Visions of Heaven, by Lisa Miller

Released just in time for Easter is this new book published by TIME:

Visions of Heaven: A Journey Through the Afterlife, by Lisa Miller, TIME, April 2014

Visions of Heaven, by Lisa Miller

(We picked up a copy at the local supermarket checkout stand under a different title: Discovering Heaven: How Our Ideas About the Afterlife Shape How We Live Today.)

Visions of Heaven: A Journey Through the Afterlife, by Lisa Miller (Time Books, April 2014), is a quick and easy read. It offers plenty of large, full-color illustrations, from medieval artwork to contemporary scenes. This 112 page book offers a brief survey of concepts of the afterlife from ancient times to the present. Though it focuses on Judaeo-Christian perspectives, it also touches on views of heaven in other religions and cultures.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) shows up on page 65 as a leading figure in the trend toward a more realistic, practical, and earth-like view of heaven.

This beautiful coffee table book has no sectarian agenda, just as it comes to no definite conclusions. This makes it an ideal starting point for conversations with family and friends about what awaits us after we die—and about building a more heaven-like community right here on earth.

To purchase Visions of Heaven: A Journey Through the Afterlife on Amazon, click on either of the title links, or on the cover photo above.

For further reading on the afterlife:

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Posted in The Afterlife

Noah’s Ark: A Sea Change in the Human Mind

What do the stories of Creation and Noah’s Ark have in common?

Umm . . . atheists and fundamentalists spend a lot of time arguing about them?

Haha! Yes they do. But besides that?

They’re both really old?

Yes, they go back thousands of years. Besides that?

They’re both in the Bible?

Well, yes, of course . . . but there are lots of other versions of these stories, too.

Okay, I give up. What do the stories of Creation and Noah’s Ark have in common?

They’re both from an ancient, mythical part of the Bible that was never meant to be taken literally. These are symbolic stories about the human condition, and about our relationship with God.

Oh really? Says who?

Just go with me on this one, okay? You’ll see. If we think of these as symbolic rather than literal stories:

  • We don’t have to waste our time arguing about science vs. the Bible.
  • We don’t have to think of these as just some old, outdated stories.
  • We don’t have to worry about which culture’s version of them is “right.”
  • We can find a deeper meaning in them that is just as true today as it ever was.

Does God really care what we believe about science and history? If the Bible is the Word of God as Christians believe it is, then isn’t it about the things God truly cares about? Spiritual things?

Noah's Ark at sea, from the 2014 Darren Aronofsky film

Noah’s Ark at sea

Let’s take a deeper look at the story of the Great Flood, and see what meaning it holds for us. Though the literal story is about a great, world-destroying flood, at a deeper level it tells the story of a great sea change in the human mind.

This change is something that the human race went through thousands of years ago as we made the transition from being pre-literate, nomadic hunter-gatherers to a more settled agrarian culture with spoken language and written literature.

It is also a change that each one of us goes through individually, from our own mythic times of infancy through the awakening of our thinking mind in early childhood.

Yes, all of this—and much more—is in the story of Noah and the Ark.

We are speaking of divine literature, not a human textbook of science and history. The depths of meaning contained within it put all the materialistic, quasi-scientific arguments of the fundamentalists into the shade.

For more on the depths of meaning in the Noah story, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science, Philosophy, and History, The Bible Re-Viewed

A Christian Movie Review of Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

(Warning: major movie plot spoilers below)

Noah Movie Poster, for the 2014 Darren Aronofsky movie

Noah Movie Poster

First, the disclaimer: Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah is not faithful to the Bible story. If your primary interest is to see a dramatization of the Bible narrative of Noah and the Ark as told in Genesis 6–9, this is not the movie for you.

Here’s the official disclaimer from Paramount Pictures:

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.

Let’s just say that this disclaimer is a masterful piece of PR designed to placate the faithful while still giving the impression that Noah is faithful to the Bible story.

For the most part, it’s not.

We’ll list some of the accuracies and inaccuracies of the movie shortly.

Yes Noah does get some things right. The reference to movies “inspired by a true story” is apt: this movie does draw its central theme of the Great Flood, along with the names of various characters, from the Bible story. However, the departures from the Bible version are so fundamental and overwhelming that the movie must be viewed as a very different story than the one told in the Bible.

Why would anyone want to see Noah?

It’s a big American action flick that engages with Biblical themes, even if it doesn’t get them quite right. And unlike many previous dramatizations of the story, it does take a serious stab at capturing the intensity of a mythic Biblical event that changed the course of humankind. After seeing this film, it is no longer possible to imagine Noah as some delightful Doctor Doolittle character from a cute little children’s story. For that alone, it is worth seeing the film.

In the next article we’ll look at the Bible narrative itself, and consider some of the deep and powerful human realities embodied in the story of Noah and the Ark. The Great Flood marks pivotal phase shift in the spiritual history of humankind, and in our own early formative years as individual human beings. See “Noah’s Ark: A Sea Change in the Human Mind.”

For now, let’s take a closer look at the movie Noah, and how it compares to the Bible story. As it turns out, the movie delivers a modern story about our relationship with the earth, while the book delivers an ancient story about our relationship with God and with one another.

For more on the Bible’s Noah vs. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Popular Culture, The Bible Re-Viewed

The Bible Says It, and I Believe It!

The Bible

The Bible

I’ve written a new article on Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach. It is a companion piece to my previous article, “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach.

This new article is meant to show that the basic beliefs behind the articles here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life are solidly based on the Bible.

But more than that, the purpose of the article is to provide some simple, practical, Bible-based beliefs for anyone who wants to live a truly Christian life.

Here is a quote from the first part of the new article:

The Bible is far more concerned with how we live our life than with what we believe. The Bible is a practical book, not an abstract theological treatise.

Still, the Bible does provide us with a foundation of basic beliefs that we can trust and use as guides for everyday life.

Here are some Christian beliefs that the Bible does teach:

  1.       There is one God, and Jesus Christ is that God
  2.       Believing in Jesus Christ leads to salvation
  3.       We must not do evil and destructive things
  4.       We must do things that are good and right
  5.       We must recognize that the power to do these things comes from God

Let’s take a quick look at each of these Christian beliefs, and what the Bible has to say about them.

These five points are adapted from a statement of basic Christian beliefs found in True Christianity #3, written by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).

Any time you want to refer to this article, you will find it linked prominently near the top of the right column on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, along with its companion piece.

To read the whole article, please follow this link:

Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach

If you like it, please tell your friends and family. Links to it from any web pages you host are also much appreciated. Thank you.

Enjoy!

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Posted in All About God, Spiritual Growth, The Bible Re-Viewed

The Basketball Eyes of Isaiah Austin: “Your Excuse or Your Story?”

Isaiah Austin, Baylor University Basketball

Isaiah Austin

Isaiah Austin has two eyes. Only one of them works.

He had a decision to make. That decision would determine his future.

Would he go with the bad eye, or with the good one?

An AP news piece tells the story. At about twelve years old, Austin got hit in the eye with a baseball. He didn’t lose sight in that eye then, but the accident did loosen his retina. Two years later, when he was in eighth grade, the retina detached when Austin, then 6’7″ tall, dunked the ball while doing his usual warm-ups for a middle school basketball game. Four surgeries later, it became clear that his right eye would never see again.

As he tells it, his biggest fear during that year of unsuccessful surgeries was that his days of playing basketball were over. He asked his mother, Lisa Green, “How am I going to get through this?”

“You can make it your excuse, or you can make it your story,” she said. “You can touch lives or you can be a quitter.”

The challenge of those words, spoken to him out of love, became the touchstone that helped him to put his life back on track.

Soon he was back out on the basketball court, struggling and working to learn how to shoot and how to play without his former depth perception.

Isaiah Austin had decided to go with the good eye.

But that didn’t mean it was going to be easy.

For more on Isaiah Austin’s decision, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Sports and Recreation

Kush Sharma and Sophia Hoffman Battle Words, Not Each Other, in Spelling Bee

Kush Sharma and Sophia Hoffman Spelling Bee Champions

Kush Sharma and Sophia Hoffman

A week ago in Jackson County, Missouri, an epic spelling bee battle between fifth-grader Sophia Hoffman and seventh-grader Kush Sharma finally came to an end. In the first part of the match—which was only meant to have one part—the two went sixty-six rounds, exhausting all of the words that the organizers had prepared for the spelldown.

In the second part of the competition, held two weeks later, they went almost thirty rounds before Sophia Hoffman stumbled on “stifling.” Kush Sharma then defeated “definition” (after asking for its definition, of course!) to win the match. As for some of the words they had to spell in between . . . well, let’s just say that spelling bees were about the only teams I was picked first for when I was in grade school, and I’m glad I didn’t have to spell those words!

Of course, the win was very exciting for Sharma, who will now go on to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

It was also very disappointing for Hoffman, who got so close, only to fall short after so many rounds. Her father was philosophical for her: “I think it is part of the growth of the kids to learn how to work through disappointment and come out stronger,” he said, as reported in an AP story.

The two middle schoolers had become friends during the long matchup, so even for Sharma, the victory was bittersweet. After he won, he was quick to show Hoffman support and appreciation.

However, what really piqued my interest was something he said in an interview with KCUR Radio. Speaking for himself and his fellow contestant, Sharma made this philosophical statement: “I don’t think we see it as I beat her or she beats me. I think it’s like the word beat me.”

Now that’s grace in victory! And it shows a wisdom beyond his years.

For Sharma, the opponent is not the other person. It’s the challenge and the task we’re up against.

For more on battling the words, the world, but not the people, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Current Events

The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

From Caterpillar to Butterfly (copyrighted image)

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

I’ve been asked this question many times over the years.

Sometimes it’s a litmus test question. The people asking already either believe in reincarnation or they don’t. If my answer agrees with their view, they’ll see me as enlightened. If not, they’ll see me as unenlightened. So it’s always tempting to answer with a light-hearted, paradoxical non-answer of the type a certain uncle of mine loves: “Not this time around!”

But the question keeps coming. People also want to know what the Bible says about reincarnation. And they want to know whether my favorite theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), says anything about reincarnation. Some are sincerely looking for understanding on this often confusing subject.

For example, here is part of a comment that a reader named Mark left on the article, “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

Specifically however, please enlighten those of us who remain confused by reincarnation. As an example, Krishna conciousness teaches an absolutely beautiful and devoted life to God (whom appears in any way he chooses but still only ONE god). The bible seems to teach that we come through this human “life” but once. I understand that this could be once per each human life and I have considered that each human life, even reincarnated, is once. Please provide your take on this. Unless I have misunderstood, according to Krishna teachings, heaven is not the “final” or utmost attainment.

We’ll dig into all of this in a few minutes. But first, for those of you who just want the quick answers so that you can move on:

  • I do not believe in reincarnation (though I do think it points to a deeper truth).
  • The Bible does not support reincarnation (and it never did).
  • Emanuel Swedenborg also does not support reincarnation (but he explains why people think it happens).

There! I’ve said it!

If you still want to learn more, settle in. This is going to take some time. But it will be worth your time if you want a thoughtful, spiritual, non-dogmatic Christian response to the currently popular belief in reincarnation.

For more on Christianity, Swedenborg, and reincarnation, please click here to read on.

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Posted in Science, Philosophy, and History, Spiritual Growth, The Afterlife, The Bible Re-Viewed
Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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Earlier Posts
Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly, Fryeburg, Maine, August 2012

Lee Woofenden speaking at Fryeburg New Church Assembly

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