Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

How to Read the Bible

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

The Bible does several things.  It is both normative, creating a touchstone, a canon, an inspired source. And it presents a trajectory, a movement in and out of light.

The Bible in essence then is a very human story, wrestling with faith.

So we don’t read the Word as a recipe.  Or as a history book.  It is collection of stories written over thousands of years that over time learned people, inspired by God, have collected and rightfully held as holy… this gift of God’s voice as best we can understand it.

We also see within those stories a deeper meaning, a way to see into a poetic sense beneath the words.

That allows us to hold even the harsh parts of the Bible as containing something of value.  And there are harsh parts, parts for example where God apparently commands destruction of subjugated peoples.  But in the New Church we hold that differently.  Destruction of enemy forces …. the need for us to fully uproot, as best we can, the evil in our lives.

Imagine for example an alcoholic, newly sober, who is sure they can just have one little drink.  Well, no go.  Even that little “tolerance” needs to be uprooted. Destroyed as it were.  That is the genius of Swedenbogian theology.

So we read the Word. Maybe not so much in search of answers as in search of Presence.  A holding of life in its blessings and breakings.  Life’s imperfections, in a fascinating way, both called to account and normalized, and placed in a sacred journey.

And the final word of Presence in the journey is love.

That means of course there is not, in the end, one way and only one way  to read the Bible.  We are unique forms of love, created by God.  Each of us.  And so, when it comes to the Word, each of us will have our own voice, our own loves, our own unique way of seeing.  The Bible is the place where we can all touch – a common touchstone – finding a way, in our own very human and broken manner,  for that life giving conversation with God and others to start.

“Every dogma can be explained in a 1000 different ways.  It is like a horn of plenty.  People take out of the dogma what ever is matched and suited to their character and use their particular gifts to explain it.” (True Christianity 154)

And always…. the conversation is good!!!!

Taking the Bible Very Seriously, Not Literally

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

We are called to take the Bible very seriously but not literally.

In the Western mind, a mind dominated by facts and argument, that is challenging to grasp.  We often approach God’s Word with those exacting lenses, believing that if not every bit of it holds literally true, the Bible can then be dismissed in its entirety.

However the Bible from the very start was written poetically.  It speaks of Adam and Eve giving birth to two sons, Cain and Abel, who then marry.  That progression defies logic, i.e. if the first human beings gave birth to the next two, where did those wives come from?

Traditionally, Christianity has been very comfortable with a more poetic reading of the Bible.  Look at the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Each is a slightly different account of Christ’s life.  Their inclusion in the canon clearly speaks to a people comfortable with “knowledge in the round.”  They did not need one definitive account of His life.  Somehow they knew God was bigger was that.  The New Church is part of the heritage.

Holding the Bible poetically is the path of most resistance.  It is easy on one hand to dismiss the Bible in its entirety.  It is every bit as easy to hide in the literal words as a fundamentalist.  Both are simple “either/ or” solutions.  What God asks however is for us to inhabit the text, to live in it, to wrestle with it, to challenge it, to be challenged by it.   That is not easy but it engages us in an incredible spiritual conversation thousands of years old, opening us to blessings all around.



“Falser Words Were Never Spoken”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Brian Morton wrote an exceptionally strong OpEd piece in the New York Times recently.  What he pointed out was our penchant for taking quotes of the great thinkers and turning them into saccharine “feel good” slogans.  He noted …

Thoreau, Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price.

But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all.

This line of thought has been much on my mind as of late.  We exist culturally within an environment that appears to offer the mirage we can have it all, and that we can have it all with no cost.  We can have what we can imagine.  What we miss however is one critical and embarrassingly overlooked word – discipline.  Imagination meshed with discipline moves us forward.  Imagination without discipline is meaningless fantasy.

I think of Jesus’ words in the same way that Morton notes the words of other great thinkers.  How many times am I prone to use His words as gauzy slogans vs. words with heft and meaning, calling and sacrifice?  In tending towards the former I use them more that way than I comfortably admit.  And a Christian faith without words of import rapidly becomes the simple syrup Morton writes of.

And yet when I go into the words of Jesus, when I truly find the gifted grace to preach them, people get it.  They get it!  We all want more somehow – more meaning, more call, more purpose, more sacrifice.  The discipline.

Love Wins

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

We closed our series “Love Wins” this past Sunday.  What a blessed topic to speak on.

It was a deeply moving moment last week to be up front with the 6 volunteers from the congregation – 3 reading passages from the Bible, 3 listening.  The power of God’s Word is a miracle.  Looking at the faces, and at the tears, of those who were read to was profound.  I am reminded in witnessing that why the Bible through most of history was an oral tradition.  There is simply something in those words.  Our job is to give and receive the power present there – not just the literal words but the spirit within them.

The power is so profound I find myself in constant need to remain quiet in it’s presence, humble in its sphere.

Thank you God for being a space where we can experience that, and live into it together.

Really Enjoying NewChurch LIVE. What more could I read?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Many folks who enjoy NewChurch LIVE ask what they could read. Not everyone is a reader, but if you are, these are my recommendations on where to start.

The Bible
I recommend starting with the New King James Version of the Bible. My favorite book in the Bible is the Gospel of John. It is often called the Gospel of Love with good reason. The New Church really are Gospel of John Christians with a twist in taking as truth Jesus’ words in that Gospel, “I and the Father are one.” No angry God, angry Father sacrificing His Son for our sins but a loving God come to earth in the form of Jesus Christ to save us by showing us how to live.

If you like history, go with a study bible that adds notes to flesh out the reading.

New Church Theology
I would recommend the New Century Edition of “True Christianity” by Emanuel Swedenborg. Volume I is currently available in the NCE. Volume II will be out shortly.

Notes About Canon
Religious Canon is a different kind of literature. It is not written with the consistently of a linear, narrative story being its primary concern. The primary concern is connecting God and man, to give us ideas by which we can live our lives. Therefore much of revelation is more closely attuned with poetry than prose. (Think, who can better describe the beauty and wonder of a sunset – a poem or a scientific article. I vote for the poem.)

Also, do not expect “perfection.” Theology is not about a perfect “answer” to every question in the world. It is not a mathematical equation. It more closely aligns with a compass than a map. Therefore don’t be thrown off by dated language or statements obviously well ensconced in a certain historical time period. Look for the deep ideas – the themes – underneath. Those “compass points” are where the transformation lies.

Finally, New Church Theology was drawn out of revelation based on the Bible and circles back to the Bible. New Church Theology is about “True Christianity” – a return to the roots of what Christianity truly means. Though we call ourselves the “New Church” the reality is that we are rather old and believe that in returning to those roots, we create something new.

Enjoy reading!