Archive for November, 2010

An Interesting Perspective: Sans Baggage

Friday, November 12th, 2010

I was privileged to hear someone’s story several days ago.  This individual shared their journey into faith.  What was interesting was just one small line they said, one that really caused me to pause.  Having never previously possessed any faith of consequence, they shared how they were arriving at faith, in their middle years, without baggage.

Think about it.  Imagine arriving at faith, belief, God – whatever word you choose – without baggage.  I see so many folks who end up in the New Church because of baggage around their former faith.  Likewise I see many who have left the New Church for the same reason.

The image that comes to mind is God painting on a clean canvas.  Of course, none of our lives is without baggage, without, knicks, cuts, smudges.  But wow, to be witness to God’s starting to paint without all the pre-existing garbage – what a blessing that must be.

What was actionable for me in hearing this story was the thought that maybe that is part of our faith journey – traveling to the point where we can arrive “naked” in the sense that we are without the baggage of “religion” in its formal garb.  I know there is a great need for caution with these words because religion arguably gives us the container in which to grow and without which we might miss the necessary structures that give someone some thing to come to.   I know absolutely, in my life, I would have been/ will be completely lost without the formal structures of the Pittsburgh New Church, the Academy of the New Church, and NewChurch LIVE.

And it remains equally true, when thinking about arriving without baggage, maybe God’s painting “takes” faster to the well-prepped, clean surface.  Maybe there is room to push part of the outreach efforts of NewChurch LIVE that direction – in the direction of helping people see religious faith sans baggage.   Maybe that informs Swedenborg’s stress that church best grows among gentiles – good folks, open folks, who are not involved in a formal religion who when they find it, can jump in both feet.

Allowing Prayer to Happen to Us

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

The majority of Americans report praying daily.  It is something however we rarely discuss.  (Americans tend to be profoundly spiritual AND profoundly private about it.)

In the future, we will be doing a small group program around prayer and/ or a one day workshop on prayer.  Prayer is a discipline – a part of the “work” that centers us in a spiritual life.

A part of growth is the shift from seeing prayer as something that we do, to seeing prayer as something that is done to us.  Prayer, from a New Church perspective, is as Emanuel Swedenborg noted “Conversation with God.”  It is conversation in which God’s response is often hope or comfort.

Prayer is not, as one author noted, an “intelligence briefing to God” though that is where we often start.  There is nothing wrong with this approach but it is only a start on the spiritual path.  At some time we must shift – moving away from one-way monologue in which we “report” our lives and requests to God to a movement towards a space in which we are quiet enough to “hear” God in the language that God speaks.

That takes discipline.  For me, such an approach works best when I arrive at prayer with a simple request to “know nothing.”  That seems to be a far healthier space for an obnoxious “doer” like myself.  From that space, at times, I can breath into a presence of God in which I think He can speak – not a speech of “today’s winning lottery number will be …” but a speech that includes words that settle deeply into my soul.  This past week for example that included ‘humanity’ and ‘What opens people to faith.’   The difference, restated, would be praying before a worship, early on a Sunday morning, “Lord help me to communicate ‘x’” vs. “Lord, what would you have me say today?”

Believe it or not, one prayer I find particularly effective – “Lord, take it all.  Leave me nothing but clear window.”

From there, prayer can happen to us – shining right on in.

Eating Humble Pie

Friday, November 5th, 2010

In the book “Secrets of Heaven”, one can read the words, “Humility is submitting yourself to the sovereign control of the inner person.”

The true self is the inmost of our being.  It can be covered up, lost as it were, but never, ever destroyed for in its destruction would be our own.  Think of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. That part of us, a part that exemplifies a quiet, focused dedication to the True, a part picturing our soul’s tender longing to have God born within, is beyond destruction.  “Lions”, figuratively, cannot destroy it. Impossible.

Now this indestructibility cannot lead to hubris – maybe explaining why we often come that acknowledgment later in life.  If the consequential experience of that true self is a “True” experience, we will be left clearly in awe of the God’s love for us.  It will also leave us more fully present to the incredible tender nature of God’s love and the tender nature of how His life and love and shine through us.  The ego, at those moments, dies rather quickly in a flash of light.

Can humility grow from that place?  Definitely.  It is the fertile soul for a right-sized humanity to grow, fully aware of the wonders of a God given core, a core even death and disaster cannot touch, and fully aware of how that awareness opens us up to others, to compassion, to joy, and yes even to pain.  We then understand the words (that should be quoted weekly) “The glory of God is the man fully alive.”

What I Love Most About Swedenborgian Thought

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I was born and raised in the New Church.  As a church, at times it is called “Swedenborgian” because of our use of the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg as part of our religious canon.    The term is used in a similar way to the way “Lutheran” churches reference their church.  Both are clearly Christian with a unique “twist” presented by a central theologian.

I subscribe to the belief that Swedenborg’s theology is inspired revelation.  That does not make it “perfect” – a dangerous standard I believe for any form of revelation, one that gives rise to fundamentalism.  That being said, the core is “perfect” in the spiritual sense of the word – a perfection centered around a consistent view of God, this life, and the next.

The ideas that I find incredibly important ….

  1. God: God is a loving being who took on a human body and lived as we lived.  Therefore there is not a separation of God and Jesus.  The two are one and the same, a unity Jesus lived into more and more in this life, culminating with His complete glorification on the Cross and with His resurrection.
  2. This Life: So what is this life about?  This life is about “ceasing to do evil, learning to do well.”  We are born flawed AND with infinite potential.  God helps us to live into that potential. That will call us to repentance (rethinking) and reformation (restructuring).  God then can do His work which is changing loves focused on selfishness and materialism into loves that are focused on serving others and God, loves which in the end bring us the greatest amount of happiness (A process called “regeneration”).  Restated, we do the best we can to cooperate with God in pushing the bad stuff out of the way so the good stuff can come front and center.   His Word, others, science, our own experience etc… are all in place to help us.  Important to note, that all are given a “path” by God.  We do not make exclusive Christian claims that only those who are Christian can come into heaven.  Any faith, well lived, can lead you there.
  3. Next Life:  We are angels-in-training in this life.  In the next life, we will live more and more into that angelic mindset.  We will find ourselves living in communities who share that basic orientation.  We likewise will find ourselves sharing our eternal lives with our beloved spouses in a state called “conjugial love” or “true love in marriage.”  We will be useful, productive individuals learning and growing to all eternity.

Good stuff!

What If?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Views of church evolve.

For many of us church begins as the bastion of law, order, tradition.  Religion then plays out as morality, as codes, as creeds, and as attendance.  What if though church, like our faith, was designed to evolve?

Christian New Church theology is filled with numerous references to what can be described as “mutual indwelling.”   In the Gospel of John, Jesus offers a wonderful prayer of oneness, or as one theologian phrased it, of “cascading unity” that speak to mutual indwelling – unity with Him and the Father, with us, with those who will know Him in the future.   The unity literally spills out of the prayer.

In our faith system, that very unity spills out again into areas such as marriage, work, service – all areas where the unity can be experienced.  It is also experienced in our connection with the spiritual world, not a connection of soothsayers and swamis, but a connection of heart and thought.  When experienced, “belief” in a dogmatic sense becomes less a priority and caring and the wisdom growing from it gains its rightful seat.  Morality, codes, creeds, and attendance follow a similar path – giving way to compassion, simplicity, intuition, and engagement.  Divinity becomes grounded in our humanity.

What if?  What if church evolved to a celebration of the mutual indwelling we have with God and with one another?  Such a shift is not without pain – I am absolutely convinced that opening to God and to others actually opens us to more synchronicity in terms of pain.  Likewise it opens the joyous space for co-creation.   And such a shift may be just where the Christian church is headed.

Faith vs. Belief

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I heard a recent podcast that commented on the difference between Faith and Belief.

The author – a minister – commented on getting a call from a desperate woman, readying herself to commit suicide.  He got on his motorcycle to travel to her house.  The point – faith got him on that bike, not belief.

What a valuable perspective.  Yes, I have definitive “beliefs.”  I look to God’s Word and New Church theology to figure that out.  And, belief continues to mean less and less in a sense.  This is not to say that “belief” is relegated to nothingness.  It is to say that faith, faith as defined as a sense of God-given purpose, direction, and vision, is more important than the intellectual constructs around formal doctrinal pronouncements.

My “belief” is fun to share, to teach, to ponder but it has yet to “get me on the bike.”  What gets me “on the bike” is a stirring deep within, a voice, a “dictate” that says serve – my “faith.”  As one author noted, Jesus is the model of being fully Divine and fully Human – or as we would say in this faith tradition – the Divine Human.  We are not God. And we do mirror in our own way that dichotomy.

We possess an element of the Divine in the form of God-given gifts attached to our core – our “inmost.”  We also are completely human.  We need to endeavor then to loose track of neither.  We cannot be totally human without a view of the divine.  We cannot access the divine, without being human.  Critical that we take that divinity and live it into our humanity.   Stand in divinity alone and we live a detached life.  Attach – but in the right way, in the healthy way – to the world – to the “weary and scattered” as God calls us.