Religious Post

Separating Good from Evil

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 23:23-29                              Luke 12:49-56                                                 Psalm 82

Our reading from Luke can’t be taken at face value.  It can’t be true as written.  Jesus didn’t come to break up families.  Jesus says,

they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12:53).

Jesus must mean something other than father and son, mother and daughter, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Swedenborg teaches that the Bible is written in symbols.  He calls these symbols correspondences.  These symbols speak to human spiritual growth, the history of spirituality, and God’s spiritual development on earth, as the Human Jesus united fully with the Divine God, which was His soul.  The separation of family members refers to God separating different aspects of our personality.  It means a separation between our spiritual self from our worldly self.  Our worldly self is concerned only with what’s in it for me.  It is concerned only with what we can get out of a situation.  It means self-oriented self.  In its worst form, worldly self will rage against anyone who doesn’t favor him or her, serve him or her, or, in fact, worship him or her.  This self-oriented self is called proprium in Swedenborg.

But God teaches us to love God first, and our neighbor as our self.  These loves are opposed to self-oriented loves.  When we learn spiritual truths, we learn that self-oriented self needs to be sacrificed, denied, replaced with God-and-other-oriented self.

We begin our lives as self-oriented selves.  Spirituality is grafted onto the motives and drives of self-oriented self.  And our motives that are self-oriented need to change.  Our very selves change.  The emotions of self-interest are different than the motives of God and other interest.  The feelings are different.

Self-interest is like an animal instinct.  Self-interest will butt its way ahead in a passion to be first in line, first and foremost, be more important than anyone else.  This is hard to achieve.  So self-oriented people are often frustrated, mad, and vengeful over anyone ahead of them.  Think of a dog running to a food dish.

Spiritually-minded loves are peaceful, content, pacific, delightful, and joyful.  The spiritually-minded are in harmony with others.  They are interested in other people, and join in joyful cooperation with others.  Spiritually-minded people are also driven.  But they are not driven by self-interest.  They are driven by love for the projects they undertake.  They are driven by love for being of service, for being useful, for helping out, for finding ways to make others happy.

Since we start out self-oriented and we end up God and other oriented, we are in process.  There are many different ways in which we are changed from self to God and other orientation.  Sometimes hardships happen to us.  These hardships can break up our self-interest.  When we are prohibited from getting our own way, our ego drives are crushed.  Sometimes, we work on ourselves.  We learn the ways of spirituality.  We implement these teachings in our own life.  But however it happens, our ego-driven, self-oriented self needs to be separated from our spiritual self.  Another image that we find for this in the Bible is in the creation story.  On the second day of creation, the waters are separated.  God separates the waters above the heavens from the waters under the heavens.  Separating self-serving drives from heaven-serving loves.  That’s how we understand Jesus’ words, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51)

These are the words of true prophets.  Words that say that the members of one’s own household are the enemy.  Words that tell us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  As we grow spiritually, we will know a new peace and tranquility.  But we will also know turmoil and struggle.  True prophets will tell us that we will know both states of mind.

But this society has false prophets, as we heard about in Jeremiah.  Many are the voices we hear that tell us to favor self, instead of overcoming self.  This is what Jeremiah is talking about, “Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?” (Jeremiah 23:26).  The false prophets of our day massage our ego.  They tell us to get ahead.  Psychologists speak of self-affirmation, self-gratification, self-expression.  “They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:27).  I grew up in the “Me-Movement.”  What is meant by this term is that we were taught just that—self-realization, self-expression, self-gratification, self, self, self.  “I me, mine; I me mine; I me mine.”  And the prophets then, and still today, preach that false message.  That would truly be forgetting God’s name for Baal.  God’s name is to deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Love God; love others.

Let’s consider Jesus’ life compared with the false prophets of our day.  Jesus’ birth story begins with the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.  Then, with the subject of Jesus’ birth, we are in a barn, then on a hillside with shepherds.  The contrast could hardly be sharper.  Jesus’ life was one of continual service and giving.  He taught, healed, he fed the multitudes.  He never wrote anything down, there is only one historian who mentions Him just once in passing, He lived in the countryside, not the bog cities, He died a common criminal.  Jesus was a loser, not a winner.  While Caesar Augustus was actually worshipped as a god, he isn’t now.  In fact, after his death, the next emperor was the god of the day and no one was worshipping Augustus any more.  His palace is now gone, he himself only one historical figure amid a myriad.  Yet the peasant born in a barn, who never wrote anything down, who died a common criminal is still worshipped and is still God.  Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first.  The ultimate winner, the Roman Emperor has been forgotten.  And the loser is remembered and worshipped still.

The true prophets preach the Jesus story.  This is the story of humility, of love, or service, of giving, of self-sacrifice.  The opposition between the Jesus story and the story of our false prophets is stark.  But the only way to be a real winner, is to follow the way of Jesus.

 

Religious Post

Learn to Do Good

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                                             Luke 12:32-40                                     Psalm 50

No time like the present.  Eternity is now.  Heaven isn’t in the future, it’s here and now.  Now is when good feelings happen.  Now is when we seek truth.  Now is when peace and joy come into our lives.

Our reading from the Old Testament talks about sacrifices.  God tells the Israelites that God takes no pleasure in sacrifice.  God even exclaims, “who has asked this of you,/this trampling of my courts?”  What God is saying is that God never told the Israelites to sacrifice animals in the temple.  Yet sacrifice became the central way to worship for Israelites.

If you look at the early parts of the Old Testament, you will see a lot of laws and moral commands.  God tells the Israelites to protect the weaker people in society.  God tells them to care for the orphan, who has no adult male to feed, clothe, and give shelter.  Likewise, God tells the Israelites to care for widows, who also need food, shelter, and clothing since they have no adult male, or husband, to do this for them.

But with the rise of kingship, and with the building of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon, animal sacrifice became the predominant form of worship, not moral living.  Making animal sacrifice the centre of worship was a man-made idea.  It is not what God wants.  God tells the Israelites specifically that God did not teach them to sacrifice animals,

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

God wants us to live good lives.

We don’t sacrifice animals.  But the Isaiah reading makes us think about externals of worship.  Externals are the rituals we do on Sunday.  Externals are chanting the Psalms, listening to Bible readings, singing hymns, praying, hearing sermons, and taking communion.  They are called externals because they are behaviors that we do.  You can do all these things without having your heart in them.  You can just go through the motions.  You can go through the motions, and think you’re saved.  But if your heart is in them, they can have much power and meaning.

So this morning, I thought that I’d invite us to think about worship on Sunday morning.  Due to the financial issues we are dealing with it strikes me as something valuable to do.  So let’s first consider why we come to church.  Why do we take a few hours on Sunday to come here?  Let’s also think about what we like in church.  What parts of worship do we like?  Is it singing?  Is it the Bible readings?  Is it my sermons?  What do we like about church?  Another thing to think about is what happens to us in church?  Do we feel uplifted?  Do we experience a closeness to God?  Does the noise in our heads quiet?  Do we find an hour of peace?  Do we feel a connection and mutual love in the church community?  Do we come away from church different than when we arrive?

Another way to get at this subject is to ask different kinds of questions.  These may be hard to hear, but we are in a safe environment.  We can ask ourselves what we would miss if there were no church.  What aspect of our religious life would be gone without a church?  I hope that the answer to these questions would be something other than the rituals we do here.  I would hope that there is something in us that we would lose touch with without church.

Now we think about today’s Isaiah reading.  We realize that being religious isn’t only going to church.  Let’s think about what we get out of church.  What is there we can take out of church into the world?  Because if we don’t carry out into the world the spirituality we experience in church, we are like the Israelites who put all their faith in the ritual of animal sacrifice.  We would be putting our faith in the externals of worship, not what is in our hearts.  Maybe we leave church feeling inspired, and we bring that feeling of inspiration into the world.  Maybe we learn a new religious principle that we apply in our lives outside church.  Remember Swedenborg’s statement that, “All religion relates to life, and the religious life is doing good.”  In fact, real sacred space isn’t inside these walls.  Real sacred space is in the world around us where we do good to others and show our love for the neighbor.

Along these lines is another hard question.  What would we do without a Swedenborgian identity?  We can echo the words of Jeremiah in relationship to this church.  In Jeremiah, as we have heard, God says, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  Our forefathers debated the very formation of this denomination.  Swedenborg himself never founded this church.  It was readers of Swedenborg in England who made the decision to start up a new denomination.  Many important voices said that the New Church was not meant to be a denomination.  Among these voices was Henry James, Sr. who wrote a pamphlet on that subject, titled, “The Church of Christ not an Ecclesiasticism: A Letter to a Sectarian.”  You can imagine God’s voice, maybe, saying, “I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning a new denomination.”

Where would we be without a Swedenborgian identity?  I faced this question a few weeks back.  I considered transferring my ministry to the United Church.  I wondered what it would be like not to self-identify as a Swedenborgian anymore.  What would it be like to be a United minister?  In a way it was surprisingly liberating.  I no longer would look out at the world from the small minority world of Swedenborg, who no one has heard of, and some who have heard of us think us a cult.  Being a Swedenborgian can mean an us and the other mentality.  And since everyone in the world practically isn’t a Swedenborgian, we see the whole world as the other.  If I’m not Swedenborgian, then I’m not apart from the world, but I’m among everybody else.  Put in its most extreme form, we can also think that being Swedenborgian alone means we’re saved.  But take away the label, and where are we?  It was men in 18th century England who gave us this label.  Maybe it is doing more harm than good.

So we ask, what is meaningful in church?  Why do we come to church?  What would we miss if there were no church?  And finally, who would we be without the label of Swedenborg?  Challenging questions indeed.  But good questions to ask as we consider the future of this church.  And more importantly, good questions to ask in relation to our spiritual process.

Religious Post

It Was I Who Taught Ephraim to Walk

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11                                                 Luke 12:13-21                                     Psalm 107

Hosea prophesies in a time when Israel is under threat of attack.  Assyria is about to sweep down over Israel and destroy the Kingdom.  Hosea prophesies about this, and blames the imminent destruction of Israel on their worship of Baal and other gods of Canaan.  Yahweh was the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  And Yahweh was the God who held their whole society together.

Our passage from Hosea 11 is interesting.  It shows a very loving, caring God.  Some passages, maybe many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures depict God as vengeful and punishing.  This reading from Hosea is different.  It depicts God as a nurturing parent.

God tells the Israelites, “To them I was like one who lifts/a little child to the cheek” (Hosea 11:4).  This is a tender, nurturing image of God.  Every parent knows what Hosea is talking about.  Every parent has lifted up a baby and kissed him or her on the cheek.  Or maybe held the baby up over their head.  This is a God who cuddled the Israelites as a parent cuddles their children.

God tells the Israelites that it was God who taught them to walk.  I remember when my brother was learning to walk.  How we held his little arms to steady him while he staggered in his infant steps.  This is what God did for the Israelites, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,/taking them by the arms” (Hosea 11:3).

In a very real way, God taught the Israelites to walk.  Worshipping Yahweh meant following all Yahweh’s laws.  The Israelites didn’t just believe in Yahweh as they would any other God.  Believing in Yahweh meant accepting Yahweh’s ways, following Yahweh’s laws, obeying Yahweh’s commands.

When the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt, they were essentially a mob.  There were Israelites and other races all fleeing slavery.  But they were not in a city.  They had no king.  They had no social structure.  They were simply a mob fleeing slavery.  So the challenge of Moses, of God, was to organize this mob, wandering in the desert, into a society.  So we think of Moses as the Lawgiver.  Moses ascended Mount Sinai and heard God speak.  God told Moses the laws that would become the basis of Israelite society.

Turning away from God meant turning away from God’s laws.  As Israelite society became wealthy and as corruption set in, they found it more convenient to worship the gods of the neighboring tribes.  So Hosea accuses the Israelites of worshipping Baal, the storm god of the Canaanites, and other Canaanite gods and goddesses.  The Israelites thought that if they sacrificed to these gods, they would be protected by the god or goddess’ powers.  Then they wouldn’t have to follow Yahweh’s laws of justice, love, and compassion.  The Israelites could enjoy their wealth, exploit the poor and weak, and sin if Yahweh wasn’t their God any more.

And that’s what Hosea accuses them of doing.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed (Hosea 4:1-2).

Notice how Hosea’s accusation follows the 10 Commandments.  False witness, murder, stealing, adultery, and although Hosea doesn’t say it here, making graven images and having other gods before Yahweh.  Hosea points out that worshipping Baal is tied up with breaking God’s laws.

The same is true for us.  Believing in God isn’t the end of religion.  It’s just the start.  If there is a God, then all God’s laws matter in our lives.  We can’t just believe in God and then do whatever we want.  Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  What does Jesus say for us to do?  Hosea, the Hebrew prophet tells us in words that Jesus echoes in the New Testament.  In our Hosea reading, we are told to be faithful, to love, to acknowledge God.  Then he points us to the 10 Commandments: No other Gods, truth telling, no murder, no stealing, faithfulness to our partners.  That is what Jesus tells us to do,

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” . . . If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”   “Which ones?” he inquired.  Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 19:16-19).

Following those laws will lead to eternal life.  And they will also lead to a good life here on earth.

This brings in the New Testament story we heard this morning.  A man exerts a lot of energy building big barns to store his abundant crops.  He plans to store his produce so he can live a life of ease in retirement, eat drink and be merry.  However, when the barns are done, he dies and never gets a chance to live his retirement dream.

We look forward to eternal happiness in heaven.  We can think sometimes that because we belong to this church, we are among the chosen.  Yet these ideas can work against us.  Looking forward to eternal life and priding ourselves on our religion takes our minds off the present.  The man in the New Testament story was expending all his energy building barns with his mind on the future.  But his future never came.

That story tells us to attend to our present.  Our eternity isn’t in the future.  It’s the way we are living now.  Are we living a live of peace?  Are we living a caring life?  Are we loving toward others?

If we are, we will be living a present life that is holy and blessed.  We will be in our eternal peace and joy.  We can be distracted by worries, by anxieties, by trivial pastimes.  That line in T. S. Eliot, “Distracted from distraction by distraction.”  Rather than anticipating our eternal joy, I suggest we attend to our present.  How are we filling time?  Is it blessed?  Is it peaceful?  Is it joyful?  If not, we need to ask ourselves if we are getting in the way of our own peace of mind.  It is true that in the next life, our feelings of spiritual joy will be more manifest than they are now.  But our life here and now can still approach the peace and tranquility of eternity.  How are we living in the present is the question that Luke asks us to consider.

At Paulhaven, a teen asked me, “What if religion is a scam?”  She was asking, not asserting that it was.  And she hadn’t thought it through very thoroughly.  But she didn’t want to be duped and wondered if this was all just a scam.  I replied that even if religion is a scam, what better way is there to live.  Isn’t a life of love, being true, honest, caring, humble, and peaceful—isn’t that a good way to go through life?

We will feel the results of our spirituality.  If we remove our blocks, our sins, and seek peace we will find it.  That will be a good way to live, even if religion is a scam.  But religion isn’t a scam.  There is a God.  And if we love God and follow God’s laws we will be blessed now, and forever.

 

 

 

OUT THERE

What do you do with time

We shared, when we are no longer we

Those memories of us, photos of us

Places we went together

Time when we shared when we were we

 

How does an individual repair trust?

Broken trust, broken heart

What does an individual do with broken love

Innocence lost, admiring, trusting innocence

Echoes of expulsion from the Garden

 

I can hear blues even in The Ode to Joy

Guess I won’t be happy for a while

There is redemption with God,

Peace in religious systems

If feeling better isn’t cheating

 

I try not to get mad at everybody

They have done nothing to me

But from this place, place of downcast dour

I can’t find equanimity, the civil speech

I must maintain with everybody

 

And so I wait in the darkness

Without hope, for hope would be for the wrong thing

Without will, for desire would be misplaced

There is only the waiting and the darkness

Which shall be the darkness of God

Religious Blog

Healing Toxic Systems

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

June 23, 2019

1 Kings 19:1-15                                              Luke 8:26-39                                       Psalm 42

Our readings this morning are about healing toxic systems.  Systems can develop in many places.  Families are a system.  Workplaces can be a system.  Churches can be a system.  Any place people gather and see each other over a period of time can become a system.  Systems can be healthy or toxic.  Today’s readings are about toxic systems.

Toxic systems are systems that are dysfunctional.  There are tensions, manipulation, hurt, anger, abuse, and fear, among other things, in toxic systems.  But in toxic systems, these stressors are often beneath the surface.  People have a lot of ways of trying to make bad things look good.  Then these harmful behaviors are veiled and submerged.  In order to keep functioning, the bad things in toxic systems are suppressed and unacknowledged.  So, for instance, sometimes people who are abused exhibit a forced smile all the time.  Another kind of coping mechanism in toxic systems is creating a problem child.  The problem child becomes the family’s scapegoat.  They are always misbehaving; they are always blamed; they may develop mental illnesses.  The family that has a problem child may send the child to counseling.  But a wise therapist will look at the whole family’s dynamics.  Virginia Satir was an early pioneer in family systems.  When the therapist looks at the whole family, instead of the problem child, the family panics.  They point all the stronger to the problem child, exclaiming, “No, we don’t have a problem!  The problem child is the problem!  You need to heal the problem child!”  The dysfunctional family doesn’t want the real problems to be exposed.  When the therapist looks at the whole family, the status quo gets upset.  The dysfunction begins to be exposed and people have to look at the real problems instead of putting them all on the problem child.  The psychologist becomes a threat.

Another toxic system can develop in families where one or more of the members are addicts or alcoholics.  An alcoholic is so unpredictable and often violent and abusive, that the family surrounding the alcoholic develops neurotic behavior patterns.  They can minimize the extent of the alcoholic’s dependency.  They can make excuses for the alcoholic’s behaviors.  They can deny that the alcoholic is a problem.  When a person is drunk, they can be easily pushed around.  Often decisions have to be made by others in the system because the drunk can’t make decisions.  Sometimes the family finances are placed in the hands of another member besides the drunk.  Then, if the alcoholic sobers up, the family system is broken up.  They don’t know how to live with a sober person, since over a period of years they have developed a system structured around a drunk.  The sober alcoholic becomes a real, living person, starts asserting their own wishes, starts making decisions.  This can be an unwelcome disruption of the toxic system that had developed around the alcoholic.  I’ve heard of couples who get a divorce after one of them sobers up.  The drunk they married wasn’t around anymore.  The adjustment to the sober person was too difficult.

Our story from Luke got me thinking about dysfunctional family systems.  Let’s imagine what was going on with the demon-possessed man.  Cities back in Jesus’ day were communities.  Everybody knew everybody else’s business.  They were mostly what we would call small towns.  They were a system.  Let’s think about the system in our Luke story.  There was a man possessed by demons.  He was bound with chains and he even broke the chains.  He tore off his clothes.  And the villagers exiled him to the graveyards, out of their town.  But he was still a part of the village.  Everyone in the village would have known the man.  I imagine that the whole village was almost controlled by this wild man.  Almost certainly a system developed around this man.  And since the man was so hysterical, the system that developed around him would most likely be toxic.  Jesus enters the village.  And as God does in every toxic system, God brings healing.  Jesus casts the demons out of the man.  The villagers find the man fully clothed, in his right mind, sitting at Jesus’ feet.  The reaction of the villagers is fear.  They see a miracle of healing and they are afraid.  In a surprising move, they ask Jesus to depart.  They are so afraid they want Jesus to leave them.

I thought long and hard about this story.  I wondered why people, who saw something good happen to the demon-possess man, wanted the source of healing to leave.  Have you ever had something good done to you and you asked the giver to go away?  I couldn’t think of any examples.  But then the idea of toxic systems occurred to me.  The village that had grown used to the wild man didn’t know how to go forward now that the man was a sane part of their village.  They didn’t have a place for him.  The man becomes a prophet.  He wants to stay with Jesus, but Jesus tells him instead to return home and spread the word about what Jesus did for him.

Prophets are not welcome.  In our story from 1 Kings, Elijah flees for his life.  Ahab’s wife Jezebel threatens to murder Elijah.  There is a passage in Amos in which the king’s priest tells Amos to leave the country and go prophesy elsewhere,

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,

‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (Amos 7:10-13).

In both stories, the land is corrupt.  The prophet’s voice brings healing.  But the people in the lands do not want healing.  They prefer the rituals from the gods in the surrounding territories.

The moral laws of Yahweh, or Jehovah as God’s name is translated in the King James Version, were rejected by the Israelites.  They preferred the relatively easy rituals of the Baal priests.  In Baal worship, sacrifices made by priests covered the people and the people thought they could do whatever they wanted.  So injustice in the courts, seizing the land and goods of the less powerful, living in luxury, scales with false balances measured out the grain and other crops for sale flourished in the toxic systems in Israel.  But God’s laws insisted on protection for the disenfranchised.  God said in plain speech that the courts were not to show favoritism to the rich.  God insisted in protecting the widow, the orphan, and also the foreigner who lived with the Israelites.  When the Israelites turned away from Yahweh to follow Baal, they thought that they wouldn’t have to follow all these rules.  Worshipping Baal meant living in luxury at the expense of the common people.  The voice of the prophet reminded Israelites of Yahweh’s laws and told them to turn back to worshipping Yahweh.  So they tried to get rid of the prophet.  In the case of Amos, the prophet was told to go home to Judah and to leave Israel.  In the case of Elijah, Jezebel wanted him dead.

Untangling toxic systems is delicate work.  When people intervene to bring liberation to toxic systems, it is important to provide support as the dysfunction is unwound.  Changing the behavior patterns that people are used to can be emotionally difficult.  Anxiety and even suicidal ideation can develop when toxic behaviors are revealed.  When systems are unwound, places like church can become a place of refuge and community.  Church can provide stability and support as systems change.  So can counselors provide support as people and systems grow healthy.  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are a voice of healing or whether we are the villagers who expel the healer from fear of change.

 

Fathers and Atypical Swedenborgian Monotheism

All that Belongs to the Father Is Mine

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

June 16, 2019

Isaiah 45:5-8, 22-24                                        John 16:12-15                                     Psalm 8

Quite a while back I was interviewing for a teaching position at our divinity school in California.  I made the observation that in Swedenborgian theology, the male corresponds to truth and the female to love.  The dean of the consortium to which our divinity school belonged challenged this doctrine.  He said, “I feel that I love my children as deeply as my wife does.”  Fathers do love their children as deeply as their wives do.  I was caught off guard by this remark.  I didn’t say what dawned on me later.  I could have asked him if he expresses his love in the same way as his wife does.  I still believe that there is a distinction between the way men and women express love.  But this doesn’t mean that fathers love their children any less than mothers do.  The fathers I observe in this church are very affectionate with their children.

Fathers haven’t always shown their love for their children.  In my parents’ generation, fathers were often the disciplinarians in the family.  “Just wait till your father gets home,” I often heard my mother say.  It was difficult to relate to my father on a day to day basis; he wasn’t easy to talk with; and his general manner was harsh.  While my father may have expressed his love for me decidedly differently than my mother did, on a few occasions he indicated his love dramatically.  There was one time when I had set out across the United States and moved to a far-away city.  I was going to be my own man, stand on my own two feet, and make it on my own.  I didn’t need my parents; I was a man.  Later, a friend of mine and I were driving back to our parents’ house in the winter for Christmas vacation.  As it turned out, my van broke down outside of Detroit.  We had to hitch-hike into the city.  We waited and waited for someone to pick us up.  But no one did.  Standing outside in a blizzard, in the freezing cold, we seriously wondered if anyone would ever pick us up, or would we die in the cold.  There weren’t any cell-phones back then, so there was no way to call anyone.  Finally, we did get a ride, and my friend and I got dropped off at the bus station in Detroit.  What do you suppose this man who was standing on his own two feet, who didn’t need his family, who was going to make it on his own, what do you suppose the first thing he did upon arriving at the bus station?  I called home and my dad answered the phone.  I broke up, and couldn’t talk.  My dad asked me where I was.  And while my mother slept through it all, my dad drove out in a blizzard to the bus station and took me home.

Years passed.  Now I was completing my studies for ministry.  But after five years of studying in good standing, the Committee on Admission to the Ministry had doubts about me.  At Convention in 1985, they held a meeting of the whole council of ministers late at night to decide whether they would ordain me.  In a rather perverse display of ineptitude, they told me to sit outside the meeting room while they deliberated just in case they wanted to bring me in for questioning.  I had gotten a degree at our church’s university, spent five years in our church’s divinity school, I was now 29 years old, and my future was being decided in the meeting room I was sitting outside of.  I sat there for three hours.  But I didn’t sit there alone.  For the whole three hours, my father sat next to me, trying to make the unbearable situation bearable.  My mother had gone to bed.

All this happened when I was living in Boston.  The result of the meeting was that I wouldn’t be ordained.  I had no future.  Over the next year, I applied to Ph.D. programs.  One by one, my applications were declined.  Only one came through, the University of Virginia.  Then, as I was preparing to make the move from Boston to Charlottesville, Virginia, the engine blew out on my car.  My father drove all the way from Detroit to Boston, had a trailer-hitch installed on his car, helped me load up a U-Haul, drove me down to Charlottesville, and helped me get set-up in my new apartment.

It’s unfortunate that my father was so hard to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  Though these dramatic actions demonstrated how much he loved me, our relationship remained strained throughout our lives.  I think that he believed that a father had to be in charge all the time;–be the boss.

I think that today’s fathers feel differently about their role in the family.  Showing outward affection, hugging, playing with their children are things that today’s fathers do, which fathers of my dad’s generation didn’t.  Today, we see stay-at-home-dads.  Today’s dads are nurturing.  Like mothers.  Maybe today, even the differences between the way women and men show affection are beginning to diminish.  Men and women are beginning to show love in analogous ways.

This new direction in fatherhood has important theological resonances.  We use male language when we talk about God.  We talk about God the Father and God the Son.  And with today’s fathers showing love outwardly, our images of God are more loving than they had been a generation ago.

However, in Swedenborgian language we speak of God as Divine Love and Divine Wisdom.  This includes both masculine and feminine correspondences in Swedenborg’s system.  Remember, the feminine corresponds to love and the masculine to wisdom.  So seen as love and wisdom, God holds includes feminine and masculine aspects.

This Sunday is also Trinity Sunday.  And once again, I need to state that Swedenborgians do not have a doctrine of Three Persons, as do traditional Christians.  Our understanding is based on language like we heard in John, “All that belongs to the Father is mine” (John 16:15).  Only if Father and Son are the same Person can Jesus say, “All that belongs to the Father is mine.”  It is all Jesus’ because the Father is in Him and He is in the Father.  It is not that they are as one—they are one.  How else are we to understand Isaiah 45:22,

Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other

Most Christians think that it is Jesus who saves.  But Isaiah 45 clearly says that it is Yahweh who saves, or Jehovah as the King James Version translates God’s name.  And also, Yahweh clearly says, “I am God, and there is no other.”  So either Jesus isn’t God, or Jesus is Yahweh.  “All that belongs to the Father is mine.”  Jesus and the Father are one.  Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh.  “I am God and there is no other.”

Among the last things that Jesus says after His resurrection is, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18).  Jesus has all power because He is one with the Father, is Yahweh in the flesh.  This is what John’s Gospel means when it says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3).  Only God comes from God and goes back to God.  Only God has all things under His power.  Jesus is God; God is Jesus.  Jesus is God, and there is no other.

The End Times and Us

For those interested, I have a novel take on the book of Revelation at the following link:

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