My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Wooden Church of Living Trees

Emanuel Swedenborg described
a church he once saw made out of living trees:

“They are built not of felled trees, but of ones growing in their native soil. . . .  From their earliest stages they arrange these trees in rows to form porticoes and walkways, shaping the branches while still supple, and cutting and pruning them, so that as they grow they will interlace and join to make the floor and pavement of the temple. They make the branches at the sides grow up to form walls, and overhead bend them into arches to make a roof. From these materials they construct with admirable skill a temple raised high above the ground. They make a way up composed of branches stretched out horizontally with no space between and firmly bound together. In addition they decorate such a temple both inside and out with various kinds of topiary work; and so they build up whole parks. . . . Sunlight is admitted through openings between the branches, and is everywhere passed through crystals, which turn the light around the walls into colors like the rainbow.”  (from Earths in the Universe paragraph 151).  

I’m always impressed by this description, and it gets my imagination going.  I think about how much patience must be involved in building a church out of living wood.  How many years would it have taken to achieve the finished state?  What must it be like to build with a living branch, knowing that it would be months and years before it arrived in its desired location?  What must it be like to know that most of the growth of this church was accomplished by the Builder rather than the builders? The builders would only occasionally make subtle adjustments—little turnings, little prunings—while the trees themselves kept on with their relentless and powerful reaching towards the sun.   And even once the church was “finished,” it would probably keep changing as the trees grow and change.   I think about how the finished product would be strong enough to withstand the strongest winds and storms, by retaining the quality of flexibility.  

What a wonderful image for how the life of religion (or the “church”) can grow inside each one of us, and in our community. We all grow and change on our paths towards the Lord’s love and wisdom.  Just like the building of their wooden churches, the growth of the state of the church in us takes a lot of patience.  Living wood is a symbol for the Lord’s goodness slowly growing inside of us (Secrets of Heaven 3969.10; see also Heaven and Hell 223), and this can take a long time.  The Lord is the One that makes it grow, not us.  We can do our small part; turning a little this way in our life, pruning a little of this out of our life.  And even though we are working towards the state of regeneration or spiritual rebirth, we are never really finished growing.  And if we truly have that goodness as a part of our life, we can feel safe in the strong flexibility that that provides (see Secrets of Heaven 7068).  


“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"What Would Love Do?" Video

This is a video which I got to be a part of, which is geared towards teens, and was produced by General Church Education for the "What Would Love Do?" Journey series.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Suffering World

Last week we remembered 13 years since the horrific events of September 11th.  It is still vividly burned into my mind, and seems like just yesterday.  I also remember the outpouring of love and aid that happened as our nation came together and addressed so much suffering.  

I was talking with someone recently about how the media allows us to be aware of more of the world than we once were able to be aware of, which has both pros and cons.  The cons involve the fact that there are horrific things happening throughout the world all the time.  People dying from wars, abuse, hunger, sickness.  We can sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much is wrong with the world, and we can feel very small in the face of it all.   It can sometimes make us feel depressed, and even guilty for experiencing happiness while knowing and seeing that others are suffering.  

But it is also something that can make us more aware of the good things we can be doing to make the world a better place.  “When anyone looks with charity on someone in distress. . . a feeling of compassion is aroused. And since the feeling is stirred by the Lord, it is an alerting by Him. Indeed when people who are perceptive have feelings of compassion they know that they are being alerted by the Lord to offer help.”  (Emanuel Swedenborg - "Secrets of Heaven" paragraph 6737).  

In the next Bryn Athyn small-group Bible-study program called "What Would Love Do?"—which is a study of the last parable in Matthew chapter 25—we will be focussing on other people’s suffering.  People who are spiritually hungry, thirsty, lonely, vulnerable, sick and trapped.  It may feel like a focus on what is negative in ours and others’ lives, but it is something that can really inspire those feelings of compassion that allow us to feel the Lord’s love more, and therefore bring happiness and peace into our world.  Every little act of love in this world is an integral piece of the Lord’s powerful presence for goodness in this world.  There is a lot of suffering in the world.  But there is also a lot that love can do.  "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”  (John 16:33).  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Different Ways

In Joshua chapter 22, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh traveled back across the Jordan river to the East side, where they had chosen to inherit their land.  This was a different choice than the rest of the tribes had made and it worried many of the western tribes.   As these three eastern tribes traveled back to their chosen home, they built an altar at the Jordan.  When the other tribes heard this, their worry turned to alarm.  Were they now going to turn away from the Lord and worship other gods on this new altar?  The western tribes, led by Phinehas the son of the high priest, chased after the eastern tribes and confronted them at the Jordan, ready to do battle with their fellow tribes-people, and to seek to prevent evil from being done.  After being confronted, the eastern tribes explained that, far from turning away from the Lord, their altar was built to be a witness and a reminder that the western and eastern tribes were still one people, despite being divided by the river Jordan and living in different lands.  The eastern tribes were faithful to the Lord.  The western tribes were satisfied with this answer and, in the end, the evil of unjustified warfare was prevented through this reconciliation.  


Sometimes we too can look at our “fellow tribes-people” and worry about their choices.  We can see them choosing to live in different spiritual states and worshipping in different ways.  We can worry that they might be turning away from the Lord.  But often times—especially when we are looking at externals (the east side of the Jordan)—we can make false assumptions about other people’s intentions, like the western tribes did.   We can assume that other people are not following the Lord, when in fact they might be,  but in different ways and in different lands.  Hopefully in the various confrontations we may engage in, we can seek for understanding and avoid warfare.  If we can remember what unites us: love to the Lord and love to our neighbor, which is the altar of love built out of the whole stones of truths from the Word, then we can be reminded that even though we differ in our choices, tastes, perspectives and opinions, we can still all be one people.  “Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, ‘This day we perceive that the Lord is among us.’” (Joshua 22:31).  

Keeping Up With Esau

Here are the links to a sermon and talk that I gave at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, called "Keeping Up With Esau."   It's about moving from a place of simply doing what's right, to actually loving to do what's right.

Here's the video of the family talk,

And here's the adult sermon: video version and audio version.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Doctrinal Foundation for a Gender Inclusive Clergy in the General Church

This is a paper I wrote in May 2014 for the council of the clergy in the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Christian denomination based on the Bible and the works of Emanuel Swedenborg.  (There are many references to Swedenborg's writings in the paper, which are often simply referred to as the "Writings."  Quotes from the passages in his books are traditionally referred to using abbreviations, such as HH for Heaven and Hell, TCR for True Christian Religion.)  At the time of the writing of this paper, the tradition and policy of the General Church is that of a male-only priesthood, of which I am a member.  In writing and sharing this paper I am not speaking on behalf of the organization.  I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong. This is simply my own individual understanding of what the doctrines say in regards to gender in the priesthood.  This paper (book) is very long because this conversation has been around for a long time, and a comprehensive approach involves examining a large number of passages and doctrines.  My hope is that this will be a useful contribution to a discussion which seeks to be guided by the Lord in His Word.  The paper can be read here:  A Doctrinal Foundation for a Gender Inclusive Clergy in the General Church. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow

It seems we often have a kind of love-hate relationship with snow.  It’s very pretty and festive.  It’s fun to play in.  It sometimes allows for the joy of snow-days.  But on the other hand, it causes disruptions in us being able to do our jobs, it causes driving difficulties and accidents.  It can cause power outages where we are left in the cold and the dark.  And it sometimes allows for the frustration of snow-days.    Snow represents the truth, because it is white and made from water (see Secrets of Heaven 8459; Apocalypse Revealed 47.6).  But it really represents truth without love, because it is cold:  “All this too may be used to form an idea of what a member of the Church is like when their faith is combined with charity - they are like a garden, like a park. But when faith is not combined with charity, they are like a solitary waste, like land covered with snow.” (Secrets of Heaven 7626).  

I think we can often have a similar love-hate relationship with that kind of truth.  The truth is needed for our regeneration.  It’s beautiful and fun to play with.  Simply thinking about the truth can be a nice break from the hard work of spiritual growth.  But truth without the warmth of goodness and love can be dangerous and treacherous.  Truth without love can pile up and get in the way.  It can cause major disruptions in our spiritual uses.  It can prevent us from being able to connect with other people in loving relationships.  It can leave us feeling cold.  We can get into accidents where we hurt people unintentionally.  And strangely enough, even though it's the truth, it can leave us in the dark.  

But if we allow the warmth of the Lord’s love to flow into our lives, then that same truth which caused problems in the Winter of our lives, can be turned into nourishing water in the Spring, and seep into the ground of our minds and allow for all kinds of future spiritual growth.   So we have to be careful with the truth, and especially truth without love.  But it’s all part of the Lord’s amazing creation.  

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:10-11)