Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's Grant Schnarr Doing Now?

Have you been wondering what Rev. Grant Schnarr has been up to recently? One thing he's been doing is writing really interesting notes on Facebook telling the story of his life and reflecting on the ups and downs of his evangelization work. He's now started a blog ( and put them on there too. See "To Be or Not to Be: A Swedenborgian" part one, part two, part three, and part four.

He's also been preaching around Bryn Athyn. He preached at Ivyland New Church a couple of weeks ago. He preached at the Cathedral 2 Sundays ago. And he preached this past Sunday at Bryn Athyn Contemporary service. (There isn't a recording up yet but you should be able to find it here soon.)

The sermon he preached at the Cathedral, "Lifeline", was about the internal meaning of the story of Jeremiah being thrown into cistern and then later raised out (Jeremiah 38:1-13). I've heard a number of people say that it was the best sermon they've heard in a while. I got a lot out of it. Grant is really good at expositional sermons. He goes back and forth between the literal story and the internal meaning in a seemingly effortless and usually compelling way. One of the simple things that he pointed out was that all the characters in the story are part of us, not just Jeremiah. And he talked about how certain parts of us want to push the truth out of sight but that we need to identify with those parts of us that will lift the truth back up into the light.

In that sermon and the one he preached at the contemporary service there was a refreshing, back-to-the-basics feel and focus. We don't always want the truth because the truth can be hard to deal with and because it asks us to change but it's totally worth it. Amen!

Grant is also planning something for the fall. On page 2 of the August 27 Bryn Athyn Post he's asking for help with an independent contemporary service he's going to be during the "Living Courageously" campaign at the Social Hall of the Lord's New Church.

He's also starting another blog sort of thing next Monday.
I wrote a book two years ago called Guardian Angel Diary, about a girl named Nicole who, being diagnosed with brain cancer, began writing to her guardian angel and listening hard, wrote what she heard as a reply in her head. Soon a conversation and a friendship developed which helped her to the end, or perhaps to the beginning. On Monday, September 7th, Nicole will begin her diary for all to see, at

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Evidence of the Need for Variety in Worship

I just watched a video of a talk that Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, gave at TED. It was about lessons we can learn from the breakthroughs that a food consultant made while helping Prego come up with the best spaghetti sauce. Watch the video and we'll talk afterward.

Being a minister-in-training who thinks far too much about worship services, Gladwell's conclusions got me thinking about variety in worship. In the past I think people approached the Writings in much the same way that food companies used to approach picking their spaghetti sauce formula—"What's the perfect formula for a worship service that will serve all people the best?"—when, in fact, there are lots of passages that say that variety perfects (e.g. Heaven and Hell 56; Arcana Coelestia 2385:5).

That said, I was interested to read an article in an evangelical magazine about the drawbacks of having a different worship service for each age group and the need for finding ways of bringing them together.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What can you know about other people?

Recently I happened to listen to an episode of the radio show This American Life and got into a discussion on Facebook that connected with each other.

The episode is called "Got You Pegged" and it has a couple of stories about the problems with pegging people incorrectly and one story about how we have to peg people in certain circumstances.

The discussion was about how much we can know about someone and how we have to use what we can see. Here are some passages about this.
Whoever does not distinguish the neighbor according to the quality of good and truth in him may be deceived a thousand times, and his charity become confused and at length no charity. A man devil may exclaim, "I am a neighbor: do good to me." And if you do good to him he may kill you or others. You are placing a knife or a sword in his hand. (Doctrine of Charity 51)

The Lord says, "Judge not, that you be not condemned" (Matthew 7:1). This cannot in the least mean judging of someone's moral and civil life in the world, but judging of someone's spiritual and heavenly life. Who does not see that if people were not allowed to judge of the moral life of those dwelling with them in the world, society would collapse.... ... But to judge what the inner mind or soul is like within, thus what a person's spiritual state is and so his fate after death - of this one is not permitted to judge, because it is known to the Lord alone. ...

A general judgment is allowed, such as the following, 'If you are in your inward qualities as you appear in your outward ones, you will be saved or condemned.' But a specific judgment - as for example to say, 'You are of this or that character in your inward qualities, therefore you will be saved or condemned' - is not allowed." (Conjugial Love 523:1-2)

Where charity does not exist self-love is present and consequently hatred towards all who do not show favor to self. As a result they see in the neighbor nothing except his evil. Or if they do see anything good they either perceive it as nothing or else place a bad interpretation on it. It is altogether otherwise with those with whom charity is present. ...[W]ith those who have no charity, a feeling of hatred is manifest in every single thing; they wish to try everyone and indeed to pass judgement on them. Their one desire is to discover what is evil in them, all the time having it in mind to condemn, punish, and torment. But those who have charity hardly notice the evil in another person, but instead notice all the goods and truths that are his; and on his evils and falsities they place a good interpretation. Of such a nature are all angels, it being something they have from the Lord, who bends everything evil into good. (Arcana Coelestia 1079:2)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to the Basics

I haven't posted much recently due to working on finishing the first draft of my dissertation and getting ready to head to Europe in the fall. (Stay tuned for some posts about the New Church in Europe and some more bite-sized bits from my dissertation.)

In my research I ran across an old favorite passage that's been helpful to me in working on my dissertation and is just a great summary of the important, basic points of religion. Enjoy! (Read the whole thing if you have the time.)
The laws of our religion are that one God is to be worshiped; that adulteries, thefts, murders, false witness, must be shunned; thus also frauds, unlawful gains, hatreds, revenge, lies, blasphemies, and many other things that are mentioned not alone in the Decalogue but everywhere else in the Word…. When man shuns these because they are opposed to the Word, and thence opposed to God, and because they are from hell, then man lives according to the laws of his religion, and so far as he lives according to his religion is he led by the Lord…. Moreover, he is daily taught by the Lord what he must do and what he must say, also what he must preach or what he must write; for when evils are removed he is continually under the Lord's guidance and in enlightenment. Yet he is not led and taught immediately by any dictate, or by any perceptible inspiration, but by an influx into his spiritual delight, from which he has perception according to the truths of which his understanding consists. When he acts from this influx, he appears to be acting as if from himself, and yet he acknowledges in heart that it is from the Lord. (Apocalypse Explaine 825:3)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Good Sermon on Wisdom and Marriage

In mid-July I went to lay-led Sunday service at the Glendale New Church. Max Blair was the lay leader for that week and the sermon he picked for us to read was a sermon that Rev. Dan Goodenough preached in 1981 titled "The Rib of Man" (PDF).

As you might guess from the title, it's about the story from Genesis 2 of woman being created out of the rib of man. But it's not so much an exposition of that story as an exploration of some of the teachings about the importance of a husband developing wisdom in marriage.

Talking about the differences between men and women is a difficult thing to do without seeming to denigrate either sex but Goodenough does a good job of it. Here's one example:
Though [a husband's] rational wisdom can and should climb into a light in which his wife is not, she enjoys a wisdom of perception of states which is too deep for him to fathom. Both of these distinctive kinds of wisdom, together with the moral wisdom which husband and wife should share (Conjugial Love 163-168) are necessary for the growth of the church in them. A man's rational insights are no more infallible than a woman's intuitions; neither husband nor wife is in a position superior to the other, so as to instruct or dominate from above.
Here are a couple of other things I like about this sermon:
  • It has a good discussion of what real wisdom is and what it isn't.
  • It doesn't forget about unmarried people, as many sermons about marriage do.
  • It has a funny analogy about waiting for a man's wisdom.
  • It talks about the use of arguing.
  • And I really like the point he ends on.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflection: Everyone is a Teacher

I'm trying something new. So far I've stuck to telling you about things that other people have written and said and I've tried to stay under 300 words per post. I want to try occasionally sharing some of my thoughts and going way over 300 words. I'm going to call them reflections. Here's the first one; let me know what you think.


I was recently on the staff for the first time at a church camp. I did a couple of worship services and a talk. As I prepared for the camp before getting there I was thinking about the topic for the week and what sorts of things were important to know about the topic, what sorts of things people might be confused about, etc.

For the first two days of the camp, though, I wasn’t leading anything just attending things. And I started to notice that I was learning things from other people. Believe me, I know that it’s painfully obvious, but I realized that I wasn’t the only person there that the Lord was using to teach people. And it wasn’t just the other ministers there that I was learning from. I was learning from women as well as men, people older than me and people younger than me, people who had probably read the Word more than me and people who had probably read it less. And I realized that the Lord is happy to use anyone and everyone to teach people the truth and lead them to heaven.
The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those who proclaimed it (Psalm 68:11).
That was the phrase from scripture that encapsulated this important realization for me. The Lord wants people to know the truth and He’s going to use a great company (or army, more literally) of people to teach it. Just like it says in Divine Providence 172:6,
the Word can only be taught mediately through parents, teachers, preachers, books, and especially through the reading of it. Nevertheless, it is not taught by these, but by the Lord through them.
The Lord teaches people the Word not just through preachers/ministers/priests but also through parents and teachers and books and everyone.

This summer I’ve been working on a dissertation about the use and abuse of the dynamic between priests and lay people. One of the things I’ve been trying to understand is what makes priests necessary. The specific question I have now is, if the Lord uses everyone to teach the truth, what makes the teaching that priests do different from the teaching that everyone else does?

Steve Simons’ perspective is that every believer is a priest.
Setting apart “Holy Men” is not Biblical. ... The Christian priesthood, in copying the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament, set itself up as a class of mediators set apart to keep their view of the Divine before the eyes of people. But this feature of religion is now outdated. ...

God calls every individual to walk side by side along the road of life with others, to give counsel and encouragement, to study and teach His Word for those less educated in its message, to worship and praise Him together in communities, to witness important life events such as marriage and death and teach the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and to lead others by means of the gifts of vision, perception, and wisdom to discover more of the blessings that God has in store for all people. These gifts are that set apart the pastors, the preachers, the ministers, and the priests – and these are all roles that any believer can take if that is where they are called by God and gifted to serve.

Man or woman, young or old, every believer is a priest following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who is the only teacher, the only priest, the only mediator, the only God. (See also "You Are a Priest".)
I really like the sound of this. I love the way he describes how God calls all of us to help each other on the road of life and, most of all, I love his point that Jesus Christ is the only teacher, priest, mediator, and God. The only thing I’m not sure about is this idea that it’s not good to have people set apart as priests, except inasmuch as a certain person is particularly gifted in studying, teaching, leading, witnessing, etc.

Here are some of teachings that make me wonder about this.

The most extended treatment of the priesthood and its role that I’m aware of is in New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 311 - 325 / Arcana Coelestia 10789 - 10806.
There are two things which ought to be in order with men, namely, the things which are of heaven, and the things which are of the world. The things which are of heaven are called ecclesiastical, and those which are of the world are called civil. (311)

Governors over those things with men which relate to heaven, or over ecclesiastical affairs, are called priests, and their office is called the priesthood. (314)

He who believes otherwise than the priest, and makes no disturbance, ought to be left in peace; but he who makes disturbance, ought to be separated; for this also is of order, for the sake of which the priesthood is established. (318)

As priests are appointed to administer those things which relate to the Divine law and worship, so kings and magistrates are appointed to administer those things which relate to civil law and judgment. (319)
If priests are meant to be overseers who are “appointed to administer those things which relate to the Divine law and worship” and who separate people who believe otherwise than the priest, then it sounds like not everyone can be a priest.

Along these lines, consider this passage from Arcana Coelestia.
Good can be instilled into another by anyone in his country, but not truth, except by those who are teaching ministers; if others do this, heresies arise, and the church is disturbed and rent asunder. ... Everyone must first obtain for himself truth from the doctrine of the church, and afterward from the Word of the Lord; this must be the truth of his faith. (6822)
Are priests what are meant by “teaching ministers”? Again there’s this emphasis on the importance of avoiding disturbances in the church. In this case disturbances are avoided, not by separating people, but by having only certain people teach.

But is this really what the Lord wants? A church where only certain people are allowed to teach others. A church where a group of overseers determines what can be said and what cannot be said? It sounds awfully authoritarian and not nearly as appealing as the picture of a classless church that Steve painted. And yet, if we are going to use the Writings to form our understanding of what the church should look like, we need to integrate these teachings into our thinking about it.

Here’s my attempt at making sense of it. Think of a priest as a professional doctor. He’s been to med school, by the time he opens his own practice he’s put in hundreds of hours as an intern, he’s under some form of supervision by the medical board, he stays up to date on recent developments in understanding diseases and treatments, and he talks with other doctors about different cases. For all of these reasons you would listen to what he teaches you about your health differently than you would your friend who just read some article online and has an opinion about it.

You still learn about health from your friends, and parents, and P.E. and biology teachers in school, and from your own reading of books and articles, and from just paying attention to how your body reacts to various things but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have doctors around anymore. You need someone whose job it is to spend more time than you do studying and thinking about health. And you need the medical community to speak out against new health or treatment practices that they don’t consider safe.

Now, the medical community can be wrong. I haven’t researched it at all (apart from glancing at a Wikipedia article about it), but my impression is that, a couple of decades ago, doctors typically looked askance at chiropractic treatment and may have recommended against it to their patients. These days, it seems that most doctors would advise their patients to get chiropractic treatment, at least for the treatment of back pain. So the medical community was wrong to speak against it and people would have benefitted from receiving treatment but that doesn’t mean that, in general, people would be better off without the medical community and professional doctors. Even though they can be wrong, the protection that comes from having them around is useful.

You may find that your particular professional doctor is not very good. He doesn’t stay up-to-date, he over-prescribes, you don’t agree with his medical philosophy, whatever. And you find that your aunt Betty, on the other hand, though she’s not formally trained in medicine, has lots of good, useful advice for you about your health. That doesn’t mean that you’d be better off relying on your aunt Betty and your own research for all your medical decisions: it just means that you need to find a new doctor, in addition to listening to your aunt Betty and doing your own research.

Does the analogy work for you?

There are lots of other issues that I chose not to get into like who gets to decide who gets to be a professional priest and what exactly does separating someone who makes a disturbance look like. But mostly what I wanted to share with you is my realization that everyone has something important to teach other people and that there still is a need for a professional priesthood. As I continue to work on my dissertation about the dynamics between clergy and laity I hope to gain a clearer picture of how laity and clergy can interact together in a healthy and supportive way where everyone can learn from each other and from the Word together.

I want to end with a cool passage from Apocalypse Explained that reminds us that really it is the Lord doing the teaching.
“‘One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:37-38) [means that] it is the Lord who teaches, thus who collects and gathers, and not themselves (for it was the Lord, by means of the angels, that is, by means of Divine truths from the Word, who prepared for reception those whom the disciples converted to the church). (911:16)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Get More Out of the Minor Prophets

Have you ever tried to read the prophets? They can be pretty dark, impenetrable reading at first. But, with patience and some help, they can become intriguing and uplifting reading.

In the last couple of months I wrote a sermon on Habakkuk and a children's talk on Haggai and now get a lot out of those books. In both cases I drew significantly on Rev. George McCurdy's minor prophets study guides. So far McCurdy has produced study guides for 10 of the 12 minor prophets. He just made his study guide for Micah available online so I figured it was a good opportunity to make sure that all of you were aware of this incredible tool.

Here's McCurdy's description of his guides:
These prophet study guides contain the information needed to undertake a verse-by-verse study of the Minor Prophet books of the Word. Within the study guide the reader will find a comprehensive presentation of the passages from the Heavenly Doctrine that have direct reference to the text, the passages from the Writings that the author has identified as possibly providing insights into the spiritual sense of the verse, and questions to stimulate reflection and insights.
You can get McCurdy's study guides from the New Church Online Store. Just search for George McCurdy. (Here's the one for Zepheniah.) You can also get them all for free online at (Here's the one for Zepheniah.)

McCurdy's research, careful reading, and selection of relevant teachings is really helpful in beginning to see the internal sense of the minor prophets. But, even more than that, the humble and yet eager-to-learn attitude that comes across in McCurdy's reflections and questions, is an inspiring example of how to approach the Word.


I also recommend this sermon by McCurdy.