#WeekendPlans: Lay-led Service w/Gloria Toot 10/17/21

We will be having a zoom church service on Sunday, October 17, 2021, led by lay-leader, Gloria Toot. The subject is on an “Our Daily Bread” sermon entitled “People of the Word.”

We hope you can join us and offer your own personal reflections.

Sunday School 9:45 am, Fellowship 10:30, Service at 11:00 am.

Zoom link will be provided in an email to church members and their contacts.

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#WeekendPlans: Zoom Church 9/6 “Between the Rivers”

The Title of 9/6’s service delivered by Lay-leader, Pete Toot, is “Between the Rivers,” and is a follow-up to Rev. Renee Machiniak’s Service last Sunday. Between the Red Sea and the Jordan we wander. This Sunday we will look at some of the happenings on the journey of the Israelites and what they mean to us on our journey. We will explore the why of the Ten Commandments, and the tension between following the law and following our heart, and what it means to symbolically take 40 years to bring them together.

Photo by Stevan Aksentijevic on Pexels.com

#MondayMusings: Sunday’s Sermon 7/5/20

man and woman drinking milkshake

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Sunday Service, Delivered via Zoom, by Pete Toot, July 5, 2020. New Church of Montgomery, Glendale, OH

So we have had our trip through the topics of breathing, except I will add one more we are all very much aware of these days – It is the scary idea that the air we breathe – the air that sustains us in our mortal containers here – may be bad for us – with viruses we cannot see and know little about. I plan to continue breathing, but I do not want to be breathed on, nor do I want to breathe on anyone else. So what is the take-away from the stories about breathing?

Well, we were created and are given life from moment to moment due to the ongoing process of creation. All of our ancestors, ourselves, and all of our descendants. That happened in Genesis 1, which we skipped over. And a key
feature of this is that as mortal earthly creatures we inhale and exhale along with all the other animals; and we share the planets’ atmosphere. We are all in this together. The Lord said you all get to breathe air, even if I have to give you gills.

In Genesis 2, the inner meaning of the story deals with how as human beings, each one of us, has been given the opportunity for what is sometimes called second life – real life – where that inner part of us resides and deals with deeper matters. The natural person deals with walking around, eating, staying warm, and making more natural people. And as we grow up we learn things, get street smarts, find chocolate and movies and cool cars. We get jobs, make money, spend money, talk a lot, and play video games, and support our local businesses. As we mature and get spiritual, we learn about God, pay attention to laws, help other people and may join a church or a country club. In Genesis 2 when God breathed into the nostrils of the man made from dust, humans became human – came to life the way scripture talks about life. Understanding the inner meaning of the passage, we understand that we are talking about each one of us. Yes, each of us breathes earthly air, we think and feel and behave in the natural world, but so do animals.

At our best we can get to the point where we are generous, fair, and law-abiding. But the reasons we behave well the way we do at that point is just based on intellectual religious and moral ideas, what we have learned about what being good means, and natural desires and motivations that have to do with being proud of ourselves, living well, being well thought of, and being safe. Once we are moving beyond the that point, our behavior may not look any different, but our motivations are less based on natural instincts and personal goals and whatever faith we come to believe, and more based on simply loving to behave generously, having real caring feelings for the people around us, and out of genuine love for what God loves. So even if we are moved by love instead of, or in addition to faith, we may still have decent reputations, live well, and be safety-conscious. I would say, however, that this is just the beginning of becoming what Swedenborg calls the heavenly person.

At this point, in the neighborhood where most of us hope we reside, we are all still short of breath. Short of breath because we are still mostly doing just fine living by bread alone. How much do we actually live from the words that come from the mouth of God? We read them. We may understand them. Sometimes they speak to us, but our egos keep getting in the way, and we are afraid of them. We are afraid of ourselves! We are afraid to be the self we could be, and the self we are is a very stubborn self to deal with.

In Deuteronomy, we heard two different lessons this morning: It took the people of Israel 40 years of rigorous testing and shaping before they could be shown that bread alone is not enough. Even then it didn’t stick very well. And in Matthew we here Jesus repeating it – hungry as He was, tempted to forget it and just go for the bread. So lesson 1 is that acting from love is seriously important. The other lesson, from Deuteronomy 10 and again echoed in the new testament, is that we are to love everyone – no exceptions! Meaning foreigners, Jews, Gentiles, Christians, men and women, free and slave. Today the list is longer, but the inner meaning is unchanged. Love everyone – wherever they are on any spectrum you can think of: gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, wealth, education, IQ, height, weight, color, the nature of your job or your politics or your family or your history.

There is no doubt people see some others as problem people. Some think that loving people they think are somehow wrong or evil or lost is simple – just use tough love so they can be fixed. While love comes in many different forms, there is no formula for who deserves what type of love. Just like there is no formula for us to figure out who besides ourselves may need to change. There are plenty of Bible stories we could find to support this, but we won’t go there. In the end, we make progress because we humans are designed to make progress – and we invite change for ourselves by taking a deep spiritual breath once in a while, letting go, letting God help us with our courage, thoughtful decision-making, and putting our egos aside.

One important thing for us today: What sets Swedenborgians apart from others? Are the lessons from today only for Swedenborgians? The answer is that we are not set apart from anyone else because of who we are or what we believe, but only are distinguishable because of what we have. We have what we think of as the treasure of Swedenborg’s teachings. But we don’t own them. We are asked to try them out
and put them to work if they work for us. So where are we…

Lesson 1 – Moving to a state where we love to be on good behavior is important.
Lesson 2 – Everyone is important regardless of who they are.
Lesson 3 – Is that as we look around and see all the turmoil and chaos, pain and violence, irrationality and  stubbornness in our world, we should remember that in one way or another everyone is dealing with it in some way. Some just cringe, some take contrary but enthusiastically defended stands, some give in to anger, hate, ignorance, and revenge. Some just do what they can get away with for themselves. How you deal with it, even when you are courageous and energized and pleased with your approach, is not how the person next to you might deal with it, or even want to deal with it.

Let’s look at the big happenings around us, 2020 – but I won’t endorse any platforms or positions here – you get to do that for yourself. Here are my top 4 issues for 2020. Racial Inequality. Is that an issue you are passionate about? Do you want to do something about it? – make it go away? – make it a blessing? – what? Maybe your passion is about some other form of discrimination – there are plenty.  Political Polarity. Does that stir you up? Do you want to do something about that? –build bridges? – eliminate the “evil” party? – change the structure? – what?

Maybe your passion is primarily about one of the issues – plenty of those, too. Planetary Future. Have you a concern? We’ve talked about this before. Do you want to do something about it? – stop the fussing? – reverse climate trends? –
escape the Earth? – what? All three are on the table – probably more than three.

COVID19 Impact. Do you have a passion here? What to do? – Who should decide what we do? – Can people go to virus-free places? – How do we care for others?

  • Apply lesson 1 – Allow … courage to challenge anxiety and move us in a positive spiritual direction. Try out new attitudes and exercise giving things up to the Lord to handle. This allows new actions to be taken, passions to be recognized and put into behavior – behavior that lets us contribute where your passions and talents lie.
  • Apply lesson 2 – Realize your passion may be very different from someone else’s just
    as important passion. Your solutions and ideas want to be shaped to address the problems you see and be a blessing to everyone they affect. This comes from respecting everyone as your brothers and sisters.
  • Apply lesson 3 – Besides stepping out of our comfort zones and being inclusive, take lessons from our teachings, and here are some. Think of these as some clues about to how to be a better activist…

Order: The Lord is Divine Love and Wisdom, and from that Divine Order. Place your passion into an orderly behavior. Sort out what makes your passion strong. Understand there are different loves in play. Test for ego!

Change: Assume all ideas have some reason behind them, and could show you their wisdom if you looked for it. Value the people who have ideas and celebrate the energy available for change. The Lord is making all things new.
We learn progress comes out of the chaos of ill-fitting pieces being pulled apart so they can be rearranged. We are not privy to how God is moving in the world, but there is nothing out of which Providence cannot bring good.

Education: Listen to why people support different solutions. Check out your authorities – why do you believe some and not others. Recognize where different solutions do work for different people and consider how your ideas
might too. Understand your objectives and how flexible you need to be to make them useful to everyone affected.

Union: We speak of union in the context of caring and understanding. There is strength in the variety and interactions of community in terms of shared concern and synergy – find those of like thought, but do not buy into all the
ideas they may have. Focus on actions that are spiritually consistent, and compromise where appropriate. Try not to dilute your focus – know you have boundaries and learn where they can be stretched, and where they need to be

Prayer: Ask for and accept support from God and your community, without a need to set preconditions on where they stand on your issues. Give back to your community similar support.

If life is all about learning to be good, to see truth, to be useful – then we are all indeed asked to bring our uniqueness to bear on service to our neighbors. We are called to be activists, though the connotation of activists as advocates of drastic and hurtful behavior does not apply. We can be little or big activists – be engaged in big or little ways in whatever size and shape issues call for our attention. But we are called. Let’s help each other answer their call. Amen.

#WeekendPlans: Arms Open Wide, #Sunday #ChurchInCincy

We welcome you. God welcomes you. We are a welcoming church.

Laity-led Service by Kris Mangan; this Sunday, June 19, 2019: “Come; His Arms Are Open Wide.”

845 Congress Avenue, Glendale, OH 45246

11 am, Sunday

From Prayer to Purpose


Montezuma’s Castle Sunset, Photo by Maggie Panyko (c) 2018

June 2, 2019; New Church of Montgomery Laity Leader, Maggie Panyko

Opening Song: Love, thy will be done- Martika https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10V_Z0_udjg

Welcome: Thank you for being here and opening our hearts to the warmth of Love available to us.

Opening Prayer: Lord, in the face of hardship and devastation on the earth, in our communities, and in our hearts, we pray that our eyes may be opened to how we may be of service. We gather to pray for our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, in Dayton following the recent tornadoes, the people killed in the mass shooting in Virginia, and the people whose lives are affected everyday by violence, poverty, and injustice that is pervasive, and threatens to shake our hope for a better world. We ask that our prayers are fruitful and that we not only pray, but that we act on the Inspiration which whispers to us, sometimes softly and indistinguishably, and sometimes deafeningly, like a trumpet, if we are willing to listen.

Candle Lighting: Four Candles

Lord’s Prayer: Our Father

First Reading: Part of faith is learning to trust that the Lord will not allow anything to happen if it cannot eventually be turned to good (Secrets of Heaven #6574).

Second Reading: Regarded in itself, praying is talking with God, while taking an inward view of the things we are praying about. In answer we receive a similar stream of speech into the perceptions or thoughts of our mind, so that our inner depths open up to God, in a way. The experience varies, depending on our mood and the nature of the subject we are praying about. If we pray from love and faith and focus on or seek only what is heavenly and spiritual, something resembling a revelation emerges while we pray. It discloses itself in our emotions in the form of hope, comfort, or an inward stirring of joy. (Secrets of Heaven §2535)

Third Reading: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7) 

Fourth Reading: (Divine Love and Wisdom#1). The more we are motivated by and act upon our noblest desires, the more that nobility becomes a part of our very being. This is the way we cooperate, connect, and come into communion with God. But it must be done freely, and we must make that decision rationally rather than acting out of fear or external pressure.

Fifth Reading: When prayer has a divine origin, it always contains the thought and belief that the Lord alone knows whether the object of the prayer is useful or not. The person praying therefore submits the hearing of the prayer to the Lord and immediately adds the plea, “Lord, let your will be done, not mine,” in keeping with the Lord’s words during his heaviest trial, in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44)(Secrets of Heaven §8179)

Sixth Reading: From Rev. Jeremy Simons via Swedenborg.com: https://swedenborg.com/the-magical-power-of-prayer/

The communication of love has tremendous power, whether it is expressed in tangible or intangible ways, for love carries all good fortune, success, and healing within it. When people—whether many or few—love and pray for someone, that love is communicated through heaven to that person. While it may or may not have any tangible physical effect, the spiritual and emotional effects can be like the moving of a mountain. The collective love and prayers of large numbers of people exert a tremendous societal force, something that people are only beginning to understand.  So, according to Swedenborg, prayer does not influence God. But prayer is not pointless: it has the power to literally change the world.


  1. The Lord allows bad things to happen if good can come from it
  2. Prayer can be powerful
  3. We are put here to be useful, but those actions have to be meaningful to us.

Offering: The Prayer, Celine Dion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfVrpafcELI

Closing Prayer: Dear God, thank you for bringing us together today. To brainstorm, to commiserate, to help one another. Lead us to the recognize when the answer is before us and to act to continue to create the most beautiful heaven.

Resources to help folks affected by the Dayton Tornadoes: Available on the website on the post: https://swedenborg.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/fridayfeeling-turning-bad-to-good/

Sunday’s Topic: “Brain Science & Spiritual Battlegrounds”

Please regard our website for possible Sunday cancellation due to winter weather.


This Sunday’s topic is entitled “Brain Science & Spiritual Battlegrounds,” offered by Laity-Leader, Pete Toot. If church is cancelled, this service will be offered at a future date.

We will be looking at how the brain deals with conflicting urges and how the idea of guardian angels and the influences of the spiritual world correspond to the organic mechanisms of how we behave.  There is this image of our conscience as little angel and devil critters standing on our shoulders whispering in our ears, on one side enticing us to do bad things and on the other suggesting that we shouldn’t. 

We will look at what 18th century “Renaissance Man” Emanuel Swedenborg, natural scientist and seer, says how we might understand this idea, and how we are indeed living in a balance between good and evil influences.  Also, we will explore how the physical world, including our brains work, and correspond to similar things and activity in the spiritual realm.  Along with Swedenborg’s ideas we will look into Dr. David Eagleman’s much more recent insights from a neuroscientist’s perspective. 

A lot of similarities emerge, not just in the way things work, but also offer new clues for energizing our conscience and nourishing our spiritual well-being.

#WeekendPlans: Hearing Voices and Entering Open Doors

New Church of Montgomery Welcomes You!

steel door handle on door

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Sunday, February 24, 2019, 845 Congress Avenue, Glendale, OH 45246

Lay-leader, Kris Mangan

All are welcome to join us during our 11:00 am, Sunday, February 24th, informal gathering.  We joyfully invite people of all ages, including children, to join our service and participate in our hands-on activity as we seek to hear His “voice.”  Our hope is to draw closer to our Lord and closer to each other through Divine Love.

Scripture Readings:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7 & 8 (NIV)

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Open sharing of experiences, thoughts and feelings.

Are there ways to become more aware of the Lord’s “knock” or of the call of His “voice?” What form does His “knock” or His “voice” take?  What does it mean to have the “door” open for us?  What is it, about how we live, that encourages us to hear our Lord?  What is it, about how we live, that entices us to avoid or run from our Lord?  What might we learn about the way that we are living our lives when we do listen to His “voice?”

#WeekendPlans Relax, it’s a Lay-led Service

This Sunday, lay minister Eileen Franz will deliver our service. Join us for a nice time, and let us become your favorite church in Cincinnati.

  • Sunday, November 25, 2018
  • 845 Congress Avenue, Glendale, Ohio
  • 10:30 am – Hospitalitea & Coffee
  • 11:00 am – Service w/ Eileen Franz

#ThursdayTheology “Of What Use, Theology?”


Photo by Maggie Panyko, 2018, Montezuma’s Castle, Arizona

“Of What Use Theology?” by Pete Toot, a sermon.
From the May 6, 2018 service, New Church of Montgomery

Good morning. Welcome to the New Church of Montgomery Sunday morning worship. As we will see as the service progresses, I have taken the liberty of selecting a somewhat contentious topic for today. The question for the day is, of what use is theology? I have asked that question to myself, and even out loud on several occasions, often enough that it became quite clear to me I didn’t know the answer.

So, what can I say to introduce this potentially heretical theme? For what if theology is useless? I do like theology. But…What IS the big deal about it? Why can’t I just be a good person, live a friendly, helpful, and generous life? You know, get along well with my neighbors and friends; help people out when the opportunity arises? Isn’t that all that is necessary? Why on earth do I have to know about the structure of heaven – apparently it has different regions and is peopled by communities of all sorts of different souls. But certainly, I will find that out soon enough – what good does it do me now?

Swedenborg speaks about correspondences. According to the writings everything in the natural world, what I see around me, exists because there is a corresponding spiritual something that connects it to, and sustains it from the spiritual realm that I don’t see around me. Is there some way that can help me lead a good life and make me a better person? Let’s assume there is a heaven, though it hasn’t been proven to me. Will knowledge about heaven help me get there, in the end? And, if there are good and rational answer to these questions, where do I go to find them? Who do I think can give a straight answer?

To some extent I am quite sure theology is a head-trip. We use that phrase “head-trip” derogatorily. But is a head-trip a bad thing? Is it useful or just an engaging waste of time and energy?

It may have been a mistake to just dive in and ask the theologians. I started with Christian theologians and experts. The first thing I found out was that theology didn’t mean to some of them what it meant to me. And frankly, some of the narrower views insisted that if one believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God with no contradictions of significance, and is the only presentation of the Word of God, then other texts can offer only opinions, not valid knowledge of God, and therefore no theology can exist outside Christianity. Those who know me can appreciate that I rebelled at this. I simply cannot believe God is so limited in connecting with His people that He would not use all possible means. What I would suggest is that this comes from a false assumption that when Jesus says He is the way, He means the Christian Church’s scripture is the
only vehicle God has to offer us revelation. But that seems to work for some folks.

I do know that other religions claim to have revelations and their scholars are very clear that God is way beyond what we can understand directly, so they also rely on faith being involved in understanding God. To be fair, there are also plenty of Christian sources which are not so rigid as to declare those of other religions incapable of seeking to understand God in their own way. Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion that nothing in these discussions helped answer my question about usefulness, and did not seem to do much in terms of answering other questions about validity, applicability, and so forth, a subject for a future sermon, perhaps.

I started from the premise that living a good life is indeed important for spiritual health, so I looked for the ideas that various religions’ authorities present about the what besides living a life of charity is also important, specifically to see if acquiring religious knowledge though the study of theology is worthwhile.

I went to Judaism first. We know Swedenborg had some things to say about the representative nature of the Jewish church that would make one think theology is a really big deal for Judaism. It was harder to find justification for that than I thought. Maimonides wrote in the Mishnah Torah back in 1180: “For it is said, ‘You shall strengthen the stranger and the dweller in your midst and live with him,’ that is to say, strengthen him until he needs no longer fall upon the mercy of the community or be in need.” This sounds like an instruction to be charitable and lead a good life. Since in this quote I find the message saying to be good and generous, I looked to see if the Misnah Torah also says anything specific or helpful about the use or need for any theological knowledge. I didn’t find that in my abbreviated search, but since the Misnah Torah is mostly trying to describe how to understand and obey the Law, it became apparent this might not be the best source.

So let’s go back to the Hebrew Bible itself. Again, we are looking for both instruction on leading a good life, and of what use is theology. Oddly, I found most English translations of the Old Testament never use the word “charity”. though I found places where the idea of charity is very clear, first in Isaiah: “… learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widow.” And this in Daniel where the word charity was used: “… please take my advice: break with your sins by replacing them with acts of charity, and break with your crimes by showing mercy to the poor; this may extend the time of your prosperity.” And I also got a lesson in Hebrew from which I learned that the Hebrew word for “charity” is often translated as “justice”, and that when it is, justice is said to be done when those-who-have-enough give what they can to the poor, and the poor receive what they need so they also have enough. There are plenty of places in the Old Testament where justice is demanded. Nevertheless, in the Old Testament the encouragement to live a good and generous and just life are overshadowed by the requirements of being lawful and obedient. Obedience to the Law is important, but not the same as understanding about God. And though it requires study to know the Law, it is not the same kind of knowledge. At least from what I have heard said, God gave us the Laws, but is much more than the Laws. So, still looking for input on knowledge of God.

In our reading this morning from Job we heard is a long passage about the fate of the wicked and what it is like where they live. I won’t repeat the reading here, most of which describes the terrible conditions of the wicked, except to say it ends with the line: “Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who does not know God.” It says that where the wicked are, one does not find those who know God. The implication is: one better know God. But even here knowing God seems to mean knowing what the God of Abraham wants people to do. But not who God is or why God wants what He wants. In my search I did not find any place in the Old Testament where it says one should know about God.

So, I looked into the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is quite different. In a parable from one of the Kabbalah’s primary texts, the Bahir, Kabbalah is described as the path for those who seek to see the face of the King. It is generally understood there is an inner sense to the Bahir, so what does seek to see the face of the King mean? Briefly, the King means the Divine, the face is not a biological face, but means what is encountered when one approaches God. Kabbalah leads its student to see, that is understand, the nature of the Divine from studying the encounter of God, who is the Torah.

This should sound familiar to anyone who has read the opening lines of John where he says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Understand God for what purpose? One purpose claimed is that it leads the individual to see that he is nothing without God, and that his ego is to be overcome so he can be a conduit for the will of God. Further, to see that the natural world is illusion relative to a deeper reality. So at last here we get some rational use for theology – it instructs us on how to put aside selfishness and is a tool for knowing ourselves in a new way. The word Kabbalah stems from the word for “receiving”, and relates to the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai – but this is an active receiving, meaning a welcoming of God into a relationship through which one is invited to leave the self-centered-life for the people- or God-centered-life. OK, so that is a good start. The study of the Torah is a study of God in the world with us, which gives us a context for seeing ourselves acting in the world. So let’s count that as a yes vote for “theology is useful”. To me at least, to seek to see the face of the King sounds a lot like studying the knowledge about God.

So now let’s look at what Emanuel Swedenborg says. First we’ll see what he says about getting into heaven. Keep in mind, in his writings, he is trying to convince reformation theologians and clergy about the problems of seeking salvation based on faith alone, among other things. He describes at length the process by which we improve and develop spiritually and so become heaven-bound. He teaches that we do this by “shunning evils as sins”. If we follow this recipe, do we need to know about God? Do we need to know why it works? Is it that simple? Swedenborg also has something
to say about what kind of people can get into heaven, and I’ll just share two readings here from Heaven and Hell. One relates to the heathen and the Christian; the other to the rich and the poor:

Note: The following readings were read by volunteer liturgists during the sermon in sequence shown.

HH324. … This makes clear that at the present day the heathen come into heaven with less difficulty than Christians, according to the Lord’s words in Luke:
“Then shall they come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south, and shall recline in the kingdom of God. And behold, there are last
who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last.” (Luke 13:29, 30).

HH 365. … The rich and the poor alike come into heaven, the one as easily as the other. The belief that the poor enter heaven easily and the rich with difficulty comes from not understanding the Word where the rich and the poor are mentioned. In the Word those that have an abundance of knowledges of good and truth, thus who are within the church where the Word is, are meant in the spiritual sense by the “rich”; while those who lack these knowledges, and yet desire them, thus who are outside of the church and where there is no Word, are meant by the “poor”

Both of these are talking about the same thing! The difficulty some have getting into heaven stems from them being rich (in knowledge) or having been taught the problematic Christian teachings prevalent in Swedenborg’s time. In other words, those more exposed to theology had more problems. So does this say theology is better off avoided? Maybe it does for some people, though he doesn’t say it is impossible, just more difficult. There are some key phrases in these readings I would point out. In the first (HH324) reading, note the phrase “at the present day”, whereby Swedenborg is describing the messed up theology of the Christian world he lived in. In the second (HH365) reading find the phrase “and yet desire them” – means those poor can be described as those who “seek the face of the King” – that is, those who live in accordance with some internal sense, conscious or not, about what motivates their behavior, about right and wrong in some objective sense. The heathen, like the poor, are less encumbered by having their attitudes towards proper living constantly undermined by dubious or confusing teachings, and neither are they regularly bombarded by a plethora of competing philosophies and belief systems such as happens in a modern culture. So now let’s look at the last Swedenborg reading, from New Jerusalem 51, where Swedenborg is speaking about the inner and outer self, and about knowledge.

New Jerusalem 51

“There are bodies of knowledge of an earthly nature that have to do with our civic condition and our civic life; … with our moral condition and our moral life; and … with our spiritual condition and our spiritual life.  For clarity’s sake … I refer to knowledge [of an earthly nature] about our spiritual condition and our spiritual life as “spiritual knowledge,” which mainly consists of theological teachings. (Emphasis mine)

“It is important for us to become steeped in worldly and spiritual knowledge, because it is through this that we learn to think, then to understand what truth and goodness are, and eventually to be wise— that is, to live by what we have learned.  Worldly and spiritual knowledge are basic things on which our life is built and founded—both our civic and our moral life as well as our spiritual life; but they need to be learned with the goal of living a useful life. Spiritual knowledge opens a pathway to the inner self and then joins the inner and the outer self together according to our usefulness. Our rationality is born by means of worldly and spiritual knowledge, yet it is not born through that knowledge itself, but through and according to our desire to put it to use. The inner self is opened and gradually perfected through worldly and spiritual
knowledge if we seek good and useful goals, especially goals related to eternal life. Then spiritual insights from the [inner person] encounter the knowledge of worldly and spiritual things that is in the earthly [person] and adopt what is suitable. Then … the Lord, by means of our inner self, draws out, refines, and raises up what is useful for heavenly life, but information that is incompatible or conflicting is pushed aside and excluded. … Worldly and spiritual knowledge is gradually sown in our loves and takes up residence there. If we were born loving the Lord and loving our neighbor we would be born into all knowledge and understanding, but since we are born loving ourselves and the world we are born into total ignorance. Knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom are the offspring that are born of love for the Lord and love for our neighbor.”

He says, “It is important for us to become steeped in worldly and spiritual knowledge, because it is through this that we learn to think, then to understand what truth and goodness are, and eventually to be wise— that is, to live by what we have learned.”  So, here is a theological teaching that speaks about why theological teaching or for that matter any teaching about values is useful. If we are open to Swedenborg’s writings, we can hear the message that the acquiring of knowledge and testing it out — putting it to use that is — is necessary to engage our conscience. In other words, we can sense the rightness or wrongness of a new behavior in relation to past experiences. Putting it into use can let us identify and label motivations which are messed up (called repentance), and from there lead us to modify our behavior and attitudes (called reformation) such that the Lord can bring about the hoped-for changes in our will (called regeneration). I can accept that. I see myself as easily giving in to the temptation to remain unchanged (unrepentant I guess). Unless I force myself to step away from that easy path and search for hope that I can keep it up, I don’t make much progress. But I know I have made some progress, so the idea seems to work. At least for me.

The formula of shunning evils as sins that I mentioned earlier is not the same as being good and generous. It is more than that. We can be good and generous and still be motivated by selfish goals. Growing spiritually is different from behaving well. Shunning evils because they are painful or unpleasant, unfashionable, inconvenient, reflect poorly on our reputation, or adversely affect our net worth, does not mean shunning evils because they are sins. To see bad behavior as sinful we need an internal compass. Managing our behavior is a thinking process, a decision-making process, a choosing between options process. It takes engagement of the brain, application of our discernment. It takes awareness of the interaction and tension between motivation and behavior. And to the extent that we rely on a relationship with God to pull us along, that is, to give us strength to be changed in spite of our egotistic tendencies, we can build this relationship by learning about how God operates. That is the usefulness of theology. Scripture and other places reveal God, but it is God within that we encounter when we seek strength or guidance. In the end, theology is still a tool – it does not save us. It is a tool for shaping a behavior that not only embraces a good and generous life, but behavior that includes examination of our motivations. It is a tool that leads us to become able to find strength we cannot otherwise draw upon, to step out into areas of vulnerability and discomfort for the sake of growing closer to God. Maybe most important, having a developed and tested sense of the Divine working in us allows us to come into relationship with God. It is the relationship that in the beginning can bring strength, then peace, and eventually is what salvation is all about.

So my conclusion is that theology has a use. It is to make us think, lead us to understanding; help us become wise. The knowledge itself is not the important part. It is what we do with it to find ourselves. It can bring wisdom, the wisdom that combined with our selfless loves makes us more open to the Lord, and more useful. More useful – that is – more suited for heaven.  Amen.