Tag Archives: Paul Tillich

The Courage to Come Out (And Other Queer Correlations)

Why do queer persons come out?


‘Coming out of the closet’; a colloquialism typically used to describe the event(s) constituting a person’s self-disclosure to themselves, to others, and to their worlds, concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. The idiom uses the metaphor of a closet to represent the hiddenness of a secret (or at least, shrouded) identity, a place where things are placed out of sight.

The irony, however, is that this place can be readily accessed at any time.  It is opened and closed at will. Also, the contents serve different purposes for different people. For some, it stores the clothes that we select to wear on a daily basis; for others it stores the surplus of linens for anticipated guests. For some, it hides holiday presents from curious children; for others it hides boxes of memories to be forgotten, to be veiled away.

Decaying_100_Yr__Old_ClosetsWithin the closet, one’s company is both the comforting securities of its contents as well as haunting torment of their self-exclusion from the world. The comfort of the closet is a misnomer in that its security only exacerbates the anguish of the secret. It can debilitate and destroy its inhabitants through its coddling repudiation of the self. Eddies of distress devolve into maelstroms of dyphoria; the closet is torn apart from within. Clothes and linens eaten by moths, presents soiled and ruined, memories coalesce within the pounding darkness.

And yet, within in the climax of the tempest and the quiet of the storm, an invitation is made aware: the invitation to remove oneself from their closet and to emerge into the world as their whole self. The contents of the closet are made bare, with all of its terror and desolation made manifest; but them who emerge are not destroyed. They have persevered, and they shine because of it.

What brought this person to this moment?  What necessitates the person to come out? Is coming out a necessary process? What is it about the act and process that would deem it to be necessary in the first place? These are not questions about whether or not the coming-out process is necessary in this ‘day and age’ because of greater acceptance of queer persons (let’s be honest, the magnitude of acceptance is good, but not great). Nor are these questions about the value of the coming-out process, as if we are undertaking a quantitative study of whether it actually ‘gets better’. Rather, these are questions about why it happens at all, and what it is about queer persons that makes a coming-out process what it is.

‘Who are these queer persons who come out’ and ‘what brings them to a place of coming-out’—when combined—are questions about the being of queer persons (an potentially ironic statement for those keeping score at home). However, the coming-out process illustrates a unique integration of the being and ethic of a person. Through an act of deep personal significance, authentic participation is realized through self-affirmation. It is also an integration of self and world that triumphs among acts of humanity. To come out is a holy act. To come out is a courageous act. 

Extravagant-Style-Walk-in-Closet-Supported-by-Accent-and-Decorative-Lamps-with-Gold-Lighting-to-Work-with-Sleek-Modern-Wardrobe-and-Shelving-936x625I will explore the dynamics of courage within the phenomenon of the coming-out process experienced by queer persons, particularly within Christian contexts. I seek to accomplish this by correlating the work of Paul Tillich, specifically his concept of the courage to be , with the experience of queer persons, culminating with the development of a Tillich-inspired queer theology.

My argument is that the coming-out process—as experienced by queer Christians—develops a queer faith that is reminiscent of and potentially directly inspired by the work of Paul Tillich. This is so because the deconstructive work queer Christians must undertake in order to come out within their faith requires the passage through doubt of the heteronormativity of their pre-coming-out faith and emerges within a faith that blends the motif of ambiguity experienced in queer identities as well as in Tillich’s radical theology.

Through this process, the faith of queer Christians (queer as in an all-encompassing inclusive term for LGBT folk) actually becomes queer Christianity (queer as in inspired by the insights of queer theory). In another sense, the faith that queer Christians come out into is not and cannot and will not be the same faith as prior to the coming out experience. The endeavor queer Christians undertake in coming out of the closet and into queer faith is dangerous, but such experience of dread in spite of hope only illustrates the ultimate nature of this act as a holy and courageous act. Studying it will bring insight to the experience of queer Christians, as well as provide all with an inspiring look into the promises life has for those who embrace the courage to come out.

Stay tuned for further discussion.


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What I Learned on my Mid-November Vacation – Part 1

I spent his weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Religion in Chicago.  I figured that, considering I have not posted a blog post in near forever, I ought to reflect on my time there.  I have a lot of reflections, so I will split this blog in twain. So, without further ado, what I learned on my Mid-November Vacation, Part 1:

1. I’m studying something that matters and is pretty cool.

What an awesome picture of Tillich! Ha!

So, I’m writing my thesis on Paul Tillich (my man) and Gustavo Gutiérrez (once I read more of him, I’m sure he’ll be my man too). While at AAR, I went to several Tillich talks, one of which was on investigating the early and later Tillich and his idea of history.  At the end of the paper, Jean Richard of Université Laval wrote on how many will like the later Tillich who are more spiritually and mystically driven, whereas others (like Jean) will like the early Tillich who are more social justice driven.  This tension reflects exactly the issue my thesis is addressing.  So, it’s sweet to see that people are thinking and caring about similar things.  Sweeeeeet.

2. Friends matter way more than academic colleagues.

I couldn’t resist.

Instead of going to another Tillich seminar, I had a long lunch with my good friends Maria Francesca French and Thorsten Moritz, and my new friend Holly Beers. Instead of going to a scholar’s reception, I had Friendsgiving at my friend’s place where I was staying.  In both circumstances, I had some of the best interactions and conversations during the whole trip. Not only did I talk about my thesis and theological passions (which people were genuinely interested and fascinated), but we just had a good time together. Now if only friends could pay me a salary to do that…

3. I coined a new word: mythonomy.

Wow, I was lucky to find a picture of them together. Thanks Derek Ouellette!

I went to a ‘conversation’ between Scot McKnight and N.T. (Tom) Wright.  Scot presented his paper “Kingdom as Church, Church as Kingdom: An Examination of an Old Dichotomy,” where he talked about how the kingdom and church are generally interchangeable.  He also talked a lot about “King Jesus” and the kingdom life.  Now, maybe this is because I’ve been studying a lot of Tillich (well, of course it is!), but I was taken aback by the intense evangelical language he was using.  I felt he was taking the idea of the kingdom and the concept of Jesus as king so literally, it almost seemed ingenuous and strained.  And then the word came to me: mythonomy.

Tillich often talks about autonomy (self-law, or the universal law of reason within all people), heteronomy ( strange-law, or a law foreign to humanity’s nature and being. Tillich talks about how ecclesiastical rules and norms are heteronomous), and theonomy (God-law, or autonomy that “is aware of its divine ground.”[1]

Thus, a mythonomy is myth-law; it is a normative rule of law based in a myth or story (keep in mind myth does not necessarily mean fiction).  It is what we understand as an all-encompassing meta-narrative.  How this relates to Scot’s talk is this: is it legitimate to use a Christological symbol such as king, or even Kingdom of God, as a normative standard for all Christian life and conduct.  At first blush we might want to say yes, but let me rephrase the question: ought we to take Biblical symbols and concepts literally and directly apply them to our contemporary lives, or are to be inspired by the Biblical symbols and concepts, interpreting and/or reauthoring them to correspond to our contemporary lives, and more italicized words?  This is a heavy and controversial topic which will need much more thinking, but I like the direction of the discourse. I do have planned a blog series on myth, but that’s another story for another time. Eek!

I have three more points to make, which I will on Wednesday!

[1] Tillich, A Complete History of Christian Thought, II:27. In http://darashpress.com/articles/paul-tillich-and-biblical-theonomy#fntext_13. This is a great article that explains Tillich terms.


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Part 2 – On the Boundary-The Context of Paul Tillich

There are several critical moments in Paul Tillich’s life that need to be understood in order to understand the man himself, and yet, Paul is a theologian that defies most nomenclatures. Tillich’s whole life, he describes, is one on the “boundary,” whether economic, social, cultural, philosophical, or theological.  This is really interesting, because, in the midst of great world-wide changes Tillich himself was experiencing great personal changes along the boundaries of life.

The first major event we will look is his experience of the First World War. Before the Great War, Tillich was a man on the boundary of city and country life and on the boundary of the middle and the working class. Tillich grew up in a typical “farmer-burgher” town, where well-to-do townspeople owned farms, but Tillich also travelled often to the larger cities, especially Berlin.[1] Tillich also belonged to the pre-First World War bohemian culture, where he felt comfortable in the movement’s aversion against bourgeois culture and nobility.[2] Even after leaving Gymnasium and going on to University, Tillich belonged to the comfortable middle-class culture of Germany. All of this changed with the First World War, where he served as an army chaplain. But during a night attack in 1915, he had a deep reflection in the midst of the casualties, and that was “the belief that man could master being by knowledge, that existence and essence are the same.”[3]

Time out. What? Why would Tillich think of this stuff in the middle of a night raid? I think it’s because this kind of thinking was at the core of his own being and view of the world.  In the midst of all of the horrors of war, Tillich reflected that humanity can still find meaning.  There’s a lot more to say about that, but not for now.  Let’s continue!

Tillich, 1930

After the war, Tillich returned to the chaos of post-World War I Germany. While navigating along the boundary of the Germany and Europe, of the bourgeois and the proletariat, of Christianity and revolution, Tillich helped found the “Religious Socialism” movement. It was neither a political nor religious movement, but a movement that “sought to make religion socially effective, and to give socialism a religious depth.”[4] Tillich saw in this movement the hope of entering “a period of kairos, a time when the holy would break through into human life in new and transforming ways.” And yet, this did not manifest itself, for post-World War I Europe was “characterized by fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and the malaise of meaninglessness.”[5] It was in this culture of fear that National Socialism emerged, a movement Tillich fiercely criticized. Shortly after Hitler came to power, Tillich was forced to leave his position in Frankfurt, but he was invited to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and so emigrated to the United States.

The Second World War was less of a shock for Tillich than the First World War and the following years, but Tillich saw both World Wars as part of a greater revolution. These wars were the response of the “breakdown of the natural or automatic harmony” that the 18th and 19th centuries worked so hard to foster.[6] It was this breakdown in the 20th century that resulted in “the loss of an ultimate meaning of life by the people of Western civilization.”[7] As Armbruster writes, “though both World Wars are part of the world revolution, there is this significant difference: World War I was followed by the ecstatic experience of belief in a proximate kairos; World War II was followed by pessimism and cynical realism.”[8]

<<Cue suspenseful organ music>>

What will become of of this post-war generation?!  Will they resort to pessimism, or will a surge of optimism rise up through their ranks?! And what will become of our hero Paul Tillich?! Tune in next week to “Part 3 – The Courage to Be!”

[1] Paul Tillich, On the Boundary: An Autobiographical Sketch, (New York: Scribner, 1966), 16.

[2] Id. at 22-23. Cf.  Paul Tillich, “An Autobiographical Reflection,” in Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall. The Theology of Paul Tillich, (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 8.

[3] Armbruster, 10

[4] Ibid.

[5] Paul Tillich and James Luther Adams, The Protestant Era, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948),  245-47; in Ambruster, 10.

[6] Tillich, The Protestant Era, 239; in Armbruster, 11.

[7] Tillich, The Protestant Era, 262; in Armbruster, 11.

[8] Armbruster, 11; citing Tillich, The Protestant Era, xxv. Carey writes, synopsizing Tillich’s comments in Kegley and Bretall’s The Theology of Paul Tillich: “Tillich characterized this as a time of “void” and of waiting; it was not a time of kairos and revelation. Tillich clearly thought that in that Zeitgeist existentialism captured the mood and offered a viable alternative to despair and to popular religion. There can be no understanding of the analysis or prescriptions of this book, however, is one does not acknowledge the cultural and political climate of that period.” (John Jesse Carey, Paulus, Then and Now: A Study of Paul Tillich’s Theological World and the Continuing Relevance of His Work. (Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 2002), 54; cf. Paul Tillich, “Reply to Interpretation and Criticism,”The Theology of Paul Tillich, ed. Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall, (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 329-349.

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Part 1 – Intellectual and Existential Crises of Faith

If one were to survey the landscape of evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries, and even churches, one might (just might) discover the phenomenon of many of the students having very serious intellectual and existential crises of faith. This phenomenon may occur in some institutions more than others. It will likely occur more often in an institution that is multi-denominational, with a great diversity of students from all sorts of theological (Christian or not) backgrounds. It will also likely occur more often in an institution that invites theological rigor and creativity in thought, especially in classroom discussions and in paper topics.

An intellectual existential crisis of faith is intellectual in that the theological presuppositions of the student begin to fall away or apart. The student begins to deconstruct his or her theology in the face of a developing one. This can be an especially painful time, for the very foundations or coherencies of one’s faith and theology is questioned. From this, the crisis becomes existential. In the wake of one’s theological worldview, paradigm, or system crashing down, one is left alone wondering the very purpose of life and one’s existence, for what else remains but oneself? This is a very lonely and hurting place for the young theologian whose questions have taken her or him “too far.”

But are crises of faith necessarily a bad thing? Could it be that intellectual and existential crises of faith are the steps towards a more robust faith and theology? Even though the process of questioning and answering may hurt, on the other end is the hope of a faith and theology that is integrative, holistic, and corresponds to reality better than before. The hope of a robust faith that emerges out of a challenging time of questioning can be found in Paul Tillich’s existentialist theology, his works and sermons, and in his own personal journey of developing the courage and faith throughout all of life’s many questions.


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New Series – The Courage of Paul Tillich and Intellectual Existential Crises of Faith!

Hey everyone!

It has been a long time since I have regularly posted blog posts (sure, I posted that parable, but my blogging has not been regular).  That was because this last quarter at seminary was an especially difficult one on many fronts; most of my readers will be familiar with some of those, but for those who are not I would be happy to share offblog.  Because of all that, I learned that to preserve what little sanity I had left, I would have to compartmentalize.  That meant no blog posts and no worrying; I needed to get the job done and end the school year well.

And now, I’m here, many weeks after the end of the school year!  I am ready and well to get back into blogging!  So, what should I blog about?  Well, I’m getting into writing parables, and so those will be posted (I have one on gifts coming up!).  However, what I think needs to be posted is a paper I wrote this last quarter. Not only did I get 100% on it (thank you Chris Armstrong!), but I think the topic is very relevant for today.  So, I will be posting the paper in sections, but I won’t be posting it verbatim.  Rather, I will rewrite the sections, and maybe add more to it.  Still, it will be a fun series, at least I think so.

So, I’m looking forward to you joining with me on this new series on Paul Tillich and Crises of Faith! We will start this Wednesday!

Oh, and let’s put in a random picture!

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Theological Explanations

What does one title their first “official” blog post, the one where they will set out to explain what their blog is all about?  As the title came to me, I turned around in my chair to look at my bookcase, and there, near the bottom, was a book titled “Philosophical Explanations” by Robert Nozick. I have only managed to skim through this tome, but the title inspired me.

In this blog, do I want to set out an explanation of everything theology?  Do I want to this to be the beginning of a who-knows-how-long systematic theology?  To be honest, that would be “fairly neat.” Imagine if the great systematic theologians like Pannenberg, Tillich, and Barth had blogs where they wrote notes to themselves about what they intended to write in their massive anthologies?  Well, I’m sure they did something of the sort, whether in stacks upon piles of notes in their offices or in letters to loved ones, all due to the fact of the nonexistence of the world-wide-int(er/ra)(web/net).

Now wait a minute, that idea of stacks of notes and letters to loved ones is compelling, along with the idea of developing a systematic theology.  So, what is the purpose of this blog?  I have a couple of purposes, actually.

One, I do want this to be a place where I can work on my craft of theologizing.  I want this place to be such where I can write out my thoughts and beliefs on issues in theology and have people respond to them (or remain isolated in the confines of digital space). I want to develop my theology in the contexts of the seminary student, the church leader, the community participant, the son, the brother, the friend, the stranger, and the guy sitting behind his desk in his room.

Two, I want my theologizing to not just be about presenting “explanations” of what I think and believe, but I want this to be more, oh, qu’est-ce que c’est…for lack of better and less mainstream words: relational, organic, storied, and the like.  I want to crush the ivoried embankments between the theologian and the rest of humanity.  I want what I think and believe to be shared, experienced, lived out in my interactions with you, my beloved readers, through this vehicle of WordPress.  I want my life of theologizing to be more life as theology than theology as life.

So, instead of an “explanation,” this blog is an “exploration.”  It is an “enterprise” in that I seek to accomplish something, namely that I develop my own theology.  It is a “meditation” or a “contemplation” in that it is a deep and personal reflection on what I think and believe in my own language, style, and spirituality.  Finally, it is a “communication” in that it involves all with ears to hear (and even those who don’t).

So, I hope you come along with me on this enterprise. Here’s a sneak peek of what I have planned:

I recently taught a class at my church, the Salvage Yard, on theology (in fact, the title of the class is shared with the title of this blog).  In it, we went through all the main areas of systematic theology (prolegomena, theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, hamartiology, Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology).  In my humble opinion, it was an incredible experience for me and the students.  So, here I want to make available my notes and discussions from that class.

I will also be posting selections of scholarly work that I have written for seminary.

Finally, I will be writing as topics as they emerge from wherever.

Thank you for your attention.  I greatly appreciate and anticipate your interactions.

Hmm, this post would make a fine “about” description.  Looks like I’m about to commit my first recycling job from this blog!  The system works after all…

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