Posts Tagged ‘Emanuel Swedenborg’

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!!!!

How do we love God?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Loving God, at one level is incredibly esoteric. “Wu Wu” stuff as my friend would say.  How do we love something that often appears to our dim human eyes distant, disembodied, contentious even?

Emanuel Swedenborg offered this:

Loving God “does not mean loving God for the image he projects but loving the good that comes from him.  Loving the good is intending and doing it.” (Heaven and Hell, 15)

Restated, there are these good things that come from God – the good stuff – the good stuff often even in the midst of the hard stuff.  God’s love made real into the world. Seen, heard, witnessed, experienced, shared.

Our job – to love God.  Which means placing our intention behind that good stuff and DOING IT.

In ways hard to describe that aligns our best intentions with God’s loving intentions.  Or more accurately, it uncovers in our soul those loving intentions gifted from God – God’s and ours at the same time.

We can see that all over.  A recent story featured the photograph below of a group of fast food workers joining a woman in prayer who had shared with the cashier that just a few hours before she had lost her husband.   Humanity at its best.  God’s loving work among us and through us. A picture that answers in some small way, “How do we love God?”

 

 

 

Part in Heaven. Now and Always.

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Part of you.  Part of me.  That part is in heaven. Now and always.

Many days cloud that simple truth.  And many days, if even for a blessed moment, reveal it.

From the author Thomas Merton…

March 19, 1958: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate….”

Emanuel Swedenborg captured the big picture simply and well. “The spiritual world is right where we are, not distanced from us in the least…. as far as the deeper levels of our minds are concerned we are all in that world, surrounded by angels.”  (Divine Love and Wisdom, 92)

We may not often see it.  Often hidden in fog.  But at other times … there.

 

What is “Church”?

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

A big question.

Churches rise and fall. The big picture of larger movements as well as small individual congregations.  All rise, all fall, all are reborn in certain sense.

Growth comes, paradoxically, from that fall.  Each movement a seed for the next in a widening, constant re-discovery of the essential of all existence … love.

Emanuel Swedenborg offered fascinating insights on that dynamic.

Every church when it begins holds the good of life [useful, kind service] in the first place, and truths of doctrine in the second; but as the church declines it begins to regard the truths of doctrine in the first place and the good of life in the second place. (Apoloclypse Revealed, 82)

In another place he writes….

At first a church has no other doctrine and loves no other doctrine than teachings around charity because this belongs to life.  [Eventually] it begins to hold charity as cheap, and over time rejects it. (Secrets of Heaven 2417)

So we start out, simply put, with love. A  love that grows towards service. And service, in its original form, is valued over knowledge. That is where churches grow.

Over time we “flip” however and mistakenly come to value knowledge over service. Religion, faith becomes a “head trip.”  And the church declines. Arguments and debates pull us up and away from life into the safety of intellectual ivory towers. Clean, sterile and absolutely deadly.

A simple process of growth. A  simple process of decline.

So what is “church”?

Church is community where God is known, his Word celebrated. Celebrated through this – a genuine love that leads to service.  A pushing aside of the compulsions we all harbor that detract from that love. And a reach, a smiling, dangerous reach out into the world.  It begins in each individual heart.  Ripples out into our church community of practice.  And reaches further still to the world.

This is how it looked for this pastor yesterday….

 

The Connectedness of All Things

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

A beautiful vision for the world is the ancient Christian image of a Grand Human.

 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4)

Emanuel Swedenborg expanded on that idea, noting how all of heaven could be pictured that way. In Heaven, he held, “mutual love makes all angels into something like a single human being.”  (Secrets of Heaven 1013).  Beautiful.

That connectedness is so much what we struggle for in Christianity. It requires what Dorothy called a “gesture upward” to the poor and suffering.

And any struggle “for” will be accompanied by a struggle “with.”  That struggle “with” is born of our never ceasing endeavor to critique vs. serve.

I wonder more and more if we can only give energy to one or the other. Restated, we can either spend our life’s energy on “critique” or “service.” And obviously my “vote” is for “serve!”  (Movie fact … the critic in the hit movie Ratatouille was named “Ego.”  That should make us giggle.)

Find your “little Calcutta” as Mother Theresa put it, and serve there.  Find a “church”, however that may look for you, that supports that journey.  And a church that joins together in a community that hopefully – and paradoxically – helps you be more than just you.  That pulls you sacrificially outward into a broader universe of meaning.  Not by judging “worthiness.”  But by a candid acknowledgement that we all are pretty darn broken and we need one another and God.

The connectedness of all things.

Talking with Angels?

Thursday, June 25th, 2015
Abraham Lincoln, with the Civil War looming, offered these words in his first innagural address…
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”.
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One must love his phrase … “touched … by the better angels of our nature.”
Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about that “touching” by the better angels of our nature.  For him, he found that connectivity centered in three “standards” he wrote of in “Secrets of Heaven” 1680.
    1. Offering our best intentions towards others

    2. Thinking only good thoughts about others

    3. Doing good things for others whenever we can
He believed that these “standards” connected us with angels.  With heaven. Live that way right.  Live that way and we experience heaven on earth, and we talk with angels not with human words but a love born of care.
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A Middle Space In Building Churches That Is Almost Impossible To Speak Of

Friday, March 20th, 2015

There is a middle space in churches that is almost impossible to speak of.  Why an impossibility?  Because in speaking both sides, right and left, will find cause for offense.  And that is both the genius and the dizzying riddle of Christianity.  A third way constantly calling us out of our misaligned binary bent to sort life into this “box” or that “box” and calling into surrender deeply down into love. That surrendered spaces lies between two poles.

Pole #1:

One pole holds all things relative.  A Gnosticism of sorts.  Where every individual is captain and commander, each a final arbitrator of all truth. As Pope Francis phrased it, “…a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience to console and enlighten but ultimately keeps us imprisoned by our own thoughts and feelings.”

I read recently read a review of a book written by a woman unhappy in her marriage.  Her quest for fulfillment became sexual experimentation in all its forms outside of her marriage.  The reviewer, in her closing comment, made a salient point … where do we cross over from “finding ourselves” to increasingly damaging forms “self absorption”?  A good question that we should all in turn answer.

Easy to think of the author’s quest as just her quest.  And in a sense it is.  We muddy waters quickly when we seek to legislate private sexual morality.  However hard to imagine that life as healthy.  Hard to imagine concepts of “family” or “commitment” or “fidelity” or “common good” alive within that particular lifestyle choice.

Pole #2:

And the other pole is, to quote Pope Francis again, “a supposed soundness of doctrine [that] leads to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism whereby instead of evangelizing one analyzes and classifies others … exhausts energy in inspecting and verifying.”

This position … clearly intent on “inspecting and verifying.”  Here we fall in love with church ins-and-outs, not God.  There are refreshing few in formal church circles with whom true dialog is possible.  Just dialog.  Many more are interested in defending their view of Christianity.  Conversion.  Argumentation.  As Seth Godin phrased it … “The narcissism of small differences” … where we pull up differences instead of celebrating common themes.

The Middle Space:

Swedenborgian theology clearly speaks to a third way, as does all enlightened faith, all parts of the church universal.  That third way …. a deft centering on key concepts and teachings – compass points as it were.  A clear call to live them out into the world.  And a deep surrender to the “self-evidencing reason of love.”

And what would that theology offer to the author noted above?  That there is a joy, and a freedom, and a liberation.  A place for one’s soul.  A shining place of deep abiding peace. Heaven. Beyond our worries and concerns and compulsions.  One where our true selves come to life once we open to centering our lives on the better angles of our nature.  A place where God seeks to be as we are opened to the overwhelming miracle of that Presence.

Sometimes God is so clear….

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

We live in a world where we scan more than read.  So here is one to read.  Written in a book from the Bible, Isaiah, chapter 58, written several thousand years ago, it speaks to a new form of worship….

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnessa] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Emanuel Swedenborg, writing in the 1700′s follows the cue.  “A religion is valued more for its goodwill and faith, not for the rituals that accompany them.”  True Christianity, 660.

Beautiful words.  Plain.  And oh so clear.

Excommunication in the Mormon Church and Notes of Caution for what Religion Can Become

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

From the New York Times, June 23, 2014…

“Kate Kelly, who unsettled the Mormon Church by founding a movement to advocate opening the male-only priesthood to women, was excommunicated by her bishop and his two counselors in Virginia on Monday….

Bishop Mark Harrison informed Ms. Kelly by email that she had been excommunicated “for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church,” according to a partial text of the decision shared by an Ordain Women spokeswoman.

The bishop said in the email that Ms. Kelly may not take the sacrament, hold a voluntary position or give a talk in the church; vote for church offices; contribute tithes; or wear the sacred Mormon undergarments.

To be considered for readmission to the church, “you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the church, its leaders and the doctrine of the priesthood,” the email to Ms. Kelly said. “You must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the church.”…

Mormons believe that excommunication breaks the eternal ties to one’s spouse and other family members who were sealed together in temple rituals.”

What is written above can be true not just of Mormonism but of many faiths who come to view themselves and their ordained as gate keepers.  From outbreaks of unspeakable violence between Sunnis and Shiites on down these kind of events should signal a caution about the dangers of organized religion when it comes to no longer value an inclusive humanity but instead holds that there is but one path and one way.  Something then as incredibly beautiful and helpful as organized faith can degenerate rapidly in such a toxic environment.

And how do we know when faith has crossed that line?  How do we support religion in holding to the necessary bonds on human conduct that actually allow for a healthy flourishing while at the same time being appropriately wary of the extremism that a fundamentalist approach can engender?  Some ideas.

In this denomination, we believe that the greatest of evils grow out of a love of power for selfish reasons.  We flip consequently from seeing ourselves as servants to instead seeing ourselves as entitled to be served.   We are no longer embedded in a world of fellow travelers on life’s journey but instead become band leaders knowing both the tune and the formation in which all should march.

That kind of narcissistic orientation works it way out into both distorted reasoning and distorted action where we come to truly believe that “killing” in its various forms somehow serves God.

And God’s Word is co-opted by that whole process, a process where the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Koran is used to legitimate and rationalize behavior that falls far from the clear spirit of a loving God.  The wisdom of revelation is “recruited” and then “distorted” as Emanuel Swedenborg noted.  (Divine Love and Wisdom 274)  It can be”transformed step by step into something false.” (275)

So truth, if it is distorted, no longer serves as the protector but instead serves as a way to mask what in not of God.

Love then remains the ultimate answer.   But this is not sloppy love.  This is not “anything goes” or “nothing matters” or “everything is relative.”  This is agape love …. “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.”  (Thomas Oord)   Agape love creates a wisdom that returns religion to its best self and in so doing turns us towards God and each other.

Institutions and Movements

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

A simple concept … institutions form to gather gains made by movements.  Movements form to propose gains to institutions.   The tension remains obvious.  Institutions want to stay put, to reinforce, gather, solidify gains.  Movements want to move, to expand, push boundaries, discover growth.  Movements then tend to court institutions, proposing gains to institutions that often have, in turn, little desire for courtship.  Institutions, after all, love home.  Movements love travel.

Yet God’s plan clearly takes of both institutions and movements.  There is as Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “Living energy in us.”  The energy, God given, connected to love, does not accomplish anything by itself.  That creativity gains embodiment however as the energy moves and “… motion becomes the final stage of energy.”  (Divine Love and Wisdom 218)  And that motion rests in service, act, deed or practice … in the composite space and time thing itself , aka the institution!

The above is complicated … and not.  Institutions need movements.  Movements needs institutions.   Destroy a church or any institution and the first question will be, “How do we build a new one?”  Leave a church or institution in one place long enough, and some who love it will ask, “How do we get this thing moving?”