One of my Covid-19 lockdown activities has been sorting books in my home library: deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give to the university library. Something I do each year; but this year I was a bit more aggressive, thinking other people could use the books that now simply gather dust. As I was dusting and sorting, one book slipped off a shelf and fell on the floor: The Courage To Be by Paul Tillich. I picked it up and immediately said to myself: “That’s it!”

Paul Tillich (1886 – 1975) was a German-American theologian and philosopher who moved to the United States after fleeing from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Tillich taught at Union Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Chicago. He is recognized as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. In his 1952 book, The Courage to Be, Tillich stressed the phrase I had underlined years ago: “courage is directly tied to being, or a self-affirmation of one’s being.” In his book, Tillich explored the conquest of anxiety and the meaning of courage in the history of Western thought.

My point this week is not to get into a philosophical discussion about Paul Tillich’s perspective but rather to stress the absolute necessity of maintaining and helping others to maintain the “courage to be” in our pandemic and chaotic days.

Courage affirms who we are. It enables us to maintain our sense of dignity and self worth. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The courageous person is not the one never feels afraid, but the one who conquers that fear. It is an individual and a group effort. Courage, compassion, and collaborative action create a hopeful tomorrow.

As Christians we draw our strength from the teaching and action of Jesus of Nazareth: the courageous man of God. The Gospel portraits speak loudly and clearly. Today I stress just a few that have always touched me:

– As I write a couple weeks ago, Jesus courageously worked against an ingrained prejudice against women. He defended the woman about to be stoned to death. He ignored the taboo about men speaking to women in public. And he welcomed women as his disciples. Later women were the first to announce that he had bern raised from the dead.

– Jesus courageously combatted the ingrained prejudice against foreigners. This of course is the focus of “The Good Samaritan.”

– Jesus courageously denounced religious hypocrites. He called them “blind guides” who “disregarded the more important matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 33 and Luke 11)

– And something that certainly has a contemporary ring: Jesus courageously struggled against angry and violent protesters. Recall for example the scene in Matthew 26: “At that time Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching and you did not arrest me. And the reaction from the crowd: “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him….”

– It is important to remember as well that Jesus knew fear. As he realized his violent death was immanent, he experienced terrible anxiety and fear. After the “Last Supper,” he went to the olive grove Gethsemane with disciples. He began to be “….greatly distressed and troubled and he said to them: ‘my soul is very sorrowful, even to death’….and he fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14) The,portrait in Luke is more dramatic. There the fearful Jesus begins to sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:24)

– My favorite images of Jesus the courageous are in the Fourth Gospel. The Jesus who stands before Pilate is strong: “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone the side of truth listens to me.” Later as he carries his cross to calvary, he needs no help and he doesn’t fall down. The strong and courageous man. (John 18)

Courage is fortitude, strength, endurance and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Courageous people strengthen and enCOURAGE others.

In our Christian faith, hope, and love may we continue strong and supportive of others.


P. S. I am taking a couple weeks away from my computer for R&R and will return at the end of August.

Remember the Serenity Prayer attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971)

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Courage to change the things I can.

Wisdom to know the difference.

9 thoughts on “THE COURAGE TO BE

  1. “Courage to be” reminds me of John Lewis’s “good trouble,.” I’m reading the biography of D Bonhoffer and Niebuhr figures in briefly. More about my thought re the bio after I finish it–very long book, even on Kindle. Have a great vacation and stay safe, both of you.

  2. Jack
    Thanks for bringing Tillich back to us. I always felt he was one of the best theologians of our time.
    Great to hear you are taking some R&R. I get exhausted reading what you write, I cannot imagine the fatigue in writing it. Stay safe, be well

  3. Dear Jack,
    May you and Joske have a splendid rejuvenating break and return refreshed and restored. Your post is a real challenge because it demands self-examination and honest appraisal of one’s commitment to truth and justice. It is one thing to read, think, and discuss the ideal way to be faithful and act courageously. It is quite another to literally put oneself out for others in a demonstrable way. Of course, one must be grounded in faithfulness by thinking about how to act but it is much harder to actually do it. I am reminded about the laws enacted during the 60’s civil rights struggles. I don’t remember which lawmaker responded to someone who was arguing that you must change people’s minds and hearts to enact real change in civil rights. The lawmaker basically said that you change the laws first and people will be forced to follow along and then the minds will change. It isn’t easy but it makes sense. So now……..where do I get the courage!!!??? Have a great time of serenity!

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