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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dynamics of Faith

Because I had earlier quoted something from Paul Tillich’s book, Dynamics of Faith, I finally had to finish the project by adding footnotes.  Because I was not careful enough in my original citation, I realized I did not know for sure where in the book the quotation was.  Instead of getting mad at myself, I laughed and enjoyed pulling the book down from my bookshelf and begin to thumb through it looking for the quotation.
   
In some ways it was a fun journey back through a book that had been important to me during my graduate school days---at least, I think it was in graduate school that I first read much of what Paul Tillich wrote.  Tillich was one of the twentieth century giants of theological reflection.  I first heard of Tillich when I was in college in the 1960s.  I was aware of his death in 1965, although at that time, I had little clue what I would do in my life and the central role that religion and, later, spirituality would play.  In 1965 I simply was aware a very famous theologian died.  I barely knew what a theologian was or what that person would bring to me personally. 
   
Tillich was born toward the end of the nineteenth century.  His father was a Lutheran pastor.  Tillich proceeded through a series of German universities to gain his PhD in theology.  He served as a chaplain in the German army during WW I.  During the 1920s Tillich was developing a theology that would be critical of Hitler when he came to power.  And so in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor, he fired Tillich from his university teaching post.  An influential faculty person from Union Theological Seminary invited Tillich to leave Germany and move to New York City to teach there.  Tillich accepted.  And so he taught in this country until his death in ’65.
   
His little book, Dynamics of Faith, was originally published in 1957 and became very popular.  When I read the first sentence, memories came back.  Tillich says, “Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned; the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man’s ultimate concern.”  I am sure part of what appealed to me when I read this is the Quaker language of “concern,” with which I grew up.  When Quakers use the language of “concern,” they are talking about a weighty focus.  It is not necessarily bad or troublesome, but a concern is important or “weighty,” as Quakers would say.  I was not sure whether this was how Tillich meant it, but I also knew we bring our own baggage to words that we use.
   
On that same first page, Tillich goes on to say that humans have all sorts of concerns.  We naturally are concerned about food, shelter and other necessities.  But we also have other concerns---sometimes these other concerns are even frivolous.  We are concerned whether our hair looks “just right.”  We may be overly concerned about the particular color of our next car!  Tillich recognized that humans are the sole part of the animal world that develops spiritual concerns.  I am not sure he is correct, but it makes sense to me.
   
And then Tillich quickly moves on to the piece I originally was looking for.  He says all humans develop some kind of “ultimate concern.”  This is the concern above all concerns.  We get a good sense of what he means by that phrase, ultimate concern, when he notes, “If it claims ultimacy it demands the total surrender of him who accepts this claim, and it promises total fulfillment even if all other claims have to be subjected to it or rejected in its name.”  In summary Tillich is saying an ultimate concerns carries a demand and offers a fulfillment.
   
Tillich notes a number of things humans have chosen as their ultimate concern.  People have chosen nationalism, success, money and the list can go on.  There is not an obvious number one.  Having said this, he is now ready to link ultimate concern to faith.  Tillich is clear when he says, “Faith as an ultimate concern is an act of the total personality.”  What does Tillich mean by that?  I think he means faith as an ultimate concern is that to which you willingly give your whole self to---your energy, your effort and your allegiance.  Again, it is easy to think about the things I like and about which I am concerned.  But I certainly don’t give all my energy, effort and allegiance to it.  I comb my hair, but it is not my ultimate concern.  I once had a red convertible that I really liked, but it was not my ultimate concern.
   
I first read Tillich when I knew I was looking for my ultimate concern, although I did not have that language then.  But I knew I was a seeker.  I grew up in a church, but was not sure about God and certainly was not sure about God and me.  I wanted to know if God were real?  And to be honest, I wanted to know if I were real?  I would claim I have answered that.  I am confident that God is real---for me.  Most of the time, I think I am real!
   
I know I want God to be my ultimate concern.  Sometimes, I know I fall short, but I am trying and I am committed.  I know the process is not finished.  But maybe faith is never finished.  I suspect that is why Tillich called it the “dynamics” of faith.  Faith is not static.  You do not just “have faith.”  Faith is a very; it is dynamic.  I am sure humans always will have faith in something or someone.  The question is: what is their ultimate concern?  What is the ultimate object or subject of our faith?
   
My ultimate concern is God.  And now I hope to live out the dynamics of that faith.

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