Tuesday, March 8, 2016

two sides of the same coin

I have been reading a little bit of my favorite theologian, Paul Tillich.  His sermons in "The Shaking of the Foundations" are some of my very dearest writings.  (Find it free and online here.)  It's the sort of stuff where I have trouble finding a quote to lift out, since all of it is so damn good.  The sermon "You Are Accepted" is sort of my manifesto on the power of sin/sickness/death and the concomitant power of grace in our lives.  Yesterday, this particular bit of "You Are Accepted" glued itself to my mind:

"Man is split within himself. Life moves against itself through aggression, hate, and despair. We are wont to condemn self-love; but what we really mean to condemn is contrary to self-love. It is that mixture of selfishness and self-hate that permanently pursues us, that prevents us from loving others, and that prohibits us from losing ourselves in the love with which we are loved eternally. He who is able to love himself is able to love others also; he who has "learned to overcome self-contempt has overcome his contempt for others." But the depth of our separation lies in just the fact that we are not capable of a great and merciful divine love towards ourselves." (Paul Tillich, "You Are Accepted")

Have you ever noticed that people tend to have a distorted understanding of how they relate to the broader whole of humanity?  Tillich says it this way:  "Have you ever had the experience of being at a party full of people, and yet feeling completely alone?"  (That's my gloss on it, anyway.)  

I am so intimately familiar with that "mixture of selfishness and self-hate" that are really two manifestations of the same brokenness.  Justification is simply the restoration of a proper understanding of how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the Ground of Being (the Spirit).  And yet it's not simple at all, because most of us hate ourselves so much.  I have so much shame and guilt and contempt for myself.  This is the power of sin in me.  It's not something I do - not at all.  It's how I am.  I try to make myself small because I am terrified of the greatness with which God has created me.  

Todd put on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" this morning (his new thing is dancing naked while I make breakfast), and "Within You Without You" started playing.  George Harrison has always been my favorite Beatle, and this is one of my favorite of his raga-style songs.  In college, I made an little illustration of this lyric, and I can't find it anywhere now.  But I found this picture of me and baby Vicki and you can see it in the background, next to the Christmas tree:

"And to see you're really only very small and life flows on within you and without you."

Finding our proper relationship to ourselves, others, and God is a life's work.  But although sin abounds, grace abounds yet more.

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