Posts Tagged ‘Emanuel Swedenborg’

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?”





Reflection: A Day Spent Talking About Near Death Experiences

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

“Once you have one sincere moment of divine union, you will want to spend your time on the one thing necessary, which is to grow deeper and deeper in love every chance that you get. Talk to someone who has had a near-death, or nearing-death, experience. They all agree: It’s all about love. It’s all about union.” (Fr. Richard Rohr)  This core, so beautifully captured in Rohr’s words, is shared across many experiences, experiences from Christian mystics to those who underwent a near-death experience.  Welcome to what we heard this past Sunday!

Those experiences share general traits … it is all about love in the end, God is everywhere, we need not fear.   They vary a great deal in specifics.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted in the book Heaven and Hell, “The heaven that is outside reflects the heaven that is within.”  So that wonderful variety, no doubt embedded in the very DNA of creation, serves us and God well.   Variety is perfection.

Much was striking on Sunday.  First, clearly there is a huge interest in these conversations around life after death.  Our morning service drew 362, one of largest crowds ever.  The evening event, featuring a talk by Dr. Eben Alexander, the NYT’s best selling author of “Proof of Heaven”, drew over 1,000.

The second thing striking to me personally was the profound impact of these types of experiences on the individuals who face them.  Much of life flashes by us as an often shallow listing of events and activities.  Near death experiences … not so much.  These experiences CHANGE people.  There is a softness, a joy, an enthusiasm for life that all the speakers in the morning and Dr. Alexander in the evening shared.   As Sgt. Matthew Pennington so beautifully phrased it…

“I know there is a purpose for my life greater than I can understand and comprehend, to spend the time lying on the desert floor [injured and dying] sensing the love of God and not wanting to live but having the foresight to know everything is going to be alright [and everything] is certainly divine in nature. I believe we all have a purpose while we are here, whether it is inspiring a stranger through an open act of kindness, guiding the father and mother-less, assisting those less fortunate than ourselves. Sure my life has not been easy I have been tested and have had my fair shares of passing and failing them, but through my trials I have grown to have compassion and understanding.”

And the third part that was striking was frankly a deep honoring, a deep pride that I am part of a church that comfortably and warmly entertains these conversations.  Truth can be either a point or a portal.  If we orient ourselves to truth as a point we all must agree on the one thing, on the one experience, leaving little room for dialog.  If we see truth as a portal however, our conversations open to much grander vistas.  As a New Church pastor, I believe that is the nature of true wisdom because it is the nature of true love.

Stephen Lis, Sgt. Matthew Pennington, Margaret Gladish, Dr. Erica Hyatt, and Dr. Eben Alexander all articulated different perspectives.  And all shared an experience of the heart of our Creator!

So thank you to everyone from the sponsors to the team members to the volunteers.  Sunday was a great blessing!

Finding the Will of God

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I grew in this profession of ministry with a foot firmly in the camp of morality; that ministry and morality were synonymous.  The two unarguably combine in wondrous ways.  And yet the marriage of morality and ministry, if it fails to expand, threatens to squeeze down faith into a very shrill, cramped space more concerned with judgment and social order than with grace.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer phrased it thus.  “Those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand – that from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem: ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I so something good?’  Instead they must ask the wholly other, completely different question: what is the will of God?  This demand is radical precisely because it presupposes a decision about ultimate reality, that is, a decision of faith.”

There is nothing easy in occupying the evolved space Bonhoeffer noted, one where morality clearly incorporates and joins with a primary concern centered on the will of God.  It literally cost Bonhoeffer his life.  Such a space, only discovered in silence, becomes a space of call and thus a space of unfolding courage.

We discover God’s will where we are.  God’s will is our life.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted again and again … God is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  And yet God’s will is more than our individual self-satisfied homeostasis.  God’s will vibrates through our lives as that nudge, gentle and not, to center our lives in peace and reach.


Christmas After Christmas

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

“Advent” settles around the rhythmic waiting for Christmas, the time of patience and prophecy anticipating Christ’s birth.  ”Advent-ure” … the other end of it all. And yet ‘the other end  of it all’ at times feels so depressed, so barren.  The difference between 8:00 AM Christmas morning and 2:00 PM Christmas afternoon is palpable, the inevitable let down.

Much of that letdown for me is that I mistakenly employ Christmas to welcome, consistently, the wrong kingdom.  The Christmas I welcome centers around gifts, and food, and the annual “this is the year I finally loose weight” promises that melt come February.   So Christmas then “ends.”  And God, in His gentlemanly fashion, consistently offers a different coming of the Kingdom, one more of a beginning.  This is how Emanuel Swedenborg captured that coming.

The Lord’s kingdom consists in mutual love, in which alone is peace. (Heavenly Secrets, 1038)

Contemplate those words for a minute.  The Kingdom … mutual love … in which ALONE is peace.  And I can humbly receive the gift of mutual love and peace to the degree I humbly offer the gift of mutual love and peace.    That is where the advent-ure might just begin.

Two Things Churches Must Give Up

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Life begins with paying attention first to what we need to stop doing.  That is the essence of repentance.  Churches do not live outside that dynamic.  So what are two things church might be called to give up?

Churches are called to give up the concepts that it is all about ….

  1. Who has the right ideas
  2. Who is worthy to belong

The battle over “rightness” whether in a marriage or in a church rapidly becomes a non-starter.  That does not belittle the power of truth, especially in terms of God’s Word.  However, it does press us towards a view of truth that remains both focused and open.  Solid.  With ductile edges.  Able to deeply honor the poignancy and privacy of each individual’s journey.  From that place we cease arguing who possesses the better, truer map.

Battles over worthiness likewise are the same non-starter.  Of course there are necessary boundaries and divisions from those with whom contact is toxic or dangerous.  And, if the assumption is ‘open until proven otherwise’ vs. ‘closed until proven otherwise’, we are aligned to Christ’s message.  As Nadia Bolz-Webber phrased it, “Anytime we draw a line, there is Christ on the other side of it.”

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote of a view of heaven aligned outside of “rightness” and “worthiness”, a heaven with places for many, an echo of Christ’s word in John, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?.”

Grounded and Inspired

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

What we offer in terms of language is a dramatic gift.  It begins with Genesis, and God speaking the world into existence.  It then moves to Christ’s words, “It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.”  (Matt. 15:11)

Life giving language takes two forms, language that (a) grounds and language that (b) inspires.

Language that grounds is language …

  1. That pulls us out of worry and anxiety down into God’s love and care
  2. That reminds us of our identity, our true self
  3. That forces a life-changing accountability through it candor

Language that inspires is language …

  1. That allows us to see a brighter future than we can currently see ourselves
  2. That moves us to visualize a re-imagined future
  3. That forces us out of stuckness … the status-quo belief that life “is what it is” and will never change

In this particular church, we hold that actually we are not accompanied through life by one guardian angel, but by two.  I wonder if the job of one is to ground us and maybe the other is to inspire.  Seems that is what the best people in our lives do.

What are the steps I need to take to find heaven?

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

We love plans.  We love steps.  Take a look at the the Oprah magazine …. 5 steps to joy, happiness, better sex, your best life now.   Start a title with “5 Steps To …” and you have a winner!

Steps are important.  Process is more so.

Emanuel Swedenborg commented on how much people desire to know what they need to do and what they need to believe in order to get into heaven.  Such a line of very understandable questioning he posits actually grows more from a fear of hell more then a pull towards the promise of heaven.  Such a line of thought is also, I might add, centered on a conditional view of God’s love.

The answer Swedenborg heard many times from good souls was that people,  “… should do and believe whatever they like; but they should realize that in hell people do not do anything good or believe anything that is true, only in heaven.”  So what is we it should ask?  “Ask what is good and what is true, think about it, and do it if you can.”  (Divine Providence 179)   That is far more a process question than a list of steps.

The Weight That Is Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The pictures are clearly appalling.  Watching in still photographs and video men, women, and children dying from poison gas released by the regime in Syria last week sickens.   The violence in the world at times appears so far beyond measure.  What is a church to do?

Our role first, I believe, is not to be silent.  It is to speak of these things, to speak of the adulteration of violence wherever it might appear.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor and critic of the Nazi regime in World War II, wrote convincing that he knew the church in Germany was dead when it no longer had anything to say about the outbreak of war.  We must speak.

And our role, second, is to be a beacon of hope that re-imagined worlds are possible.  I want so very much to get lost in the fun of church frankly.  I am not nearly as keen to get lost in the work of church.  And hope, if it is to be real, must connect to that work.

That work says that church at its best is a counter-cultural statement of an often joyous dissent, a joining together of a “community of the willing”, prepared to roll up sleeves, with a smile.  It is not sour righteousness but the joy of life lived around purpose, “Love in action” as Swedenborg phrased it.  And what we find, to borrow the words of MLK …”We discovered it was easier to love than to carry the burden of hatred.”

We join into that work locally.  Here.  Now.  That is the opportunity where numbing silence is broken, hope stirred, and the work engaged.   Violence is not ok with me.  The work has to be.

Third Way Christianity

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

One of the many beauties of the Gospel is Christ’s consistent call to the Third Way, a previously unconsidered third alternative between the polarities of Liberal and Conservative.  One author, in speaking to that challenge especially as it relates to the more liberal wing of Christianity recently wrote …

It’s hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when the vibe is ironic, cynical, intellectualized or coolly detached. It’s hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when you are being paradoxical, post-modern, or deconstructive. It’s hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when it often reduces to liberal humanism, existentialism, functional atheism or simply voting for Democrats.

Basically, I think progressive Christianity struggles because it often fails to give people a real, honest-to-God, bible-thumping fight. More precisely, progressive Christianity has a lot of fight in it, but it has often struggled to articulate that fight in robustly biblical ways. (Let alone the major problem of progressive Christians being too reactionary, focusing much of their fight against conservative Christians.)

So the goal is to find that robust biblical language around which we can articulate a re-imagined world that cuts between the polarities of left and right.  Such an articulation considers many necessities including the necessity of appropriate self critique as well as appropriate critique of systemic failures.  No one then gets “off the hook.”  We are all in it.  All responsible at both and individual and corporate level.  That I believe will lead us to the kind of Christianity that gives opportunity.  As Seth Godin phrased it, “The opportunity is to actually create something that people choose to talk about.”

That cannot be done in isolation.  It takes community.  There is no “lone wolf” here given how prone we are to make salvation a purely private and thence self-absorbed affair.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “along with that love comes wisdom about how to involve others” in that building.  (True Christianity 661)  Salvation, which could be read in many ways “freedom”, occurs in relationship.  Churches, I hope, can find their way back to the third way.