Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I was recently on a weekend retreat for men known as “SWET” which is an acronym for “Spiritual Warfare Effectiveness Training”. There are three different levels of SWET weekends - SWET 1, 2, and 3 – and each is prerequisite to the one following it. There is also a Colorado version of SWET 1 which happens occasionally. This weekend it was “SWET 2”.
These trainings have been happening for over ten years now under the leadership of Rev. Grant Schnarr who is a Swedenborgian minister and author of several books including “The Art of Spiritual Warfare” (Schnarr, 2000) on which the weekend retreats are loosely based (Grant's blog can be found here). Although Rev. Schnarr is a Swedenborgian himself, he insists that all beliefs and all non-beliefs are welcomed and supported at SWET. This is typical of the Swedenborgian belief system which holds that charity (or love to the neighbor) is the essential of all true religion - differences of doctrine notwithstanding.
The nonprofit counseling center for men that I work for, Men’s Initiative, has been a collaborator with SWET for over a year now. Men’s Initiative hosts a two hour group spun off of the SWET model every Wednesday evening. We call this group “SWIG” for “Spiritual Warfare Integration Group.” About ¼ of the men attending SWET 2 this time were also participants in the SWIG group at Men’s Initiative and/or were clients of MI. As an aside, Men’s Initiative also hosts 12 Step recovery meetings and is a strong advocate for community education regarding recovery from substance abuse.
I have participated as a “camper” in SWET and SWET 2, and, have subsequently staffed several of each. Lately, I have been privileged to serve as cook which was my blessing this past weekend. I LOVE TO COOK! There is something very spiritually satisfying about preparing and delivering good food from the good Lord to a large group of good men who are intent on creating “a world of love and integrity, one man at a time, from the inside out.” This is part of the mission statement of SWET which can be found on the SWET homepage. Due to the intensity of the job of food service on a weekend like this, the cook does not usually participate in the processes and activities which are facilitated on a SWET weekend. This allows for a certain amount of observational objectivity as one cracks the eggs or stirs the soup; and I have to say that this weekend seemed to be quite extraordinary energetically. Everything seemed to go so smoothly and the bonding and support experienced by men was very evident.
The concept of “spiritual warfare” perhaps needs a bit of clarification. “Spiritual warfare” refers to the practice of facing and confronting one’s own personal “demons” or troublesome issues. Part of this practice involves calling on a Higher Power for aid (through prayer and meditation). It also involves seeking support from the fellowship or brotherhood of one’s fellow spiritual warriors. Spiritual warfare does not in any way involve the violence of natural warfare; it is rather based on the strategic principles found in the ancient Chinese text of Sun Tzu “The Art of War” as those principles can be applied on the inner battlefield of life. The warfare metaphor is a valid tool in the enhancement of consciousness through spiritual practice as it requires disciplined mental states not normally found in the uninstructed average man. These disciplined mental states are the preparation referred to in the Sun Tzu quote on SWET’s homepage, “The warrior who is prepared for battle, even before taking the field, will have the victory.” —Sun Tzu
Schnarr, G. R. (2000). The art of spiritual warfare: A guide to lasting inner peace based on Sun Tzu’s ‘The art of war’. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
While you are waiting for my next piece – on Conscience vs. Ego – I thought I would post this one on water shortages that I published elsewhere on the internet. If it’s not engaged somehow in usefully improving the conditions in which we live right now – it’s not spiritual. Here are a few thoughts on possible useful endeavor in working with the “blood” of our mother the Earth - WATER!!
Global Water Shortages
There was once a time – and not too long ago either – that, if a person were to come across a body of fresh water, he or she could feel quite certain that it was safe to use in the way God intended and designed for humans and other living things to use it. This is no longer true.
And yet every drop of water that was ever created still exists in some form or state somewhere on the planet or in its atmosphere. The water lost by the human body through various avenues must be replaced. One rule of thumb is that 8-10 glasses of water per day will do the trick. But that is just the human hydration part. One source I found says that, “… the average [American] person uses 60 to 70 gallons of water daily for drinking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes and flushing toilets.” Even with that leap in usage amounts (10 glasses to 70 gallons), when you take into account all the water on the planet in all its forms there is still probably plenty to go around. The global population will have to increase to an incomprehensible degree before there is an actual water shortage.
Technically, the water "shortages" aren't really shortages - they are fresh water access problems. And big problems they are! There are four basic fresh water access problems.
The first problem is that fresh water, through industrial, agricultural, or domestic carelessness and apathy, becomes polluted and therefore useless and even toxic until it is purified.
The second is that fresh water all too often becomes salt water and therefore useless to humans until it is desalinated -- either naturally or through some man-made desalinization processes.
The third is the problem of insufficient catchment and delivery systems. Having all this potential fresh water is fine but, if you can’t collect and distribute it efficiently, it might as well just evaporate!
Finally, and related to the delivery aspect of problem number three, is the problem of human greed and the struggle for political power. Even if we solved the first three problems, we would probably find people all over the globe who would want to use the new water abundance as a vehicle for their own monetary gain or upward mobility. This they would do by seizing control of the means of production and delivery and manipulating them to serve their own ends.
These are truly daunting problems. However, we could choose to look at them as a way of boosting the global economy by creating new jobs and new markets. We could use our collective scientific know-how to turn water into a much more renewable resource. Organic farming and/or the development of non-polluting fertilizers would be a good start. Then we could move to regulate industrial polluters. This could be followed by getting creative and knowledgeable people together into think tanks to come up with ways of creating conservation incentives for the average 60 gallons per day American water consumer. We could develop bigger, better, and more efficient ways of treating and purifying polluted water, of desalinating ocean water, and of temporarily holding and ultimately distributing the potable product. All of this would add up to many entirely new jobs that would have to be filled.
The marketing of these systems internationally would boost both the American economy and the global economy. It could also go a long way toward improving diplomatic relations among the various countries of the world, minimize the occurrence wars and conflicts, and maybe even make a contribution to streamlining our international commerce in energy.
Water for oil anyone?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
As a part of his coursework assignment, I was recently asked by a man in training to become a Swedenborgian minister how I would respond as a layperson to the following three questions:
1.) What impact have the [Swedenborgian] teachings about conjugial [or marriage] love had in your life?
2.) How would you characterize the way you were taught about conjugial love?
3.) How could ministers teach conjugial love better?
Well, first of all, I think it’s great that theological students are being given assignments to consult the laity! It hasn’t always been that way. Maybe we are undergoing a paradigm shift after all. As a related aside, if you are a Facebook member, please feel free to join the Lay Interfaith Leaderless Alliance (LILA) group I recently created there. We are growing!
Before I respond as requested, I would like to bring out of obscurity a little known or utilized piece of esoteric Swedenborgian wisdom regarding marriages. In saying that marriages ‘do not exist elsewhere’ (i.e. other than in heaven), it is in direct contradiction to the traditional irrational Christian teaching that there is NO marriage in heaven - which is based on the cherry-picked biblical verse Matthew 22:30. In his work Conjugial Love Swedenborg writes:
“… a married couple [in heaven] is united in respect to their souls; and one also sees in the two a full expression of what it is to be human. This is the case in heaven, because marriages do not exist elsewhere. Beneath heaven one finds instead only temporary alliances which are formed and broken.” (CL 192:7, emphasis added)
That is a citation from Swedenborg that has NEVER been presented to me in any of my formal Swedenborg-based education. I think it’s important that everyone be familiar with it. So there you have it – now, on to the questions
1.) What impact have the teachings about Conjugial Love had in your life?
On the one hand, these esoteric teachings found only in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg about conjugial (or marriage) love have had an extraordinarily positive impact in my life. On the other hand, they have had a devastatingly destructive one. Positive because they have given me a rational, as well as beautiful, vision for marriage. Destructive because they set me up to believe that conjugial love with a woman on this earth is not just a remote and improbable possibility (which is the truth); but is in fact highly possible and likely; provided that I follow all the rules put forward (and implied) in the classroom. Being psychologically set up that way was a major contributing factor in the serious and severe harm done to me, to the women I married, and to my children now from divorced families. I have since “owned” my own part in my marriage failures and have researched the doctrine of conjugial love for myself and to my own satisfaction. I must hasten to add that I believe it’s not so much the teachings themselves that have done the harm, but instead, the way they were taught to me; which leads me to the next question.
2.) How would you characterize the way you were taught about Conjugial Love?
I was taught about conjugial love too early in life, and, with too much of a pedagogic attitude of ‘compulsion to believe’; and compulsion to believe, mind you, not in divine truth but in what I have come to see as being largely fairy tale. I would refer you to Divine Providence 129 for an understanding of why the practice of compelling others to "believe" is ill-advised as well as decidedly un-Swedenborgian.
3.) How could ministers teach Conjugial Love better?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the State of Pennsylvania alone in 2007, there were 71,094 marriages and 35,268 divorces. I think that’s a statistic which tends to support the commonly held belief that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. I wonder if Swedenborgian ministers teach this kind of statistical fact in conjugial love courses these days? I can tell you that when I was in high school up until 1972 and again for 4 years in college in the mid-1980s they did not – at least not in any religion course I took. Now maybe it’s not right to teach such statistical facts in a religion course; but what about actual theological doctrine as, for example, Conjugial Love 192:7 (see above)? Especially the part that reads, “…marriages do not exist elsewhere. Beneath heaven one finds instead only temporary alliances which are formed and broken.”
If I were teaching a conjugial love course, I would make sure that my students had a very thorough understanding of that bit of doctrine before any other learning was pursued. So what are some of the elements of an education which actually prepares the student for marriage? I would definitely include an elective course on Swedenborg’s conjugial love doctrine but mandatory courses would include the following course titles:
~Introspection, Contemplation, and Altruism for the Individual
~Introspection, Contemplation, and Altruism for Couples
~Spiritual Practice in Relationships
~Marriage/Divorce and the Law
~Personal and Family Finance: Budgets and Clear Boundaries
~Reproductive Health and Contraception
~Addiction in general
These are just what briefly come to mind when I ask myself the question. There are more and I’m sure you can think of some if you have ever been married. Being as highly educated as possible in those topics is of vital importance for anyone considering marriage. Looking deeply into his writings reveals that Swedenborg has plenty to say about all of these topics; and a thorough education in them will provide a much more comprehensive preparation for the spiritual practice of marriage than courses in esoteric conjugial theology.
I would appreciate any comments on this post – especially ones that include any course titles you think should be added to the above list. Thanks. ~ CBM
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I do believe in eclectic spirituality.
So this tale goes way, way back to when I was, as they say, about knee-high to a grasshopper. It’s a particular thread through my personal spiritual journey that I would like to share. From the time I first learned to read, all I ever really wanted to read about were Indians. You could have called me an “Indian-aholic” and been absolutely right. It was an obsession.
And, since my father was a school teacher, we spent every summer and large parts of every other season in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania doing wonderful things that fewer and fewer kids these days get to do. On our 80 acre tree farm, dad taught us many skills useful in the outdoors and what he didn’t teach us we learned from books and trial and error. This was an excellent environment in which to pursue my wild Indianism and I think I spent at least one entire summer with a Mohawk haircut and nothing on but a “breechclout”. I have a picture somewhere to prove it.
To make a long story a little bit longer, I learned everything there was to know about nature and Indians by the time I was twelve. I was a hunter and a fisherman – and I had paddled the mighty Delaware River from the tip of the north fork in New York State all the way down almost to Trenton (thanks to dad). I was an expert animal stalker and a fairly good tracker with only a little training from the old man and lots of practice on my part. I could name every Indian tribe that ever lived in North America, show you their original territory on a map, describe the theories about how they got there, and give a good account of many aspects of each tribal culture. Hindsight shows me that I had also developed a strong spiritual connection with the Creator’s creation – well, as strong a connection as a kid my age could develop. Even then I felt that I could see God much better in nature than I could in the religion I was brought up in.
I was green with envy when I read Tom Brown Jr.’s account in his book The Tracker of his adventures and education with Stalking Wolf, his friend’s Apache grandfather in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Some people had all the luck! At some point not long after reading The Tracker, I left home to pursue various activities including a tour of duty in the Navy. I put the whole Indians/Nature/Outdoors thing on the shelf for quite a while thinking I better serious up about life and so forth.
Many years later, having travelled the circle that life often leads us in; I found myself back in the Poconos with a new edition of The Tracker. On the back flap this copy had an advertisement for the Wilderness Survival School that Tom had since started and was running at various locations in New Jersey. I inquired, left a deposit for the Standard Class, and ended up taking four of the schools week-long classes and engaging in several other related activities and enterprises. In the process, my tracking, nature and wilderness survival skills were greatly enhanced. So too was my knowledge of Native American spirituality. I learned numerous meditative techniques useful for connecting with the Creator in nature and supercharging my tracking and awareness skills as well.
We were taught all aspects of the use of a Sweat Lodge for both the original purpose of de-scenting before a hunt and the evolutionary practice of prayer, meditation and ceremony. We were taught ceremony as Grandfather had taught Tom but we were also encouraged to create our own Sweat Lodge tradition and practice rather than staying stuck in one way of doing it. I brought the Sweat Lodge back to my home town in Pennsylvania and have poured water in hundreds of Lodges since. I have taught others how to build and use the Lodge and a little Sweat Lodge subculture has sprung up right here in my local “white man’s land.”
Now, I no longer wish I was a wild Indian as I did in my obsessive youth and, in a friendly and knowing way, I refer to those who do as “Windians” (short for Wanna-be-Indians). The life experience I have described above was extremely important in my spiritual development and I am hugely grateful to all those who acted as my teachers.
I want to say one more thing before putting this and myself to rest – which is, there is absolutely no place as powerful as the Sweat Lodge for doing the 5th Step of the 12 Step program. You either know what I’m talking about here or it just sailed right over your head…. Ok, on to other things and thanks for letting me share.
Tracker School Link: