reflection image 3 - the courage to be

“The courage to be,” that is the reason it has taken me so long to write on this image; that and two long papers that have consumed most of my waking hours recently.

The Courage to Be is the title to a book written by Paul Tillich, it is also part of what I see in this photo. How many of us truly have the courage to be who we are? Whether our lives are filled with the rain showers of doubt or the blossoms of growth, do we every feel as though we truly have the courage, the will to move beyond the facades we create and truly live?

I was about twelve or thirteen when I lost what little courage I had. It is amazing what I allowed others to take from me, destroying a burgeoning self-concept. I spent a number of years stomping that fledgling self into submission, catering to the will of others; all in the service of building a fa├žade that placated rather than challenged others.

I will be the first to admit that my challenges are small compared to those that others face. I don’t have to face racism constantly, nor am I put down because of my gender. I don’t have to face “coming out” to family and friends and the fear, misunderstanding and hatred that occurs. I don’t have to face discrimination, except for that which occurs within my soul.

It is abusive, what we do to others and what we often do to ourselves. We highlight differences and exploit perceived weaknesses. We chose to separate by not choosing careful words when we speak to one another. Pain is prevalent because pride and power are pervasive. When I pretend to know something and I make it a law unto myself, then I rob you of the power we might share in a relationship. When I do it enough, I am nothing more than a master at the manipulation of my internal and external worlds.

The courage to be means giving you the courage to be as well. It means hearing your stories as a way of knowing who you are, not as a means for gaining the upper hand. It means equality in the way I relate to you. By making room for your courage to be, I make room for me to grow as well.

For better or worse, we sometimes become reflections of what we think others see in us. I am more apt to believe in myself when others believe in me and vice versa. However, at some point we must develop a “bullshit filter.” That is, we must construct a lens whereby we can detect the messages we receive from others and decide whether they hold some truth for us. It is not enough to merely recognize falsehoods. If impressions are false, we must then have the courage to say so and right what wrongs we see.

I wonder what lies beneath all of the piercings and tattoos. I wonder what story each of them tells. If they could talk what narratives would they tell? A lot of pain has gone into this image. Each hole, each tattoo is accompanied by pain that cannot be avoided. Pain, and I imagine beauty as well…

grace and peace

Image #3

Source: Unknown
Title: Unknown
Year: Unknown

What is this?

A response to Pat Robertson

I am beginning to wonder if I will ever again think that the value of theology lies in elucidating moral arguments. As Pat Robertson makes headlines again with the following statements, I feel as though theology, nay, Christianity is losing touch with the world.

Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said. (Reuters)

It is too easy to condemn remarks and thus implicitly condemn the man as well. If I am truly going to live what I say, then I have to believe that there is beauty in what Pat Robertson claims, as well as, in him as a child of God. The difficult part for one as fallible as myself is finding said beauty.

When I see art that disturbs my sensibilities I don’t run from it, nor do I tell myself and others that it is not art because it displays the horrors of the world from that artist’s point of view. Instead, I try to stay with what is disturbing, attempting to make the connections between body, heart, mind, and soul that are being pulled in the encounter. I can’t say that I always succeed, but I believe I am better for the effort.

Theological statements such as the ones that Pat Robertson likes to make are not art per say, but they do reveal something of his beliefs about who God is and how God is active in this world. However, I wish to treat his statement as though it were a picture, a window that looks in on God. If we were to do that, what would we see from this particular instance?

The first thing we might notice is that God is vindictive, especially over small injustices. Robertson’s statement implies that God turns away from God’s own creations because of the choices we make. Moreover, implied in the statement is that God sends disasters to areas in order to inflict punishment. I realize that Robertson is a little ambiguous on that particular point, but notice that he uses the term “when” instead of “if” while referring to disasters. Finally, there is the assumption that human beings have the power to remove God from their presence. Ultimately, Robertson’s God is a God of definite morality, a God whose ultimate concern is of right and wrong.

The second and possibly more powerful statement that Robertson makes is an anthropological one. Namely, that humanity can control God’s actions through the choices we make.

The question we must ask is where is the beauty in that statement concerning God and God’s relationship with humanity?
I believe that beauty is found in the desire to elucidate God’s interactivity with humankind. However, I can’t buy into Robertson’s criteria of who God is. Coming out of a basic premise that God sits in judgment of all the things we do, we cannot help but draw similar conclusions that Robertson draws. God can’t help but be vindictive if we tie God’s hands and limit God’s power to judgment alone.

I, like, Robertson also believe in God’s active power and presence in the world. However, my criteria, my base belief is that God is love. Love being defined as supportive, hopeful, joyful, realistic, forgiving, and so on. For me, a God whose power is focused on wreaking havoc and causing disasters over the smallest slights is a God that I do not know. Moreover, I believe that God does not play a role in “sending” natural disasters to punish people for their actions. Furthermore, I am not sure that we can remove God from our presence. Certainly we can make choices that counter God’s love and desire for us and for humanity, but does that mean that God gives up and leaves? Therefore, while Robertson and I agree that God is concerned with humanity, fundamentally, he and I disagree on the basis of that interaction.

As to Robertson’s second statement concerning anthropology. He and I would probably have a harder time connecting around this point. I cannot faithfully say that anything I do causes God’s will to bend or change.

There is beauty to what Robertson proposes, namely that God is an active part in our daily lives. However, without considering love and faithfulness as the foundations of God’s interactions with humanity I feel as though his views become skewed. As a part of the theological milieu, I have to wonder if his statements are helpful to the people of God as they continue to seek to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

For me, it continues to drive home the point that a theology solely concerned with morals is inadequate in describing God’s work in this world. Rather, it may be that a theology of aesthetics, a theology concerned with the beauty of the relationship between God and humanity might help to balance and reveal a different character of the one we call God.
It is easy to separate, to isolate, to move away from one another. Why not park myself down in front of a television? Why not shut the door to the other homogenous houses in my neighborhood? It is easier that way, that American way. I don’t need you to tell me anything that I don’t already know.

I can just live in my black and white world, warmed by the glow of reality as my television tells what life is like…

Sometimes isolation is not intentional, sometimes it comes about through the forceful separation of I from Thou, of me from you. Sometimes I do it, sometimes you return the favor. Relating has never been easy, not since we decided that theology has more to do with right or wrong than with what is beautiful and glorious.

When did morals become God? When did we decide that we knew what was right and who was wrong? Oh what a joy it would be to slough off this mortal arrogance, to find the hidden beauty inside, to open the doors of our homes and step out into the yard so that we might begin to see one another again for the first time.

We are not meant to experience reality through the pixels of a television. We are not meant to find what is right or wrong in our neighbor. We are meant for beautiful things, for wandering the world, and wondering about the created image that lies within all of us. “God’s children” is not a category or exclusive club; it is us, broken, battered, beloved and beautiful.

Fling open the doors that keep you inside. Open them wide and see and smell and taste the world in all its colors and splendor. We are not meant to be numb or dumb to those around us. We were meant to live…

Image #2

Artist: Roger Brown
Title: Talk Show Addicts
Year: 1993, Etching and aquatint, 22 1/4 x 29 3/4 in.
Retrieved from: Leonard Koscianski

What is this?

Reflection, Image 1 - I want to be that guy

This picture is the cover art to Robert Capon’s Parables of Grace. It was the first meaningful image of the Prodigal Son that I found while I was in Seminary, and I used it again in a study on the parable during a Lenten series at my former church. I am still trying to figure out how to do this, so I thought I would re-post this as a separate post rather than beneath the picture. I think it might work a little better even though you have to scroll down to see the picture this references

I want to be that guy. I want to be the one with arms open, welcoming the stranger, the oppressed, the poor. I know that I have given much in my lifetime; I also know there is more within me that I hoard. As much as I could be the guy with no shoes, I am more like the guy with the multi-colored coat, the one with resources and means and influence.

I want to be the guy that is admired by animals. I want to be the one that is seen by ducks and geese and dogs. They know who is gentle, they know who will treat them kindly and they draw near to that person. I want to be a friend to the environment to the only world that I will probably ever know. I want to co-create heaven on earth not reside in the hell that all too often invades my view.

I want to be the guy who is surrounded by people. Not because I am funny or share my stuff, but because I respect others and give them the opportunity to be who they need to be. I am getting better at this, getting better at listening and allowing others to teach me about who they are, but I have much to learn still. I don’t reach out as I could, preferring to remain quiet and as part of the scenery rather than the action. Then again, without people like that there would be no scenery.

Rather than being the guy with the wide-open arms, I more like the one with the crook in my hands. I am part of the background looking longingly in on the action. I do my work, I take my part in life seriously, but I am just not there yet. I have the clothing necessary to be the guy in front; it’s just that I would rather hold my crook than open my arms sometimes.

The good news is that I know where I am, where I stand in life, and I also know where I want to be. I could be picking fruit in distance, oblivious to what is going on around me; blindly doing my work not seeing the human drama that unfolds before me. I am close enough to know the good life when I see it. I just need to learn to take part, to believe that I can lay down the security of my crook and open my arms to those who need them. The work I do, I believe, is important. However, nothing should be more important than the lives in front of me.

We are, if nothing else, about community. If the church is not the guy with the open arms, then the church is useless. We become nothing more than a social club full of wallflowers. In our communities of faith we can afford to be bold. We can afford to look out at the landscape and see those who have been beaten down through oppression, violence, poverty, and ignorance and we can open our arms and damn the theology that separated us in the first place. So, I guess that I not only want to be that guy, but I want the church to be that guy, that woman, that boy, that girl, that child, that adult, that person that sees the humanity in all of us and opens wide in order to offer the greatest embrace we could ever feel.
grace and peace

Picture Number 1

Artist: John August Swanson
Title: The Prodigal Son
Year: 1984
Note: Please click on the image for a larger version, and to better understand the purpose of this image please read this post.

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