like a ton of bricks when I first stumbled on it.

At first, I was hesitant to use the quotes since they were so long, but there's no way I could paraphrase that!

If you do try Tillich, I'd recommend the sermons, some of the best are online at the link.

Re: everyone's favorite coal company--it just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it? Were you around for the elections?

Juanuchis said...

Oh, yes, I was around for the elections. I was both incensed and amused by DB's reaction to his utter failure to get votes. His interview on West Virginia Pubcast said it all: he expected to buy loyalty, and when it didn't happen, he implied that we West Virginians are idiots. He thought that the voters would be LOYAL to him. Jacknut.

I am both amused and offended that he thought West Virginians were so DUMB and so easily bought. But I said that already.

Ohhhh, I could go on a tear. But I have to tend to grill.