Friday, June 19, 2009

Neuroscience and Correspondences

In May I posted about a neuropsychologist's reflections on perception. I just read another intriguing post by that same neuropsychologist.

The post is titled "Quick! Where is Heaven?" and is an exploration of how neuroscience might support the idea that there are universal, underlying correspondences in everything.
One of the primary things Swedenborg talks about with respect to reading and understanding the scriptures is the idea of a “spiritual sense” and correspondences between things spiritual and things natural.

Certainly, from the beginning this idea was probably the most intriguing to me about Swedenborg’s Writings — the notion that embedded in the words of the Bible is a deeper meaning.

And that we “detect” that meaning in some way as we read, whether we know it or not.

But how could that be? Don’t different people use “symbols” and metaphors differently? And how can reading have an impact if we don’t consciously “get” the meaning?
She gets into a study of people's association of certain concepts with the directions up and down and into her own study of how people learn to do things based on underlying patterns that they can't explain. Fun stuff.

Follow Swedenborg on Twitter (sort of)

If you want a sort of Daily Inspiration-like* quote of the day in your Twitter feed you might like to follow SwedenborgToday.

I'm not sure who set this up. Maybe it's the same person who's Swedenborg on Facebook.

* Daily Inspiration provides daily short quotes from the Writings. Subscribe for free in the bottom left corner of www.newchurch.org's homepage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mac Frazier is Blogging Again

Rev. Mac Frazier (photo) has started blogging again at MacFrazier.com. The tagline of his blog is "The personal opinions of a New Christian pastor entrepreneur geek punk."

His blog has a little bit of everything—his Twitter feed (mcfrazier), a video of a song he's working on, a page he's created to support Iranian liberty.

The things that most interested me, though, are the posts in the philosophy and church planting sections. Under philosophy Mac explains why he loves Edward Hopper's "The Nighthawks".
In short, I see my work in this painting. This is the church. This is the world. This is evangelism.
Under church planting Mac explains his life's purpose.
In a year and twenty days, I am moving to Austin, Texas. I am going to launch a church.

I have been praying, dreaming, planning, talking, thinking, and researching this move for years. This is where my life has been headed since the beginning. ...

Anyway, I was working on my plan this morning when it occurred to me that it might be useful for me to share on my blog the high level what, why and how of my dream. I started to outline something between a proposal and a manifesto, when I realized that maybe the best way to do it was as an FAQ list. So that’s what I’m starting. This is just the preamble; each question will be handled in its own blog post, over time as I get to them. For now, here are the articles I will probably write: ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Buddhist Sounding Passage from Spiritual Experiences

Certain spirits, out of an ingrained curiosity, were eager to learn still more of the matters revealed to me, but they had found out that if they longed to learn them, they were not allowed to. ...

I told them that they... should be without desire, and then it would be left to the Lord to give in His good pleasure. This they did attempt, but they were trying to do so from their own power....

When they asked how they should go about it, they were told that they should not do anything from their own power, but act without introspection. But because they were unable to do this, they tried to be devoid of all effort, abandoning all will power so as to passively await [activation]. But when they tried to do this, again they were told that it was not genuine to abandon themselves to effortlessness, so they said that they could not possibly learn how to behave, for whatever they do in accordance with what has been commanded, is still not genuine. The reason is that then they are not being led by the Lord, but wanting to lead themselves, and wanting to endeavor, or will, and to act from their own power. Therefore, they should know that all their effort should be the Lord's, so that nothing is theirs. ...

To be guided and to live from the Lord is therefore something that neither man nor spirit is aware of, so they suppose such a life is not life, when yet it is the real life. While one should not endeavor from one's own power, neither should one let oneself give up all effort. These are very inward matters, which are so difficult to believe, because they are neither understood, nor perceived. (Spiritual Experiences 1628)

Documentary About the Bright Future of the New Church in Africa

In the summer of 2008 Ron Schnarr and Caleb Schnarr traveled to West Africa to film a documentary on the New Church in Ghana and Togo. You can now watch the documentary they made, "Bright Future - A Documentary about the New Church in West Africa," online. They posted the videos to a Facebook group with the same name as the documentary. Whether you're on Facebook or not you can view the group by following that link. You can also go straight to the videos using the links below.

The documentary is 25 minutes long and has been broken up into 4 videos: video 1, video 2, video 3, and video 4. (Once you view video 1 you can click the Next button just above the top right corner of the video to see the next video.)

If you are inspired by the documentary, there's something you can do.
Want to support the New Church in Africa? You can start by buying our movie at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral book room or by writing us with a request for a copy. All proceeds will go to projects in West Africa such as a clinic and a vocational school. Send all donations and requests to:

Yes Africa Bright Future Documentary
Box 277
Bryn Athyn, PA 19009

Thanks for supporting Africa!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Largest New Church Organization You've Probably Never Heard of

Do you know what country has more New Church people than any other country in the world? It's not the United States. If the figures are correct, South Africa has over ten thousand more New Church people in it than the United States and Canada put together. Surprised? I was. I even lived in South Africa for 7 years and didn't have a clue there were so many other New Church people in the country. Here's the trick: I was only aware of General Church and Nova Hierosolyma societies but there's actually another whole New Church organization in South Africa.
That's the beginning of an article I wrote about the New Church of Southern Africa (NCSA) in the February 2007 issue (PDF) of BACON Bits (7-8).

I find the story of the NCSA fascinating. You can read a short version of it in my article or a longer version of it in Dr. Jane Williams-Hogan's article "Examples of Internationalization: The New Church in Africa" in Scribe of Heaven: Swedenborg's Life Work and Impact (317-335).

You can also read about the history of the NCSA in the August 2007 issue (PDF) of New Church Lifeline (9-11). The article also includes a description of what's happened in the organization in more recent years, a description of a number of events that took place while Rev. Ian Arnold (the author of the article) was there, and a number of photographs.

You can see a couple of photos and some wobbly footage of the headquarters of the NCSA from when I visited there in 2007 in the video below. The first part of the video shows footage of the Diepkloof New Church and preschool. The part about the NCSA starts at about 2:30.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Homosexuality from a New Church Perspective

I've noticed that it's hard to find New Church perspectives on homosexuality online so I've decided to provide links to the best articles on the topic that I'm aware of.

To be clear, I'm not interested in starting a debate on this topic. There are other venues for that. I want to provide resources to people who are looking for perspectives on homosexuality from people who believe, to differing degrees, in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Different New Church organizations have different positions on homosexuality. The positions of 3 of the organizations are briefly described in a "List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality" on Wikipedia.

The majority of the articles here are by members of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. There are also a few articles by members of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. You can find a statement of the position of the General Conference of the New Church in the June 2009 issue of New Church Lifeline (PDF). (I found the PDF hard to read because it's formatted for printing so I copied the relevant portions into this extract.)

I don't have any articles by members of the Lord's New Church which is Nova Hierosalyma, the Church of Truth, the New Church of Southern Africa, or the New Church in Australia. Please let me know if you find any information about these other organizations' positions.

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"Homosexuality" by Rev. Jeremy Simons.
Do the Writings talk about homosexuality? Simons, a pastor in the General Church, addresses this question, discusses the various passages that seem to be talking about it, and compares the phrases that Swedenborg seems to use for homosexuality with phrases used by his contemporaries.

"What the Word Says Directly on Homosexuality" by Rev. Grant Odhner.
Odhner, a pastor in the General Church, has collected these notes on homosexuality. They include an overview of how the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Writings treat of homosexuality directly and they also include some thoughts about causes of homosexual feelings and behavior, differing degrees of the seriousness of homosexuality, and some principles from the Writings about how to deal with homosexuals.

"Notes on Homosexuality" by Rev. Mark Pendleton.
In these 18 pages of notes, Pendleton, a General Church pastor, includes passages on love, marriage, adultery, and judging others. He also includes portions of Rev. Jeremy Simons' research and references to a study by Rev. Willard Heinrichs.

"The Worst Adultery" (PDF) by Rev. John Odhner. (New Church Life 1993: 453-463.)
In the explanation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) the phrase "worst form of adultery" is used (Arcana Coelestia 2220). Odhner, a pastor in the General Church, addresses the question of whether homosexuality is the worst form of adultery, in the light of other teachings about adultery.

"A Theology of Sexuality" by Rev. Alain Nicolier - Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 (PDF) (scroll down to 356-364). (New Church Life 2008: 318-328, 356-364.)
Nicolier, a pastor in the General Church, discusses theories, "myths," and negative influences (particularly from parents) that may cause people to identify themselves as homosexual.

"More on Understanding Homosexuality" by Rev. Grant Odhner. (New Church Canadian Fall 1992.)
This is a letter that Odhner wrote in response to an article by Rev. Glenn Alden, "Understanding Homosexuals," in the February 1992 issue of New Church Canadian. He discusses the theological origins of homosexuality, compares homosexuality with polygamy and concubinage, and ends by discussing human responsibility and repentance. He writes, "in summary, I think we need to see homosexuality as an evil, as something people are ultimately responsible for, as something that can change through sensitive education and repentance."

"Risking on the Side of Compassion" by Rev. James Lawrence. (The Messenger Nov. 1996.)
In this article, Lawrence, a pastor in the Swedenborgian Church, explains why he decided to bless homosexual unions.

"What is True Conjugial Union?" by Duane V. Beougher. (The Messenger Nov. 1996.)
In this response to Lawrence's article, Beougher, a member of the Swedenborgian Church, argues that the Writings are clear that homosexual relations cannot constitute a true conjugial union and that the term marriage should only be applied where that possibility exists.

"Letter to the Editor" by Dr. Reuben P. Bell. (The Messenger Jan. 1997.)
In this letter to the editor in response to Lawrence's article, Bell, a former pastor of the Swedenborgian Church and then the General Church, explains why he sees Lawrence's position to be a profane, dangerous, and harmful abuse of the truth.

"Further Thoughts in Response to Gay Marriage Commentary" by Rev. James Lawrence. (The Messenger June 1997.)
Here Lawrence responds to people's reactions to his article by saying that he does not look to the Writings as the ultimate determinant for his theological position on the nature of homosexuality but instead seeks "a new theological framework" and that he believes that "gay love... is profaned or made sacred by the integrity of the individuals involved."

"Homosexuality" by Rev. Coleman Glenn.
In this blog post, Glenn, a recently ordained pastor in the General Church, explains how it’s possible for someone to think that homosexuality is a disorder and still approach homosexuals with love, and why he thinks of homosexuality in the same way that he think of brother-sister incest. I recommend reading the comments that follow the post.

"Homosexuality" by Brian Smith.
In this blog post, Smith, a theological school student in the General Church, explains why he believes that a person can oppose the practice of homosexuality from love, why he thinks the practice of homosexuality is harmful, and why he seeks to help people who have that struggle see that there is a path out. There is a lot of discussion in the comments that follow the post, mostly between members of the General Church and people who grew up in the General Church but no longer associate themselves with it.

Discussion on BeliefNet
This is a long discussion on BeliefNet of homosexuality from the perspective of Swedenborg's theological works. I read and skimmed the first fifth of the entries. I would guess that the contributors include members of the Swedenborgian Church and General Church and people not affiliated with any organization.

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I know that there are other articles and posts that have been written on this topic. (For example, a number of articles come up if you search for homosexuality in New Church Life on HeavenlyDoctrines.org.) If you find an article or post that you think should be included here, leave a comment with a link and a short description of the content of the piece.

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UPDATE: Since I first posted this on June 4th 2009 I have received a number of additional articles. I have added a link to an article expressing the position of the General Conference of the New Church, a study and an article by Rev. Grant Odhner, and some notes by Rev. Mark Pendleton.

I have also changed the link for the discussion on BeliefNet. Rev. Jeremy Simons pointed out that only half of the discussion was available at the old link. He recommends the end of the full discussion.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Church LIVE Coming Soon

A couple weeks ago I mentioned a couple of ways that you can keep up to date with New Church LIVE.

On Sunday they had a preview event called "The Road Ahead". They described some of the things that they're hoping to do, asked for volunteers, and announced that they're going to be starting having regular services starting on June 21st and that their first series is called "Creation Works". Unfortunately for those that weren't able to attend the event on Sunday, it looks as though nothing of what happened on Sunday is currently available online. (That may be because the crew is taking a break after all the work that must have gone into preparing for the first event.)

The only new thing that I've found online is that there's now the first beginnings of a web site at NewChurchLIVE.tv and a goofy, under construction video.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Prayer Challenge

Rev. Mac Frazier started a Facebook group called "A Holy Conversation" with this description:
John Burke of Gateway Church came up with an idea: pause to connect with God every 60 waking minutes for 60 days. It's been bouncing around in my head to try this, and this past week I decided to just jump in. ... I'm trying to make prayer in my life less like a ritual and more like a conversation. I want to get to know the Lord, the Divine Human, in a way I don't feel I currently do. In Secrets of Heaven it says that prayer is speech with God. I want to start having a conversation. ...

Here's how it works: Create reminders for yourself--sticky notes, pop-up reminders on your computer, hourly beeps on your watch, alarms on your cell phone, or whatever works for you--so that you are regularly... reminded to pray.

Now, the way I'm doing it, I'm not necessarily praying FOR anything, and I'm not "saying a prayer". Every hour, what I do is say silently to myself, "The Lord is always with me," and then taking a second to reflect on my current thoughts, feelings and behavior. I share with the Lord whatever's going on with me, no matter how silly, embarrassing, painful, wonderful--whatever--it is. And then I LISTEN. I still my mind and wait a bit.

That's how I'm doing it. You can do it any way you like! AND, if you like, you can use this FaceBook group to share reflections, experiences, joys, discoveries, etc., with others who are doing this experiment.
Mac talked about this at contemporary service yesterday. I decided to take the challenge after that.

UPDATE: Mac's talk is now available online. You can listen to it here. Jump to 13:46 for the talk itself.

Also, I've discovered that you don't have to have a Facebook account to view Facebook groups so I added a link to the group. Click on "A Holy Conversation" here or above.