A Religious Background

Well, let me say first off that I do have a long religious background. I was raised in the United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida. The interesting thing is, being raised in this church did not interfere whatsoever in me keeping an open mind and resisting stereotypes and prejudice, as is possibly the case in some places. After all, Miami is a metropolitan city and a virtual melting pot of ethnicities and an international gateway to people from all parts of the world.

Although I was a child, and like a child, I took part in teasing, cruel jokes, and other immaturity typical of children all the way through adolescence and even young adulthood (and some for the rest of their life), I have learned to think for myself on most subjects, simply by intellectualism, reading a wealth and variety of literature, and by meeting a variety of people from all walks of life, all of whom usually dispel any stereotypes I held onto, even if just a little bit in the back of my mind.

I think we all have prejudices and stereotypes. In some ways, it is a survival instinct. We try to separate the “good” from the “bad” and those who are in “our group” from those who are not in “our group”. It gives us a sense of safety and security, even if this sense is mostly a delusion. I think all minorities and groups who are persecuted by society benefit from “circling the wagons”, so to speak, in order to get support from those who are of like minds, hearts, and bodies, and gaining power from being in a group.

Now, I say all this right off because I really think that, although religious groups can do these things, and maybe some of them do, I don’t think they are really any different than any other group in as far as whether or not they are religious. Now that’s not to say that if they are made up of people who are already very prejudiced and stereotypical, that they won’t reflect those traits in their religious group, but the prejudice and stereotypes do not originate from the religion.

Coming from a religious background as I have, I must say I have learned a lot of very good lessons through the church. I’ve learned to care for the hungry, the homeless, disaster victims, those who suffer from the ravages of war, those who are persecuted because of their race, sex, religion, etc. And yes, discrimination does still exist in our world, and in the church, and this problem is mostly due to one thing: reverence for the canon of scripture.

Scripture contains some pretty harsh things said against homosexuals, and even worse, these things have been blown way out of proportion by our culture in America and across the world. Homophobia is rampant everywhere. That is a challenge for today’s society that still must be overcome.

I want to end with the greatest thing that religion, my religion, has taught me. The man, Jesus of Nazareth, was the greatest man that ever lived. Anyone that has any doubts should read the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four books will give four different, sometimes overlapping, perspectives on who Jesus was, who he claimed to be, and what he means to Christians. I can tell you in short that Christians believe Jesus to be the Prince of Peace, Holy Lamb of God, Son of God, sitting at the Father’s Right Hand in Power and in Truth. Christians believe that in dying on the Cross in complete innocence, Jesus paid the ultimate price for the sins of the world, thus enabling us all to attain everlasting grace and peace. Salvation is something that is hard to comprehend without faith, but basically it is the attainment of forgiveness for guilt and condemnation that we earn by falling short each and every day of what we could be, what we were born to be, what God created us to be. With salvation and God’s grace and forgiveness, we can come a little closer to becoming his vision for our lives.

Advertisements

Reaching Out

Reaching out takes reaching in
For something stable, something strong.
Sharing of feelings, thoughts and struggles
Takes strength, trust, and bravery.

Those who always keep their heart
Closed tighter than a coffin,
Buried six feet under a swaggering attitude
And a big bright smile,

Don’t really know what it’s like
To connect, to hold another’s heart
In your hand, gently, oh so gently
And give it back when they are ready.

To give healing, and to receive it back,
There must be two persons willing to risk
A broken heart, a cold shoulder, a deadly stare.
To risk rejection is not easy, and it is not done

Lightly, or carelessly, when it is really done.
To give another something you hold dear,
If only for a moment, is like risking a fortune,
And takes more fortitude. But the gamble

Is for wonders immeasurable,
Jewels much more precious:
Understanding, acceptance, compassion.
These treasures are priceless.

Leap

Stop wound wire reach roar round rink
Lambast primeval stocking enough sit
Lude lanky tubular alphabetical sounds
Northern nuptial geometric rafter angle
Podcast caught leap lob angelic stoop
Clipping coop elf hack muscular make
Ocular warped kicked loop wand map
Yak yonkers tad hat gap pack wipe step

Broken

Searching for that connection.
Where is he? She? It?
Where or who is God,
When I am here, in this broken

Body, groveling before the pain
Of existence, desperate for some
Type of relief, some release
From the slavery of my body?

My heart aches. My soul cries out
For mercy, but where is my God?
Where is that freedom, that grace,
That hope, that love, that I once knew?

Where is my identity in Christ?
Where is my savior?
All I know right now is suffering.
Is that you, Lord?

Am I meeting you where you are,
Where you were on that cross?
And if so, what will be the victory?
What great battle is going on?

Is my soul the battleground?
Is my heart the prize?
Is this what it takes to bring me
Back into your fold?

To break me, mold me,
Shape me into something beautiful?
But I have been here before.
I have been broken.

Must I be continually broken
In pain and suffering?
What are you trying to teach me?
And where are you taking me now?

“The God Above God”, an excerpt from The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

“The God above the God of theism is present, although hidden, in every divine-human encounter. Biblical religion as well as Protestant theology are aware of the paradoxical character of this encounter. They are aware that if God encounters man God is neither object nor subject and is therefore above the scheme into which theism has forced him. They are aware that personalism with respect to God is balanced by a transpersonal presence of the divine. They are aware that forgiveness can be accepted only if the power of acceptance is effective in man–biblically speaking, if the power of grace is effective in man. They are aware of the paradoxical character of every prayer, of speaking to somebody to who you cannot speak because he is not “somebody,” of asking somebody of whom you cannot ask anything because he gives or gives not before you ask, of saying “thou” to somebody who is nearer to the I than the I is to itself. Each of these paradoxes drives the religious consciousness toward a God above the God of theism.”

“…But a church which raises itself in its message and its devotion to the God above the God of theism without sacrificing its concrete symbols can mediate a courage which takes doubt and meaninglessness into itself. It is the Church under the Cross which alone can do this, the Church which preaches the Crucified who cried to God who remained his God after the God of confidence had left him in the darkness of doubt and meaninglessness. To be as a part in such a church is to receive a courage to be in which one cannot lose one’s self and in which one receives one’s world.”

–from The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich

“The Divine-Human Encounter and the Courage to Be”, an excerpt from The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich

“The courage of confidence has often, especially in Protestantism, been identified with the courage of faith. But this is not adequate, because confidence is only one element in faith. Faith embraces both mystical participation and personal confidence. Most parts of the Bible describe the religious encounter in strongly personalist terms. Biblicism, notably that of the Reformers, follows this emphasis. Luther directed his attack against the objective, quantitative, and impersonal elements in the Roman system. He fought for an immediate person-to-person relationship between God and man. In him the courage of confidence reached its highest point in the history of Christian thought. Every work of Luther, especially in his earlier years, is filled with such courage. Again and again he uses the word ‘trotz’, ‘in spite of.’ In spite of all the negativities which he had experienced, in spite of the anxiety which dominated that period, he derived the power of self-affirmation from his unshakable confidence in God and from the personal encounter with him. According to the expressions of anxiety of his period, the negativity his courage had to conquer were symbolized in the figures of death and the devil. It has rightly been said that Albrecht Durer’s engraving, “Knight, Death, and the Devil,” is a classic expression of the spirit of the Lutheran Reformation and–it might be added–of Luther’s courage of confidence, of his form of the courage to be. A knight in full armor is riding through a valley, accompanied by the figure of death on one side, the devil on the other. Fearlessly, concentrated, confident he looks ahead. He is alone but he is not lonely. In his solitude he participates in the power which gives him the courage to affirm himself in spite of the presence of the negativities of existence. His courage is certainly not the courage to be as a part. The Reformation broke away from the semicollectivism of the Middle Ages. Luther’s courage of confidence is personal confidence, derived from a person-to-person encounter with God. Neither popes nor councils could give him this confidence. Therefore he had to reject them just because they relied on a doctrine which blocked off the courage of confidence. They sanctioned a system in which the anxiety of death and guilt never was completely conquered. There were many assurances but no certainty, many supports for the courage of confidence but no unquestionable foundation. The collective offered different ways of resisting anxiety but no way in which the individual could take his anxiety upon himself. He never was certain; he never could affirm his being with unconditional confidence. For he never could encounter the unconditional directly with his total being, in an immediate personal relation. There was, except in mysticism, always mediation through the Church, an indirect and partial meeting between God and the soul. When the Reformation removed the mediation and opened up a direct, total, and personal approach to God, a new nonmystical courage to be was possible. It is manifest in the heroic representatives of fighting Protestantism, in the Calvinist as well as in the Lutheran Reformation, and in Calvinism even more conspicuously. It is not the heroism of risking martyrdom, of resisting the authorities, of transforming the structure of Church and society, but it is the courage of confidence which makes these men heroic and which is the basis of the other expressions of their courage. One could say–and liberal Protestantism often has said–that the courage of the Reformers is the beginning of the individualistic type of the courage to be as oneself. But such an interpretation confuses a possible historical effect with the matter itself. In the courage of the Reformers the courage to be as oneself is both affirmed and transcended. In comparison with the mystical form of courageous self-affirmation the Protestant courage of confidence affirms the individual self as an individual self in its encounter with God as person. This radically distinguishes the personalism of the Reformation from all the later forms of individualism and Existentialism. The courage of the Reformers is not courage to be oneself–as it is not the courage to be as a part. It transcends and unites both of them. For the courage of confidence is not rooted in confidence about oneself. The Reformation pronounces the opposite: one can become confident about one’s existence only after ceasing to base one’s confidence on oneself. On the other hand the courage of confidence is in no way based on anything finite besides oneself, not even on the Church. It is based on God and solely on God, who is experienced in a unique and personal encounter. The courage of the Reformation transcends both the courage to be as a part and the courage to be as oneself. It is threatened neither by the loss of oneself nor by the loss of one’s world.”

–from The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich

“Those who are…disturbed by expressions of the Existentialist courage of despair”, excerpt from The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich

“It is not astonishing that those who are unshaken in their courage to be as a part, either in its collectivist or in its conformist form, are disturbed by the expressions of the Existentialist courage of despair. They are unable to understand what is happening in our period. They are unable to distinguish the genuine from the neurotic anxiety in Existentialism. They attack as a morbid longing for negativity what in reality is courageous acceptance of the negative. They call decay what is actually the creative expression of decay. They reject as meaningless the meaningful attempt to reveal the meaninglessness of our situation. It is not the ordinary difficulty of understanding those who break new ways in thinking and artistic expression which produces the widespread resistance to recent Existentialism but the desire to protect a self-limiting courage to be as a part. Somehow one feels that this is not a true safety; one has to suppress inclinations to accept the Existentialist visions, one even enjoys them if they appear in the theater or in novels, but one refuses to take them seriously, that is as revelations of one’s own existential meaninglessness and hidden despair…one does not feel spiritually threatened by something which is not an element of oneself. And since it is a symptom of the neurotic character to resist nonbeing by reducing being, the Existentialist could reply to the frequent reproach that he is neurotic by showing the neurotic defense mechanisms of the anti-Existentialist desire for traditional safety.”

“There should be no question of what Christian theology has to do in this situation. It should decide for truth against safety, even if the safety is consecrated and supported by the churches. Certainly there is a Christian conformism, from the beginning of the Church on, and there is a Christian collectivism–or at least semicollectivism, in several periods of Church history. But this should not induce Christian theologians to identify Christian courage with the courage to be as a part. They should realize that the courage to be as oneself is the necessary corrective to the courage to be as a part–even if they rightly assume that neither of these forms of the courage to be gives the final solution.”

–from The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich

Digging for Truth

Deep down, I dig to the bottom.
What lies in this hidden depth?
Fear, grief, rage, confusion…
It rocks my reason, clouds my vision.

But what is the answer?
Where is the road out of this darkened wood?
Is it faith? Trust? Logic? Courage? Peace?
Is Love the answer? Where will it take me?

Right now everything is scary.
I feel caught in a cage,
In chains, buried deep underneath
Miles of ground, isolated by time,

Place, and no relationships that bring
Relief, connection, revelation, peace.
Anxiety rules the roost, it conquers all.
Fear is my father, abandonment is my mother.

Rage is my brother, grief is my sister.
This is my family. My friends are shadows,
Ghosts in a mist that only evaporate in my
Hands when I reach out to hold their hands.

I am lost in my mirrors, erroring in my program,
Nothing makes sense, nothing works.
What is the truth? Who is my savior?
From where does my salvation come?

Daring to Dream Again

Jumping in, swimming through, climbing up.
The journey continues, the effort is never done.
The edges come and go, the valleys grow lower,
But the mountain tops promise greater visions.

Oh, to be at the mountain top, to feel the wind,
The look down on the struggle, to look back at
The despair, to consider the overcoming of it all.
To be there, and not here, is my desire.

I look up into the mystical sky above my mind,
It stirs my heart in wonder, to dare to dream again!
To open myself to what is next, not in dread,
But in hope, in excitement, in aspiration and ambition.

To try again, to strive, to seek another endeavor,
To challenge oneself, again and again, that is what
Life is all about: growth, relationship, victory!
Oh, to be victorious once again! To be at peace!

Gargoyle

Desperately seeking freedom
From a wretched thing, a scowling,
Grey, hairy, saber-toothed gargoyle
Spirit, waiting in the wings.

To escape, to unlock the door of this
Stifling, suffocating, claustrophobic
Coffin of an existence, in despair,
In loathing, in terror, waiting for

The next moment to pass by,
Wondering simply how I can bear
Another second in this mind, this
Twisted mind, this gifted, but tainted

Mind, with its chemical imbalances,
Its phantoms of the past, rearing their
Ugly heads and screaming through the
Halls of my soul, stalking my every thought,

Taking notes, taking tallies, making plans,
Growing stronger every day, feeding on my
Nightmares, breaking through my every
Conscious thought and feeling, a parasite

That thrives in my body as a clock
Thrives on time, counting, heaping
More and more moments upon each
Other, burying myself beneath it.