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.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What makes a good minister?

Having completed one year of theological school, I have learned many many things. Sometimes the many things I've learned can seem unrelated to each other. I find it useful to try to think about how each thing I've learned, each class I've taken, each experience I've had could make me a better minister. So with that in mind I've made lists of each of the classes I've taken this past year, along with thoughts I've had from each class about what makes a good minister. This is a work in progress.

The Torah - A good minister is someone who is very familiar with the literal sense of the Bible; both the ‘forest’ and the ‘trees.’ A good minister is someone who appeals to people’s affections (represented by the Levitical priests cutting up animals), reads the Word to people (represented by reading the Law), and counsels people in determining what is healthy and unhealthy in their lives (represented by determining what is clean and unclean).

New Testament Themes - A good minister is someone who models their life and ministry on Jesus. A good minister is someone who preaches the Good News, tries to heal the spiritually sick, uses stories or parables to convey truth, and practices what they preach.

Instructional Design - A good minister is someone who can be the ‘guide on the side’ as well as the ‘sage on the stage.’ A good minister is a spiritual teacher who creates a safe learning environment and adapts to different learning styles.

Conversations on Marriage - A good minister is someone who forms good relationships with people, so that if trust is formed they can ask for help when it’s needed. A good minister is someone who does not spiritually judge other people. A good minister is someone who recognizes that past mistakes don’t condemn people, but rather a love of evil condemns people. A good minister is someone who conveys the reality of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy.

Men’s Initiative - A good minister is someone who creates spaces where people feel comfortable sharing their deepest struggles and emotions. A good minister is someone who opens the door of the church for everyone. A good minister is someone who can lead meditations and small groups. A good minister is someone who doesn’t offer unsolicited advice. A good minister is someone who can share his own struggles. A good minister is someone who uses humor to connect with people.

Pastoral Business
- A good minister is someone who is a good facilitator rather than a dictator. A good minister is someone who is good at being a manager and a leader, though not necessarily a self-proclaimed leader.

Systematic Theology
- A good minister is someone who sees the big picture of doctrine; someone who sees and can explain how it all fits together. A good minister is someone who leads to the good of life by means of truths. A good minister is someone who encourages people to be regenerated on this earth, and to strive for the highest heaven.

Doctrine of Education
- A good minister is someone who attempts to understand and meet the needs of multiple generations of people.

Latin - A good minister is someone who seeks to be accurate with the truths of the Lord’s Word. A good minister is someone who continually attempts to understand and convey the Lord’s truth despite the limitations of natural language.

Pastoral Orientation - A good minister is someone who is familiar with and competent at all the aspects of his responsibilities.

The Incarnation - A good minister is someone who is familiar with the life of the Lord, and exactly how it is a model for our spiritual growth. A good minister is someone who has thought about the mysteries of the Lord’s coming and is able to answer people’s questions, or point them in the right direction.

Human Development - A good minister is someone who has familiarity with the psychology of human development and can use it in their pastoral and ministerial duties. A good minister is someone who understands children.

New Church Live
- A good minister is someone who is willing to think outside of the box when it comes to styles of worship, and is willing to try new things for the sake of his congregation. A good minister is someone who attempts to show how the truths and life of religion are accessible to everyone. A good minister is someone who attempts to bring religion into everyday modern life. A good minister is someone who attempts to encourage a community of people who give back. A good minister is someone who is not afraid to “make a joyful noise to the Lord!” A good minister is someone who does not see anyone as a stranger. A good minister is someone who can confidently articulate a clear vision. A good minister is someone who is approachable and has a calming un-anxious presence.

Frank Rose - A good minister is someone who supports people in their spiritual journey. A good minister is someone who reaches out to everyone. A good minister is someone who is a captivating preacher.

Tom Rose - A good minister is someone who speaks from the heart. A good minister is well prepared for extemporaneous preaching. A good minister is engaging. A good minister is pleasant, warm, knowledgable, affected, excited, real, genuine, loving, interesting, friendly, a servant of the Lord, conversational, and reverent. A good minister is a good storyteller.

The Last Judgment - A good minister is someone who is aware of the dangers of the doctrines of faith alone, and the trinity of Persons. A good minister is someone who is familiar with the history of Christianity, and is also familiar with the family of modern Christianity. A good minister is someone who is familiar with falsity for the sake of defusing falsity. A good minister is someone who believes the world is getting better not worse. A good minister is someone who is familiar with the storyline of the book of Revelation. A good minister is someone who encourages people to think of their lives as a process. A good minister is someone who reminds people that the Lord doesn’t judge us, we judge ourselves. A good minister is someone who encourages people to repent. A good minister is someone who discourages judgmental thinking about other churches and denominations.

- A good minister is someone who is sensitive to people’s internal state. A good minister is someone who respects confidentiality. A good minister is someone who is a good listener. A good minister is someone who respects people’s emotional boundaries, and teaches people to do the same. A good minister is someone who non-judgmentally confronts people with the potential consequences of their behavior. A good minister is someone who remembers that their understanding of the truth is not perfect. A good minister is someone who is comforting and offers people hope. A good minister is someone who inspires people with an affection to learn the truth for themselves. A good minister provides people with safety, humility, objectivity, compassion, good listening, understanding, hope.

Speech - A good minister is someone who is a good public speaker. A good minister is someone who makes the Word of God and sermons interesting to listen to. A good minister is someone who shares their excitement about the truth in the way that they read aloud. A good minister is someone who does not sound like they are reading.

Education - A good minister is someone who inspires affection for the stories of the Word. A good minister is someone with educational experience. A good minister is someone who uses visual aids. A good minister is someone who is warm and accessible but authoritative. A good minister is someone who believes in other people. A good minister is someone who respects other people. A good minister is someone who is flexible. A good minister is someone who inspires curiosity and is fun. A good minister is someone who encourages application to life. A good minister is someone who appeals to other people’s affections.

Evangelization - A good minister is someone who seeks to lead people to a relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ. A good minister is someone who helps people feel the Lord’s presence. A good minister is someone who helps to define culture. A good minister is someone who encourages relationships, understanding, and spiritual growth. A good minister is someone who thinks of the truths of the church as the leaves of the Tree of Life, which are for the healing of all the nations. A good minister is someone who strives for church growth for the sake of serving others and spreading the Good News. A good minister is someone with a vision and a mission.

Cathedral Usher
- A good minister is someone who greets people with a smile. A good minister is someone who can make small talk for the sake of 'big' talk.

Group Dynamics - A good minister is someone who gives people spiritual food, without expecting them to eat; gives people spiritual drink, without expecting them to drink; welcomes people, without expecting them to stay; gives them spiritual clothes, without expecting them to put them on; and visits them, without expecting to free them or cure them. (See Matt 25:44) A good minister is someone who can always be interrupted. A good minister is someone who is a good role model. A good minister is someone who understands group dynamics. A good minister is someone who builds a leadership team. A good minister is someone who helps people feel like they belong. A good minister is someone who seeks to build consensus. A good minister is someone who seeks to make people happy, but doesn’t depend on it. A good minister is someone who helps people move from disorder into order. A good minister is someone who doesn’t think of themselves as the ‘moral police.‘ A good minister is someone who seeks for win/win situations. A good minister is someone who is a good communicator and who knows when to respect transparency and when to respect confidentiality. A good minister is able to be a good mediator.

Homiletics (Sermon-Writing)
- A good minister is someone who is a good scholar of all Divine Revelation. A good minister is someone who seeks to unlock the hidden meanings of Scripture. A good minister is someone who remembers that enlightenment comes from the Lord alone. A good minister is someone who provides the means for other people to be enlightened by the Lord. A good minister is someone who is thorough in their studies. A good minister is someone who leads people to the truth. A good minister is someone who clarifies misconceptions about doctrine. A good minister is someone who accommodates truth to the understanding of the receiver. A good minister is someone who thinks of themselves as a servant.

New Church History - A good minister is someone who knows the history of the church, for the sake of hopefully not repeating it’s mistakes. A good minister is someone who knows the history of the church so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A good minister is someone who understands the origins of controversies in the church. A good minister is someone who understands the difference between doctrine and tradition. A good minister is someone who is a good judge of actions, but never judges a person’s will. A good minister is someone who points out the Lord for people to see themselves. A good minister is someone who has humility, and is open-minded. A good minister is someone who seeks unity in charity, rather than division because of doctrine.

Divine Providence - A good minister is someone who respects people’s freedom and rationality. A good minister is someone who doesn’t say anything unless it is kind, true, and useful, and encourages others to do the same. A good minister is someone who reminds people that the Lord never wants harm to come to anyone. A good minister is someone who has a love for the salvation of souls, no matter how that comes about. A good minister is someone who doesn’t think in absolutes, and remembers that everything is a matter of degrees. A good minister is someone who sees the good in all religions. A good minister is someone who is not worried about people’s salvation, but about their happiness. A good minister is someone who keeps the doors wide open, who doesn’t spiritually judge, who builds good relationships, who doesn’t try to change people without their consent, who always gives people hope and a way out, and who doesn’t micromanage people’s lives. A good minister is someone who teaches people the truth, not the truth to people. A good minister never seeks to punish. A good minister is empathetic and compassionate.

Liturgics (The Ritual of Worship) - A good minister is someone who leads, provides and explains meaningful religious rituals. A good minister is someone who offers instruction in the truths of the Word, and who encourage people to have humility, and to express praise to the Lord. A good minister encourages love to the neighbor through ritual. A good minister encourages internal worship as well as external worship.

Church Camps - A good minister is someone who tries to build a culture and community of people who love the Lord and their neighbor. A good minister is someone who encourages people to have spiritual practices. A good minister is someone who can offer spontaneous prayers. A good minister is someone who seeks to guide people to a better understanding of themselves, for the sake of serving others.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trees and Perceptions

“Genesis 2:9. ‘And Jehovah God caused to sprout from the ground every tree desirable in appearance and good for food, and the tree of lives in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.‘ A tree symbolizes perception; a tree desirable in appearance, perception of truth, and a tree good for food, perceptions of goodness. The tree of lives symbolizes love and the faith it leads to; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolizes faith based on evidence from the senses, that is, on secular knowledge.... People today have no idea what perception is. It is an inner feeling for whether a thing is true and good - a feeling that can come only from the Lord - which was very familiar to the people of the earliest church. The sensation is so clear for angels that it gives them awareness and recognition of truth and goodness, of what comes from the Lord and what from themselves. In addition, it enables them to detect the character of anyone they meet simply from that person’s manner of approach or from a single one of his or her ideas.” (Secrets of Heaven 102,104)

I had a very enjoyable time at Laurel Camp this summer. The theme for this year was ‘trees’ and how they symbolize us, especially as to our perceptions. It’s not hard to see that trees in the Word represent us: “The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' (Judges 9:8), “And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12), “And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 17:24), “The tree you saw, which grew and became strong... it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong.” (Daniel 4:20,22), “He shall take root like the trees of Lebanon,” (Hosea 14:5), “What are these two olive trees on the right and left of the lampstand?... These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:11,14), “And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’” (Mark 8:24). There are many more passages like those that illustrate the clear symbolism in the Word of trees representing us. It’s a little less obvious that trees represent us as to our perceptions, but a careful study and comparison of passages in the Bible brings that out as well. But the analogy comes out clearly when we take the time to think about the function of trees as compared with the function of perceptions. We spent a good deal of time exploring this analogy at Laurel, and I would like to share some of my thoughts, and other people’s thoughts on the subject.

First of all, what is perception? Perceive comes from the Latin word percipere which means to ‘understand, seize or grasp.’ Broken down, it actually means to ‘take entirely;’ per meaning ‘entirely,’ and capere meaning ‘to take.‘ (We can compare this to other words with that same root, like reception, conception and preconception. Receive literally means to ‘take back.‘ Conceive literally means to ‘take together.‘) So someone who is perceptive is someone who is open to taking in truth entirely. Taking truth in entirely means getting ourselves out of the way. Often times we think we already know something and so we hinder our ability to learn something new. Open yourself up, humbly admit that without the Lord you know nothing. Eat of the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil could be called the ‘tree of I’m really smart, and I know more than you.’ When reading the Word or talking with other people remove any preconceptions and listen entirely. This is perception.

Roots: Starting at the bottom of the tree with the roots. If we think of ourselves as trees, then what are our spiritual roots? What is it that grounds us in a spiritual way? It is our foundation in the Word, and in the church. Our roots reach deep into the Word and draw out truths represented by water. Our roots also reach deep in the church and find connection and stability in the common ground of shared ideas from the Word. I think of the Lord telling us to build our house on the rock in the Gospels, and I think about the idea of a tree being firmly planted in the solid ground, rather than loose sand. Also, if the ground is too wet, a tree is less stable. So there is a limit to how much truth we need for our foundation. Too much truth will be more than we can handle or remember, and we could be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it. I think about the few large roots spreading out from the trunk.
What are the 5 or 7 main truths that you find foundation in? My 5 large roots are:

1. There is One Human God who is Love and Wisdom Itself. That God came to earth as Jesus Christ. The 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ has been, and is being achieved by the Lord being born again in our hearts and minds, based on an enlightened understanding of the truth in His Word.

2. We find happiness and become good people by acknowledging that all goodness comes from the Lord, by loving the people around us, by being useful, and by turning away from evil and selfishness, as described in the 10 commandments.

3. The Bible is the Word of God, and as such it was written symbolically in parables with deeper meanings, which are revealed and explained in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

4. After we die, we are free to become angels in Heaven or devils in Hell depending on whether we chose to be good or bad people in this life.

5. True love - in the marriage of one man and one woman - can last forever in heaven. Marriage itself is a manifestation of the dual nature of what is good and true in the universe.

These are my roots; my perceptions of the truths of the Word and the church.

Trunk: The trunk is what gives the tree its structure and stability. It’s mostly dead; only a thin ring is actually living. Maybe this is a good way to remember that we are not life, we merely contain life from the Lord. By ourselves, we are dead. We have life only because of the Lord.

The trunk of the tree is hard and offers protection for the life inside. Swedenborg’s book Secrets of Heaven says that perceptions are like our conscience. (AC 104). Our conscience serves as our spiritual compass or guide. We rely on it as being the core that gives us stability. We may get confused by other people’s opinions, by conflicting ideas or misunderstandings; but our conscience that has grown from a tiny fragile sapling when we were babies, is now a strong trunk that we can depend on for keeping us upright when the spiritual storms of the world try to blow us over.

Our conscience is also something that continues to grow. The rings of a tree trunk offer evidence that growth is continual. Despite the fact that we need our trunk to be stable, we also need it to be flexible. We need to maintain the humility that allows us to learn new truths from the Lord; that allows us to bend and not break when the winds of change come; and that allows us to grow new wood when we have been broken.

Branches: The branches of a tree literally reach upwards towards heaven. They mirror the spread of the roots. The symmetrical image of a whole tree is a great illustration of the fact that we exist in a duality. We live between two worlds: the ground and the sky, earth and heaven, the Lord’s external influence through the Word and people and the Lord’s internal influence through heaven and angels. We need our foundation in the cold hard facts of the Word. But we also need to reach towards heaven and be open to receiving direct enlightenment from the Lord. This is where true perception and understanding comes from. There are really two kinds of truth that enter us from different directions. The cold but nourishing water is the truth from the Word that we physically read, and commit to memory. But that is just a container. We also need the light that enters the leaves that combines with the water and creates the sugars that the tree needs to grow. Without light a tree will die. We can’t depend on water alone. We can’t depend solely on memorized knowledge of the truths of the Word. We need to constantly be reaching towards the Lord, praying, asking Him to tell us what it all means. And He will.
It won’t be constant enlightenment. There are days and nights, and seasons. But the Lord will always enlighten us if we continue to read His Word, and ask Him to explain it to us.

Sometimes a tree becomes unhealthy because there are too many branches vying for the light. The canopy becomes too crowded. Branches need to be pruned. Sometimes there are too many things we’re doing in life, or too many things we are thinking about, and we need to cut something out. “I really want to read that book, but if I do I will be ignoring my children.” It may be a good branch, but it’s keeping other branches from getting light.

Leaves: This is where we actually interface with the light; the truth of heaven. We are spiritual beings after all. We are built to understand spiritual truth, not just natural truth. But we are also designed so that we go through seasons. Our leaves turn colors, die, and fall to the ground in the Autumn. We go through cold times, dark times, where we get confused and lost, and feel disconnected with the Lord and heaven. But then the Spring comes and we get new leaves. Maybe this is because our perceptions have life-spans. Maybe a specific perception of truth that we have runs its course and needs to be replaced by a new updated perception of truth. Sometimes we get stuck in one way of thinking, and we need to go through cycles where we give up the old ideas and grow new ones.

In the last chapter of the Bible it says that the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations. The Lord’s ideas are truths that heal people. And because we are created in the Lord’s image, and especially when we consciously try to live in the Lord’s image, our leaves can also be for the healing of the nations. Our perceptions of truth are meant to serve us spiritually, but they are also designed to serve others. This comes about in many different ways. Leaves can literally be taken off of a tree and used to create medicine. We might share an idea with someone that can actually comfort them in their spiritual pain. But leaves also give off oxygen (another form of truth) that can affect other people. I think of this as being like a person’s sphere. We are affected by the sphere that other people put off. We shouldn’t underestimate the affect that our sphere can have on other people. Apparently, “the net cooling affect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.” (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Our sphere can have a large impact. What is the ‘oxygen’ that you are giving off to the world?

The other day I sat on my porch and “watched” a storm coming in. I noticed that the only way that I knew that a storm was coming at all was because of the trees. The trees were swaying in the strong wind. And I could only hear the wind because of the leaves in the trees. Before I could see the lightning and hear the thunder, the trees were the only way that I could “see” or “hear” the storm coming. Our perceptions serve us by letting us know what’s coming before we “know” what’s coming. My wife might not say she’s mad at me, but I can perceive that she is. There is more than one way to take in truth.

Flowers, Fruits and Seeds: There is a purpose for us being perceptive people. We are designed to give back. We are designed to grow flowers, fruits and seeds. Our fruits are the actual things we do to serve our neighbor. They are the kinds words we say, that helpful things we do, performing our jobs honestly, etc. And contained at the center of all of those things are seeds that have the potential to grow into a new tree. Every good deed contains within it the ability for someone else to see it and copy it.

Shelter: What kind of tree we grow into determines what kind of birds and animals will find shelter in us. Birds represent our thoughts, and animals represent our affections. Are my perceptions full, open, and well grounded, and therefore home to good thoughts and feelings? Or are my perceptions hard, turned inward, barren, and dead, and therefore home to bad thoughts and feelings? Are my perceptions likely to be a good home for beautiful birds, and shelter for pleasant animals, or are my perceptions likely to be the home of vultures, snakes, and bugs?

There were many other wonderful ideas about trees and perceptions that were shared during my week at Laurel. I wish I could remember them all. If anyone has any additional thoughts about trees and perceptions, feel free to leave a comment about them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My World View

Based on the book Divine Providence, by Emanuel Swedenborg.

(If you would like to look up the references that appear throughout this paper, copy and paste them into Small Canon Search.)

Is there a God, and who is He?

There is one God, and He is Human. He is the Lord, Jesus Christ, who is Jehovah. He is the Trinity in one Person. He is Divine love and wisdom united. He is Life itself. He is the infinite and eternal. He is the Creator of the universe, and our own personal Savior. His hand is the hand of Divine Providence. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. (see DP 3, 46)

What is creation, the world, the universe?

The universe was created by - and out of - the Lord, and not out of nothing. Because it was created out of the Lord, it is necessarily a reflection (an image and likeness) of His Divine love and wisdom. Because the Lord is life, and creation has no life of itself, everything in creation is a vessel or container for the Lord’s life and His Divine love and wisdom. Creation only has life because the Lord is in it. (see DP 1) We are closer to the Lord the more we reflect the conjunction of love and wisdom, and we are further from the Lord the more we reflects their separation. (see DP 7-9)
The Lord created the sun of the spiritual world out of Himself, and by means of the substance of that sun He created everything in the universe. This means that the spiritual sun is the first and only true substance, which all things in creation come from. It is the “particles” of that sun that we would see if we could use a spiritual microscope on matter. But contrary to what might be believed, this basic substance is not more simple than the creation that is made from it, but rather it is more full and complex, since it is closer to God who is infinite. (see DP 5, 6)
This natural universe is governed by the laws of time and space. Time and space are the finite versions of eternity and infinity. Eternity and infinity are properties of God and not of creation. Our understanding of the natural world is based on time and space, but our understanding of God cannot be based on time and space because He is outside of them and bigger than them. (Even the terms ‘outside’ and ‘bigger’ imply spatial thought which we humans have a hard time breaking from) (see DP 48-51)

What is humanity?

Humans were created by the Lord, in the image and likeness of the Lord. (see DP 27) “In short, we are because God is.” (DP 46) Spiritually we are a ‘will and understanding,‘ which means that we have the ability to intend things, and we have the ability to know things. (see DP 15). Another way of describing this human duality is that we are ‘freedom and rationality.’ (see DP 72) We are the ability to choose, and the ability to figure things out with our minds. Ultimately these abilities mean that we can be vessels for the Lord’s love and wisdom. It is possible (and necessary) for our will and understanding to be at odds with each other; for us to know what is right, and intend what is evil, or to think what is false, and intend what is good. This is when our will and understanding are separated. This is necessary for our freedom. But when we know what is right, and intend what is good, our will and understanding become conjoined and we become closer to God. (see DP 16)
We are born into a sort of paradoxical life. We are given the ability to feel like life is our own, while at the same time we are given the ability to know that life is not our own, but is the Lord’s. Because we are born into the feeling that life is our own, without any knowledge that life is the Lord’s, we begin life focussed on ourselves and on what we know only from our senses. This means that our ‘will’ is not born heavenly, but earthly. As we learn about heaven with our understanding, we can be given a new ‘will’ which is heavenly, and which is truly capable of loving others and the Lord.
Humans are alive because “love is what constitutes our life.” (DP 13) The Lord’s love is what gives us life in general, and our specific loves are what drive our life. Without love, we would not be alive, and we would not be driven to live our lives. Our life therefore is defined by our thoughts and feelings. (see DP 50) And yet, we are not the source of our own thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts and feelings come from either heaven (goodness) or hell (evil), and we have the ability to choose to make them our own. (see DP 308) We are also immortal beings because since we are vessels capable of holding God’s life, our spirits can live forever after the death of our bodies. (see DP 324:3) But despite that fact that we are vessels for God’s life, we will never become God. We are, and always will be finite, and the Lord is, was, and always will be infinite. (see DP 32, 57) We will never completely comprehend the infinite wisdom and love of God, but we can begin to, and we can continue to grow in love and wisdom forever.

Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?

Because God is pure love, He naturally wants to love others. So, the reason we are here is so that we can become angels in heaven, and experience the Lord’s love forever. This means that if we accept the Lord’s love, we will become wiser, happier and more fully alive to eternity in heaven. This relationship with God is what heaven is. (see DP 27) The reason we are here on earth is because we can’t truly be happy in heaven unless we’ve freely chosen the Lord’s love for ourselves. And we can’t freely choose it for ourselves unless we have freedom, and are given the opportunity to refuse the Lord’s love. And we won’t have that opportunity unless we live in a world where good and evil seem equally desirable, and the existence of God is not provable. (see DP 129)
This earthly life is the training ground for heaven. Hell exists because people truly are free to reject God’s love. But heaven is the Lord’s goal for everyone, because He is love itself, and we are created in His image. (see DP 322) We become trained for heaven when our ‘understanding’ accepts that there is a God, and our ‘will’ accepts that we should love other people. The Lord provides that every religion and culture is capable of teaching people these basic things, so that everyone has the opportunity of getting to heaven. (see DP 322)

How do we attain our goals? How to we achieve happiness?

We are born with a will that tends to love ourselves and believe only our five senses. Because of this it takes some major changes to become people who have a will to love others and a belief in spiritual ‘unseen’ things. Mercifully, the Lord gives us the whole span of this early life to make those changes. We can’t be changed into angels instantly. We have to gradually become angels. (see DP 331). We do this by a process called regeneration (see DP 83, 92). ‘Regeneration’ means our spiritual rebirth. We are ‘born again’ when we have been given a new will to love other people and the Lord. This transformation is accomplished by the Lord alone, but it can only be done if we cooperate with the Lord. Our part of this process comes in two parts. First: we need to choose to have the Lord in our lives (often called ‘faith’). Second: we need to resist evil thoughts, feelings and actions because they are opposed to the heavenly life we wish to receive from the Lord (often called ‘charity’). This resisting is often called repentance, and it is possible because we have the ability to feel like life is our own, the freedom to choose between good or evil, and the rationality to see why evils are bad for our spiritual health. (see DP 102) When we begin this process, the Lord can reform and regenerate us.

What is knowledge? How do we acquire it?

All knowledge comes from the Lord. The Lord places knowledge in the world by means of Divine revelation. This revelation has been available to everyone to varying degrees depending on the freedom of the people who use it and pass it on. But the basic knowledge that allows us to get to heaven - the belief in a God and a belief in a life of love and not evil - is available to everyone. (see DP 325-328) The Lord’s divine truth comes to us both externally through the knowledge in the world that stems from the Word (Divine revelation), and also internally, directly from the Lord by enlightenment. (see DP 154). In both cases we receive truth directly from the Lord, because the Divine truth everywhere is the Lord.
Since we are free beings, we are capable of taking a truth from the Lord and twisting it into falsity. Because of this, we can be misled by the false understandings of ourselves and other people. For this reason, we should use our freedom and rationality to only accept truth from the Lord by means of what we see as His revelation, and what we see as enlightenment directly from Him. We should not accept truth from other people, unless it agrees with our understanding of truth from revelation and enlightenment. (see DP 129)

Where do good and evil come from?

The Lord is the source of all goodness, because He is Love itself. The Lord is not the source of evil. (see DP 286) Evil comes about because we are free to reject the Lord’s goodness. When we reject goodness, evil is created. Evil is really just the absence of the Lord’s goodness. Evil appears to have power on its own because when people and spirits around us choose evil (or when we choose evil for ourselves), that can have an effect on us. However it can never harm our souls, because our souls belong to the Lord alone. (see DP 19) People who are able to maintain happiness and love throughout something horrible - like suffering from cancer, or losing a loved one in an accident - are people who recognize this truth.

How much can we know of the future?

We can’t ever know the future for certain, because everyone is free to make their own decisions. And the Lord will never tell us the future, because He doesn’t want us to feel boxed in by a sense of predestination. (see DP 175) If we had true foresight, we would lose the abilities to hope and trust, which are essential driving forces in our spiritual growth. (see DP 178)

How much does the Lord know of the future?

The Lord knows the future; He has Divine foresight of everything. But this does not mean that we are predestined to Heaven or Hell. (If we were to be considered ‘predestined’ to anywhere it would be to Heaven, because the Lord wants us to be happy. See DP 329) We do actually have free will, and we are able to choose our spiritual path. But the Lord also knows what choices we will make. This may sound paradoxical. How can the Lord know where we will end up, and yet we are not predestined? Part of the problem is that we tend to think of God in the context of time. And yet God is outside of time. For Him, all time is the present. So it’s not that He knows what we will choose in the future, it’s that He sees all the choices that we make from a perspective outside of time, and therefore He is omniscient. (see DP 333)

Why do things happen the way they happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Every tiniest detail of our lives, and in all of creation, is governed by the Lord’s Divine Providence. (see DP 287) Nothing that happens is outside of the Lord’s jurisdiction. Everything that happens, happens for a reason that fits into God’s plan. We just don’t always see what that Divine eternal plan is. (see DP 175) But we can begin to get a sense of it, when we remember that the Lord’s goal is: a heaven from the human race. (see DP 27) Sometimes we can look back on something bad that happened in our life, and see the good that came out of it; the way that we learned a hard lesson, or the surprising benefits that came from going through a really hard time of life. This is all part of the Lord’s providence.
The Lord governs the world by means of five basic laws: 1. We have the spiritual ability to act from freedom according to reason. 2. We have the ability to resist evil in us, because we have been given the feeling that our life is our own. 3. The existence of God can’t be proven, because that would take away our freedom. 4. The Lord has provided that the truths of the Word, the means of salvation, are available to everyone. 5. We can’t see or understand the workings of Divine Providence, except in hindsight. (see DP 71-190)
Bad things can happen to good people because everyone is free to choose evil. So when some people choose evil, other people can get hurt. We might ask: ‘If the Lord is pure love, why doesn’t He stop that evil from happening?’ The Lord never wants bad things to happen. But if He didn’t allow them to happen, He would be removing people’s freedom. But the good thing is that the Lord only allows bad things to happen if good can come out of it. (see DP 296:8)
Our goal tends to be: ‘What will make me happy now?’ The Lord’s goal is: ‘What will make people eternally happy?‘ The Lord will allow our (often selfish) natural happiness to be sacrificed for our eternal happiness. (see DP 234) It’s like a parent that prevents their child from running out into the street. The child thinks that they will only be free and happy if they can run out into the street. The parent is thinking of their long-term freedom and happiness. But the child doesn’t understand that, and they feel like their parent is restricting their freedom and making them unhappy. Similarly we often don’t understand the Lord’s providence. The Lord also allows bad things to happen because unless we were free to see evils in ourselves and others, we would not be free to choose to reject it. (see DP 276)

Is There Such a Thing as Luck or Chance?

Because the world is governed in such a way as to preserve our freedom, it can often appear like things happen by chance or luck. But even what appears to be chance or luck, is really Divine Providence. (see DP 212)


God is Love. The Universe was created by that God. All life is from God. God is “outside” of time and space. Humans were created by God so that they could become angels in Heaven and experience His love eternity. Humans have free will, and the ability to reason. Humans are vessels made for God’s life and love. We get closer to God, love, and happiness through a process of freely rejecting evil and choosing good. Everyone is capable of finding the knowledge they need for this process. God is the source of all goodness, but is not the source of evil. Evil was created by humans. The potential for evil was allowed by God in order for us to be free. God always intends good for everyone, and only allows evil if good can be brought out of it.

The Dread Parent Roberts

When parenting, sometimes it seems that there are two people inside of us, fighting for control. Using the brilliant archetypes of The Princess Bride, we’ll call one “the Parent Buttercup,” and one “the Dread Parent Roberts.” ‘Buttercup’ is our unconditional patient love, and the ‘Dread Parent Roberts’ is our authoritarian need for control, which lashes out when our boundaries are crossed. ‘Buttercup’ is that sensitive part of us that gets pushed around and bullied by our children’s irrational self-centered behavior. The ‘Dread Parent Roberts’ is the part of us that gets calloused and tough as a matter of sheer survival. Sometimes ‘Buttercup’ gets captured by bandits or even the ‘Dread Parent Roberts’ himself. Sometimes the ‘Dread Parent Roberts’ gets so angry that he forgets that he is face to face with the ones he loves the most. I image a conversation between them (inside of me) going something like this:

Parent Buttercup: “I know who you are. Your cruelty reveals everything. You’re the Dread Parent Roberts, admit it!”

The Dread Parent Roberts: “With pride! What can I do for you?”

Parent Buttercup: “You can die slowly, cut into a thousand pieces.”

The Dread Parent Roberts: “Hardly complimentary, Your Highness. Why loose your venom on me?”

Parent Buttercup: “You killed my love.”

The Dread Parent Roberts: “It’s possible, I kill a lot of things. What was this ‘love’ of yours?”

Parent Buttercup: “My ability to love my children no matter how impossible they are. But when the kids are behaving badly your ship attacked, and the Dread Parent Roberts never takes prisoners!”

The Dread Parent Roberts: “I can’t afford to make exceptions. I mean once word leaks out that a parent has gone soft, children begin to disobey, and it’s nothing but work, work, work all the time!”

Parent Buttercup: “You mock my pain!”

The Dread Parent Roberts: “Parenting is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Often times I feel like the Dread Parent Roberts has kidnapped my love. Often times I believe what he tells me; that parenting is pain. It may be that the Buttercup in me needs to push the Dread Parent Roberts down the hill. And strangely enough, the Dread Parent Roberts is really just a twisted form of the Parent Wesley, who is supposed to be married to the Parent Buttercup. We do need something that will protect our love for our children; something that looks at the Fire Swamp of parenting and says, “The trees are actually quite lovely.” As parents, there is a strange and adventuresome relationship between love and authority is us. Love without authority is like a princess captured by bandits. Not a very effective parent. Authority without love is like a cruel pirate. Not a very compassionate parent. We need both in the proper balance; the proper marriage. But getting to that marriage is often harder than we first think. Sometimes we have to go through periods of internal fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases and escapes. Sometimes it seems inconceivable that we could find peace and joy in parenting. But in the end there is the hope of getting to the true love and miracle of that wonderful relationship between a parent and child. And ultimately we need to remember to always look to our Divine Parent as a model, and ask for His help. And when we do, He’ll say, “As you wish.”

- Solomon Keal