Posts Tagged ‘Evil’

Life is Beautiful. Life is Hard.

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

We just know this, that life is beautiful and that life is hard.

The fruit of life, as it were, at times looks looks deeply appealing.  Other times, that fruit is a bitter pill.  Two fruits. One life.

I want to understand it.  I want to control it.  I want to pick. A want a life with all of one.  None of the other. Or at least if the other has to happen, let it happen quickly and then yield new, more blessed horizons.  A Super Bowl victory at the end of an injury plagued season. That is what I want, or at least what I am willing to agree to.

But that is not life.  Life somehow actually rests eternally on a “both”, on an “and.”

From the Holocaust diary of Etty Hilensaum, written in a Jewish ghetto awaiting deportation to Auschwitz…

I can sit for hours and know everything and bear everything and grow stronger in the bearing of it, and at the same time feel sure that life is beautiful and worth living and meaningful.  Despite everything.  

The Allergic Reaction to the Word “Sin”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Many struggle with the word “sin” a word often drawing an immediate connection with the word “guilt.” Raised in cultures steeped in those two descriptors, descriptors used to capture what some churches see as the generalized plight of humanity, many simply choose to leave church altogether.

So how can we hold “sin” in a healthy way?  An important question because there is indeed such a thing as sin.  People do do horrible things to others ranging from abuse to terrorism. So we have to talk about it.  The question becomes how.

Alan Mann offers some interesting perspectives, ones closely aligned with New Church theology.

From his perspective, while the word “sin” clearly creates an often negative reaction, we almost all universally share a sense of estrangement, a sense, a knowledge that we are failing to live fully into the lives God intended for us.

Life is relational.  Loving God and loving others functioning one and the same.  So sin is relational.  Sin is what obscures and damages relationships with God and with others.   Those damaged relationships feed very readily into those feelings of a core estrangement, a sense of lostness.

Christianity offers a way out.  Not in terms of transaction where Christ becomes the sacrifice for all sin.  Instead in terms of seeing in Christ, God incarnate – as the human embodiment of the Divine – seeing God in a focused way that we can in our small and broken ways emulate. A loving, functional model we can follow in that search to come into our fullest humanity, living life as God truly intended.   That comes right back to this key bit – Christ does not ask us to worship him but instead asks us to follow him.

Healing and reconciliation can occur there – in the following – remembering that the issue is always with us, not with God. We are forgiven instantly by God.  Our role however is to “come right” in ourselves, to live more fully into the lives we were intended to live, regaining a sense of inner coherence in our lives, one married to the best angels of our nature.

God’s help in this endeavor is His spirit moving among us and through us. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)  Spirit and Breath – the same words speaking to that amazing movement God in our journey.

Wisdom then comes to be “written not on our memories but on [our] lives.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 427)

All of this leads to a different view of  the word “sin.”  It does not leave the word devoid of meaning.  What it adds to the word is a context – a context of sin clear about the fallen parts of our nature that harm others and, at the same time, a context embedded in healing, embedded in a sense of humble empowerment, of grace.



I Think We Are All Insane Sometimes

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

In this particular faith, we regard evil as frankly, insane.  And we can glorify in the very insanity, finding great satisfaction in what Emanuel Swedenborg phrased as the “insanities of evil.”

Paul, in writing the book  of Romans shortly after Christ’s death pointed to the same dynamic. “For what I want to do, I do not do.  And what I hate to do, I do.”  (Romans 7:15)  I get it!

Sunday afternoon filled with numerous meetings, appointments etc…. As 5:00 neared and the final meeting ended, I looked forward to joining the service team cooking at The Opportunity House in Reading.  And then I made the fateful decision to check email one last time.

What I found were a few “dings” out on a clergy list serve targeting some the positions taken by myself and as a result NewChurch LIVE.  Though unfortunate, criticisms as such are nothing new or different but simply part of the terrain in trying new ways of doing church while at the same time hoping to maintain a tight tie to the core of this wonderful theology.

So I did the logical thing.  I sat in my office, alone, for 20 minutes, stewing over the injustice of it all.  What I failed to do was get in the car and join in serving the homeless.  Simply put, I chose to stay in the crap of my own head …. resentments, judgements and all.  I chose the insanity of evil.  Is there anything more ridiculously insane than that kind of choice?  Freedom asks, “Resent or service sir”  My response … “Thank for the options.  I choose resentment thank you.”  I become 2.

I dont’ wear the above heavily but with a smile because that IS what I do.  And it is why God is patient and loving and kind and forever opens the option of doing it differently next time.




Shun Evil or Shun The Evil?

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Much of Christianity over the decades has closely followed the biblical imperative to shun evil.  A cornerstone of repentance, it calls us to see darkness just as that, darkness.  In Isaiah, the prophet offers the words “Cease to do evil.  Learn to do well.”  So the “not-to-do” list is every bit as important as the “to-do” list.  An alcoholic must stop drinking.  An angry father needs to stop getting angry.  Not complicated.  Not easy either!

What complicates this command however is when we slowly move from shunning evil to shunning the evil.

Here I am not talking of evil or sin or darkness in us, in ourselves, but what we judge to be the embodiment of evil or sin or darkness in others.   We can move then from rejecting the action to rejecting the person.

Humanity wether at an individual or community level is never well served by the detached scapegoating that pins evil to a person in such a way that the “evil” is their very identity.  That very thought is actually fallacious for several reasons.

First the definition of “evil” is at best slippery.  There are clear aberrations, where, as noted, we can readily call darkness darkness.  As a matter of fact, I think we must call them darkness.  However, there are more areas that at their very best are grey and therefore any form of judgement needs to be extremely gentle.  We simply don’t know.  And that is NOT a passive place but a place in which to make a strong, dedicated and committed stand.

Secondly, the call Christ appears to offer has little to do with “shunning” others.  As I think needs restated over and over again, the one group He consistently targeted as dangerous were the priests, the clerics who through their pompous dictates around righteousness and purity actually formed a barrier between humanity and God.  I think that is a poignant warning for those of us involved in church work.  Christ appears to actually call us – clergy and laity – to run towards the chaos, towards the mess, and yes, even towards the darkness, worrying predominantly only about our own darkness in the process.

His is a message then of a courageous, self sacrificing radical hospitality and radical inclusion.  From a Christian New Church perspective we are in our limited way called to “play by the same rules” that God does.  In that vein,  Emanuel Swedenborg notes that we allow others the space to be “reborn” when we, in a way mirroring God, learn to truly see them.   (Secrets of Heaven, Vol. II, pg. 76)

That is why philosophies centered on exclusion can be so damaging to the soul – they keep us from seeing others..  Those issues, and this is contentious to offer, include the “hot button” issues of 21st century Christianity  - Second Marriages, Homosexuality, and the Ordination of Women.   Those issues were NOT the hot button issues Christ spoke of.  He does address remarriage but there is a context there that we in our contemporary reading miss. (If this topic interests I spoke to it in this linked service.)  In terms of homosexuality, Christ does not address the issue in any of the 4 Gospels nor is the issue of ordination of women addressed either.  New Church canon largely reflects that same treatment.

These hot button issues settle then uncomfortably close to issues of exclusion and as such slide dangerously close to the kind of “shunning” practiced by the Pharisees, not by Christ.

Maybe the darkness in our souls we most need to guard against is that very “shunning” that all too often can be practiced under superficial “righteousness.”  The phrase “Shun the Shunning” sounds cute but maybe is enough to work on today.  A bubble worth bursting.


Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Catching up this morning on news and noted how the coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton was suspended for a year. The cause was the practice of raising locker room bounties in which the saints pooled money to reward players for injuring opponents, including very large gifts for injuries that necessitated an opponent being carted off on a stretcher. The defensive coordinator who organized the bounty system was suspended indefinitely.

The point here is not to demonize men like Sean Payton.  The moral lessons remain clear and transparent.  He screwed up, period.  It is valuable though to offer a candid observation about human nature.

We live within a culture very uncomfortable even discussing the possibility that maybe within all our hearts lurk darkness.  And within all our thoughts the ability to rationalize darkness.  That is true for me, for you, for everyone. But we don’t much like talking about that.  Even as a Pastor, I shy away from reading biblical passages about our sinful nature.  It sounds archaic.  ”What will the new person think if I don’t give a message of pure happiness and light?”

However we need to own up to the darkness that is part of the human condition.  It should give us pause as well when we look at Robert Bayles, a soldier accused of killing 16 civilians, Deryl Desmond, convicted of a murderous hate crime, or Mohammed Murah, dead after shooting Jewish children in France.  These men gave into that darkness and no doubt, in some twisted way justified it.

‎”Light of my heart, do not let my darkness speak…”  God gives us the power to actually say “no” – to move beyond the darkness into the light.  That is never an easy process.  Even with these men, to dismiss them as rogues is dangerous – giving us an easy answer.  Their actions however evidence broader parts of the human condition.   Accountability means looking at the darkness for what it is – darkness.  Not dismissing it.  Not justifying it. Owning it.  And learning to really say “no.”

“The Online Looking Glass”

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

In a recent New York Times OpEd piece Ross Douthat wrote of the recent challenges facing Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York.

Writing in the late ’70s, Lasch distinguished modern narcissism from old-fashioned egotism. The contemporary narcissist, he wrote, differs “from an earlier type of American individualist” in “the tenuous quality of his selfhood.” Despite “his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem.” His innate insecurity can only be overcome “by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma.”

This is a depressingly accurate anticipation of both the relationship between Weiner and his female “followers,” and the broader “look at me! look at meeeee!” culture of online social media, in which nearly all of us participate to some degree or another.

Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before – a “vast virtual gallery,” as Rosen has written, whose self-portraits mainly testify to “the timeless human desire for attention.”

And as Anthony Weiner just found out, it’s very easy to get lost in there.

I loved the reference to the “hall of mirrors” in which it is “very easy to get lost.”  That is an accurate portrayal of the world in which we find ourselves, a world in which conversations around the “common good” appear quiet at this time.

We can lose ourselves individually that way.  Churches can loose their way as well.  I often think that maybe Jesus’ last word’s to me as I leave this earth will be said with a big smile, and what they will say is “It was never about you.”  Then I know I will have found my Self – that by His grace, I got out of the hall of mirrors!

What the “Dark Night of the Soul” Reveals

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Many (all?) travel through what St. John of the Cross referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  What does that “night” accomplish?

I wonder at times if these dark nights are the only thing that actually will accomplish much in terms of starting us on the spiritual path.  That night clearly will show us, if we allow it, the thoughts, the attachments, the concepts that need to die for us to grow in a way that little else will.

Our limitations are perfectly camouflaged, perfectly blended with their surroundings.  We have cultivated them.  Many times they actually have served us well for an extended period of time.  Their death is painful, literally feeling like a part of us is dying, and in a sense it is.

That can be especially painful when a certain concept of God must go.  God is omnipotent – true – but as we grow we must develop a nuanced sense of what “all powerful” means.  To hold onto the concept of a muscular, all conquering, triumphal Christianity  might lead us to conclude that God is absent simply because we fail to see His actions as being in accord with our deepest desires.  Restated, from a New Church perspective, God’s goals are always eternal.  Clearly ours tend towards the more temporal – a very different agenda.  That means we must create space for a seemingly weak God, a weak and powerless Jesus, not fitting Himself to our temporal agenda, who acts quietly and with great patience, demonstrating a love that accepts life as-is and lives into life as-is always with an idea to what can be.  We simply lack the foresight to see it.  Our proper place then is the surrendered place of the dark night of the soul, trusting in the Knower.

Moments then of quiet desperation can in reality become turning points.

Facing What You Simply Cannot Overcome II

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Evil progresses in three stages.

  1. Ideation: A spark, an idea, happens somewhere, often unrelated to the actual problem. Ideation begets rationalization.
  2. Consideration: Now we enter a trouble zone where we begin to muse about what the evil is like/ feels like
  3. Action: Sunk here.  We simply give in.

By the time we reach #3 we are goners.  There is nothing more to be done here.  So where is the leverage?

The leverage is with stage #1.  This is where our spiritual work lies.  Can we look at the evil, the sin, the wrong and trace it back to its roots?  Can we see what gave rise to it?  Those apparently harmless thoughts can if entertained, flower in ways we would prefer they not.

Our mistakes run by rather well-rehearsed scripts.  Regeneration is about inviting God in as well as trusted others to actually interfere with those scripts, to interupt them.  We need to ask “script” questions.  What is the narrative that tends to start the story?  What is the scene we need for it to occur in?    What supporting role do others play?  Are we the lead actor? actress?

Trace it back.  Write a new script.

Facing What You Absolutely Cannot Overcome

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Evil is illusion.  It has no “reality” per se in much the same way that darkness is nothing in and of itself but instead is the absence of light.   That being said, boy, at times it sure feels powerful, often overwhelmingly so.

So what can we do?

Maybe we start from the counter-intuitive notion that facing evil for which we have no defense, may in its own way be perfect.  Our evils, as a starting point, are perfectly attuned to our own weakness.  Restated, we don’t face the evils for which we have the strength to overcome.  Their pain is perfectly attuned to our sensitivities, their threat perfectly menaces what we value most.  They grow organically right out of the most uniquely debased parts of our particular beings.

Maybe “we can’t/ I can’t” is then the perfect blessing, something those involved in the 12 Step program have known for decades.  And another form of surrender is important beyond the surrender to powerlessness and to God.  After surrendering to God, we have to surrender to another.  Surrender to the powerlessness, surrender to God, surrender to another.

This is a hard surrender to speak of.   Surrendering in this regard is fraught with serious challenges, surrendering to the wrong person being chief among them.   The wrong person is one who points to him or herself as the “answer.”  It is the person with whom co-dependent attachments readily form.

The right person is a fellow traveler.  It is a person who regards themselves with the healthy and helpful humility that allows the spacious God needs to accomplish His aims.

Evil must exist within darkness and secrecy.  Shining the light of our own powerlessness, of God’s love and wisdom, and of a trusted fellow traveler on that evil over which we have no power inevitably leads us away from evil simply by seeing the evil for what it is in a way that stresses rigorous honesty as well as accountability.  From those lights we see truth, we know power.  We also settle deeply into the love that is the Divine.  As the book “Heaven and Hell” phrases it, “Love is what is receptive of every heavenly quality — that is, of peace, intelligence, wisdom, and happiness. Love is receptive of everything that is in harmony with it.”