Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Arcana Coelestia 3

Arcana Coelestia 3 Arcana Coelestia 3 by Emanuel Swedenborg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Things I learned from Swedenborg in this book:

Just as Lot's wife shouldn't have looked back to Sodom, we shouldn't "look back" to mere things but only to the endless love revealed in them. Otherwise, we become as rigid and prickly as salt.

Jesus saved the world not by appeasing an angry dictator-God but by using divine truth to fight back the falsities of evil.

Just like Jesus rose from the tomb, divine truth will reveal itself and supplant falsity at the end of the Christian era, which will happen fairly soon.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology

Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology by Adam S. Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gospel According to Adam S. Miller, according to me: Give up words, pictures, and stories for reality; or rather, let them be words, pictures, and stories, and let reality be reality.

In other words, his book rephrases 2 Nephi 29: Instead of proclaiming our Bible, today, we Mormons tend to say "A gospel, a testimony! We have a gospel/testimony!" Miller shatters our idols as if he were a type of Christ in that chapter, saying "Wo unto those who say 'we have enough.' Wo unto those who are at ease in Zion."

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Enneagram and the Dance of Atonement

Have you heard of the Enneagram? If you're into personality psychology at all, you may know of it as a rival/alternative to the Myers-Briggs personality typology system. The Enneagram is a kind of nine-pointed star inside a circle, and it looks like this:

What you may not know is that the Enneagram came from the trickster-ish spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff, whom I talked about in the previous post. In the book that post discusses, Gurdjieff is quoted as saying this about the Enneagram:

Speaking in general it must be understood that the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted ... For the man who is able to make use of it, the ennegaram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before.
Some claim, eh? But the more I reflect on the Enneagram and Gurdjieff's teachings in that book, the more I understand what he means. To explain these thoughts of mine, it's necessary to point out that the Enneagram wasn't originally intended as a system for personality "types." The Enneagram definitely deals with personality dynamics, but in all reality, I'm not just a "9," a "6," or a "5" but perhaps all at once! This goes with Gurdjieff's teaching that each one of us is actually a multitude of "I's," from which one dominates at one moment and another at the next. But given this caveat, and knowing that the Enneagram deals with dynamics among these "I's," we can learn a lot about the nature of psychology, personality, and even spiritual growth.

The Godhead's Dance

The first thing I'll point out is that the Enneagram helped me understand the nature of Mormon doctrine. If we keep in mind that what's important in the Enneagram isn't the positions along the side of the circle but the lines that connect them (i.e. how one type develops into another type), the inner triangle you can see in the Enneagram between "9," "3," and "6" has a lot to say about that doctrine. You can think of those three numbers along these lines:

  • 9: Peace, stability
  • 3: Achievement
  • 6: Finitude
This is just a provisional definition, obviously. But if we keep it for the moment, we can relate it to another of Gurdjieff's teachings; the "law of three." He explains it like this:

The teaching of three forces is at the root of all ancient systems. The first force may be called the active or positive; the second, positive or negative; the thrid, neutralizing. But these are merely names, for in reality all three forces are equally active and appear as active, passive, or neutralizing, only at their meeting points, that is to say, only in relation to one another at a given moment.
Gurdjieff never explains things with too much clarity (which is his genius), so I'll make some leaps when making my argument here. Notice that the each point in the Enneagram has two lines leading away from it to other points.  In my mind, those lines connect that point to two other points with which they form those three forces. For instance with number 5 (which we can think of as "heady intellectualism"), the active force would be number 8 (basically "embodiment" and "power") and the passive force would be 7 ("stimulation" or the aimless search for it), whereas the neutralizing force would be 5 itself. In other words, 7's aimlessness becomes 8's force through the "medium" or "context," of 5. When you're a "5," then (or are "acting from" an "I" that's a 5), you can think of your life in that state as a drive or will to go from aimlessness to power, something which your regular state of being embodies latently. In other words, what 5 is in potential, the movement from 7 to 8 is in actuality.

Going back to 9, 3, and 6, it relates to the Mormon doctrine in much the same way. 9's peacefulness becomes fully expressed in the movement from 6's finitude to 3's achievement, whereas 3's ambition becomes expressed in a movement from 9's peacefulness to 6's finitude, etc. Treating these three legs individually, the "movement" from 9 to 3, from peacefulness to achievement, is the one of creation, while 3 to 6 is one of emptying or "the Fall," and the one from 6 to 9 is the one of atonement. Those familiar with obscure conference talks will recognize McConkie's "three pillars of creation" here. Going from 9 to 3, the primordial perfection of deity actualizes itself by creating a world to glorify itself. Going from 3 to 6, that world and its inhabitants abandons the sin of pride by humbling itself into a realization of its finitude, either voluntarily or by being "compelled to do so."  And going from 6 to 9, the finite being emptied-out by humility becomes filled again by the atonement of Christ.

This has interesting consequences. First of all, if the ideas I had about the movement of the two "legs" expressing a movement from passive to active, it means that each point of the triangle, when regarded from its position at the "tail end" of a line, is insufficient. That is, 9 is insufficient because a peaceful, perfect God needs a finite world of creation to come forth. Likewise, a self-seeking creation (3) needs to realize its finitude (6) to progress, whereas a consciousness of finitude needs to accept grace and the atonement (9) to progress. Likewise, that means that to go in a "reverse" direction would be harmful. If a self-seeking 3 thought itself primordially perfect like a 9, that would be a problem. It needs to become a finite "6" in order to go there. Likewise, a finite 6 misses the point by trying harder and harder to overcome that finitude through achievement. In order to achieve, 6 needs to go to 9 by accepting the atonement (the solution to the problems of grace and works). And someone who has become "perfected in Christ" in 9 through the atonement certainly shouldn't wallow in their insufficiency like a 6 but instead go out and do like a 3.

Moreover, if we keep in mind that 8, 9, and 1  correspond to the instincts or the "body," 2, 3, and 4 to emotions or the "heart," and 5, 6, and 7 to thoughts or the "mind,"we can draw some more conclusions. The movement from a self-seeking 3 to a humble 6 is an intellectual one, or one toward the intellect; you realize your insufficiency as an insight or an epiphany, in your head. Likewise, the movement from a self-hating, guilty-feeling 6 to a peaceful 9 is one of embodiment or moving toward the body. As Adam S. Miller alludes to in an essay on the atonement, the atonement the guarantor of resurrection helps one feel embodied and here in the present moment. With the atonement, you can accept anything that comes your way with peace, equanimity, and presence, since you know that your life is in the hands of God. And likewise, in that "9 state," the progression to 3 (doing works) is one of emotion or toward the heart: you are moved by the plight of others in suffering and you long to do something about it. Works come from love, as they should.

Likewise, the members of the Godhead correspond to these three legs. The Father is the "loving" movement from primordial perfection toward creation or from 9 to 3. The Son is movement of self-emptying or "kenosis" from 3 to 6 that, as "the Word," is an intellectual process. Finally, the Holy Ghost is a movement of embodiment that goes from finitude to fullness as, through Him, God enters the embodied lives of you and me.

Other Applications

You may have noticed that I've ignored 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8. This is true, but they work in the same way. Each number is the locus of a movement from a "lower" state and to a "higher" state. I use quotation marks because the process is cyclical - notice that the complex shape between those six numbers actually loops around if you follow the lines. So I'd provisionally point out the following processes as a cycle of "healthy movement" in everyday life:

  • 5 goes to 8: An overly intellectual mindset  of 8 completes itself by becoming embodied or "out of one's head" in 8.
  • 8 goes to 2: The over-the-top roughness and toughness of 8 is softened by going to the altruism of 2.
  • 2 goes to 4: The altruistic-to-a-fault 2 becomes more of an individual by remembering their own needs in 4.
  • 4 goes to 1: The 4, convinced of their uniqueness but therefore somewhat narcissistic, becomes more realistic by accepting the objectivity of 1.
  • 1 goes to 7: The overly serious 1 "loosens up" by entering the spontaneity of 7.
  • 7 goes to 5: The impulsive and somewhat manic 7 slows down and gets more focused by going into 5's intellectual focus.
These are the healthy movements. So, if you find yourself in an overly mental, obsessive state (5), the right choice would be to go to 8 and become more embodied, gutsy, and forceful. In other words, get over your hesitation; don't keep researching; get out and be in the world.  The wrong movement would be to go to 7 and become more impulsive and pleasure-seeking. The problem is that the "right" movement goes against the grain; you need to push yourself to go there. But what a reward when you do! As someone who spends a lot of time in "5," I can attest to the pure, visceral ecstasy of being gutsy, powerful, and in-the-world. By comparison, it trumps my impulse to give up my obsessive research by disintegrating into impulsive spontaneity and mania. Et cetera, et cetera.


I could talk a lot more about this, but I think that's enough for one post. I trust that you see the Enneagram's potential. It is a representation of the world in miniature, and the forces and movements in the world are there for everyone to see in it. So I'd encourage you to meditate on it and come up with conclusions of your own. As Gurjieff implied, its potential is inexhaustible.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Review: In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching

In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P.D. Ouspensky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a book about the mystical teacher G. I. Gurdjieff by one of his pupils recounting the years he spent with him in Russia in the years during and after World War I. He taught odd things about planets and musical theory in relation to spirituality, but given my own Mormon background, I'm never eager to judge someone for their "weirdness." But in truth, some of the practical advice he gave in this book was brilliant and amazingly helpful to me. For instance, a major theme of his teaching is that we have no centralized "I" but instead have many little "I's" that take turns fighting to be in charge. Thus, there's no guarantee that the way I feel right now will lead to a conviction in even a few hours. Even though most of us know this well, Gurdjieff put it in an amazingly clear way. He also taught me new ways of thinking about yoga, meditation, religious organizations, and even astrology!

Apart from an obscure Swedenborgian book I read a few years ago (Observing Spirit), this was my first introduction to Gurdjieff. And what a guy. I've insisted for a long time that you can be dishonest and moral at the same time, that you can "lovingly deceive" or be a "good trickster" and I see in Gurdjieff an example of that type of thing. I gather that he's so attuned to the needs of his students that he can adopt any guise or teach anything that will get them on the right path. In other words, for him, truth is secondary to the demands of "the Work" itself. In Gurdjieff's own words:
"You must be cunning, you must pretend, lead up to things in conversation. Sometimes things are learned from jokes, from stories. And you want everything to very simple [but] this never happens. You must know how to take when it is not given, to steal is necessary, but not to wait for somebody to come and give it to you."
I basically want to be Gurdjieff when I grow up.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Christ is the "Is"

Christ the Copula

My favorite chapter in all of scripture is D&C 88, and one of my favorite passages in that chapter is verse 6:

[Christ,] He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
Christ is the light of truth; as an Institute teacher of mine once put it, He is the reality in all things that connects each thing to everything else. Like a golden thread, He ties together high and low, inside and outside, near and far into a grand whole. This is the famous atonement or at-one-ment: Christ makes Himself at-one with all things and all things at-one with everything else.

But you can put this more simply. In brief, Christ is the "is." "Is" is what you'd call a "copula": a word that connects the beginning and end of a sentence in a way where both sides are seen as one. When I say "he is a writer," the words "he" and "writer" refer to the same thing in that context. In that sentence Christ is what enables that person "to be" a writer or "to be" anything else. The world works in this way because Christ is the "glue" that lets one thing "be" another thing in the first place. Without Him, the world would fall apart.

God is Love

Put more traditionally, this idea just says that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). Love is also the "is," since love can only exist between two beings that, while connected, are also distinct. Just as I can only love someone other than myself, "is" exists to link two words, not just one. Love makes us "distinguishably one," in Swedenborg's language.

Moreover, if Christ is the "is" and the "is" is love, that means that Christ is there wherever there is love. Christ Himself said this in Matthew 18:20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Whenever I love someone, Christ comes to the earth as the love that exists between us. Christ is the link between any two who love each other: the relationship between me and you that allows me, in a sense, to become you and you to become me. So, whenever we love, Christ incarnates just a bit more.

But of course love is broader and deeper than love between people. If the world would fall apart without Christ's "is," then the love that is Christ binds even the non-human world together. There is love between ideas, love between cultures and groups of people, even love between things (as in any kind of physical art). If Christ is love, is "the is," He is also relationship.

Christ Coming in the iClouds of Heaven

So if Christ is love, the "is" and relationship, what does that mean for His second coming? It just means that He will come when relationship comes into its own, when it "wakes up" as a kind of being in itself. The Sufi Master Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee explains this point deftly in his book Spiritual Power (see my review here):

At first individual connections are made, from person to person, from soul to soul, and then these connections come alive and work with their own purpose. We think that a connection is a static line between two points, but a real connection brings a third function. It links the meanings of two individuals to create a new meaning, beyond that of the two individuals, a meaning that belongs to the moment of meeting. This third function has a life of its own beyond that of the two individuals and can relate directly to the whole. This is how something comes alive in a new way, through a meeting that takes us into a new dimension.
Christ appears whenever there is the "spark" of connection in relationship and love. He is the "third function [that] has a life of its own beyond that of the two individuals." So, it stands to reason that He will come to earth again when we on earth cease to focus on the members of a connection, those who love, and instead on the connection and the love itself. In other words, Christ will come to earth again when relationship and connection become the primary thing. And that is indeed what we're seeing today.

For example, the Internet is a manifestation of Christ in this way. Or rather, the Internet is a "vessel" for His coming, a "web" in the physical world that can contain His incarnation. Vaughan-Lee, whom I quoted above, alludes to this fact too:

One of the limitations of our present understanding of the internet is that we have not fully realized the new dynamic created by the many new connections that are being made. We do not recognize that it is the connections themselves that are most important, not the information or goods that are exchanged. When these connections come alive, then the internet will wake to its real potential.
In this way, the Internet is the new world, the world of Christ and of the copula, building its own foundation. With the Internet, Christ begins to come. It's the stage He'll step onto, His new "footstool."

Another tool to contain Christ's coming is the LDS Church itself. As I pointed out in my last post, the LDS Church is a "vessel" to help contain and protect the spiritual energies and realities coming to earth today. Those energies and realities are Christ Himself, the reality of connection and relationship. With the Church's doctrines and ordinances, the "is" of love can embody its relational nature in concrete ways. The sealing ceremony, for instance, is a way the reality of relationship can realize itself in the physical world. With these and similar ordinances, the Gathering of Israel becomes more and more real and Christ comes closer and closer to the earth.

What Can We Do?

Given this way of thinking about the world today, what can we set out to do to help Christ come? Well, we can embody the "is." Make relationship: look for places to show love and feel empathy; make friends; cross borders; be kind. Moreover, make connection: look for places where you can cross borders between things that seem to be mutually exclusive; elaborate the ideas of one tradition in the language of another tradition; read the best books; don't be afraid of being wrong; be intellectually brave.

By making these connections and relationships, by putting the "is" between all things and all things, we build a web of light to help the world receive the next phase of its growth, to help Christ come to earth. For when we've done this, we'll suddenly see the meaning of the mysterious words in D&C 38:7:

But behold, verily, verily, I say unto you that mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and ye cannot see me.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Church is a Vessel

Are you worried that the LDS Church is too "rigid?" I wouldn't blame you if you were: the Church today seems authoritarian, bureaucratic, and patriarchal, and it reeks of everything called "the man." Unsurprisingly, I was worried about this too for a long time. And I only stopped worrying when I realized that this rigidity is what the Church is for. For the Church isn't about the Church. What the Church is about is what it contains. And like any container, it can only contain its contents by being rigid.

A Digression on Christ's Sword

I'll explain what I mean, but first, a digression. Christ didn't come to earth to establish a literal kingdom of peace. Quite the opposite, actually: in the Book of Matthew, he says this iconoclastic line:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
Think of that! While most of us conceive of Jesus as a peace-bringing, lovable guy, he actually came here to bring conflict. And of course, that's what happened: from the era of persecuted Christians through Constantine, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the wars between Protestants and Catholics, Christ's message did indeed bring the sword. But He brought more than just the wars of religion. Christ said that He had fulfilled the Law and that there was no longer a need to keep it; love was enough. So it's therefore not surprising that after the Catholic Church got established, worldly power began dissolving in gradual steps. First with the Protestant Reformation and then with the Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, the Communist and Feminist movements, and even modern-day gender anarchy, the Christian doctrine that "all you need is love" also brought "the sword."

When you abolish the Law, people are indeed free to love, but they're also free to follow their selfish and materialistic cravings. The French Revolution, for instance, led as much if not more to disaster as it did to freedom. And more topically, with sexual liberation also came the freedom to destroy one's spirituality with debauchery and indulgence of all kinds. This is necessary, of course: evil can only be removed if it is first expressed, so Christ's long-term purpose in abolishing the Law was, from my perspective, a way to coax hidden evil out of its hole so we today could recognize and remove it. But this can only happen if you have enough of a divine perspective to have that recognition.

The Church's Purpose

That, I think, is the Church's purpose. The Church is a vessel for goodness and truth, one rigid enough that, as evil and falsity gradually overflow the containers that kept them in check before Christ's coming, goodness is kept intact and not entirely snuffed out by evil. In other words, the Church's scripture, ordinances, and doctrines are rigid and against the times not because they make up "the only truth," but because that rigidity is the only way the divine goodness it expresses can stay safe in the influx of evil we see today. The scriptures, ordinances, and doctrines of the Church correspond (in a Swedenborgian sense) to divine goodness and truth, and it's their rigidity that lets that correspondence stay intact. Once the evil in the world peters out (as it's bound to do), then the Church can become less rigid. For then the vessel will be unnecessary and the goodness can go out into the world at large.

This principle may seem vague and abstract. If you think so, you're in luck, since there are two stories that symbolically illustrate this process in scripture: the story of Noah's Ark and the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

Noah's Ark

The "Noah's Ark" story symbolically corresponds to the way goodness and truth are preserved in the transition from one age to another. Swedenborg explains this point well in his Secrets of Heaven, where he recites the symbolic meaning of verse 23 of Genesis 7:

Genesis 7:23. And all substance that was on the face of the ground was obliterated, from human to animal to creeping thing to the bird of the heavens, and they were obliterated from the earth. And Noah alone was left, and what was with him in the ark.
All substance was obliterated symbolizes cravings, which are a product of self-love. That was on the face of the ground symbolizes the descendants of the earliest church. From human to animal to creeping thing to the bird of the heavens symbolizes the nature of their evil. The human is the actual nature, the animal is cravings, the creeping thing sensual pleasure, and the bird of the heavens the falsity that grows out of these. And they were obliterated from the earth sums it up by saying that the earliest church passed away. Noah alone was left, and what was with him in the ark, means that those who made up the new church were kept alive, what was with him in the ark being everything that belonged to the new church. (Secrets of Heaven 807)
In summary, the ark is the vessel that holds the goodness and truth still there in the "old church" or whatever earthly institutions were there before. As evil and falsity consume those earthly institutions and destroys them like a flood, the ark with its goodness and truth stays intact. And when the flood dissipates, the goodness and truth in the ark can come forth to "inherit the earth" in a "new church."

In my opinion, the LDS Church isn't the New Church that will inhabit the world after evil dissipates, in the Millennial Kingdom. Instead, it's the ark that keeps the goodness and truth, which will build that New Church, intact during this dark time.

Voyage to the Promised Land

The other scriptural story that explains this principle is the beginning of the Book of Mormon, namely 1 Nephi. We can read it in much the same way as the "Noah's Ark" story, only with details more relevant to today.

When Lehi leaves Jerusalem with his family, you can think of it as a symbolic representation of the way God "points" His will away from the "Old Church" (the churches of the Apostasy) and toward the "New Church" (what will exist in the Millennium). When Nephi goes back to get the brass plates, he's trying to reclaim the goodness and truth still left in the Old Church. When Nephi kills Laban to get the brass plates and puts on his clothes, this symbolically represents the way the New Church begins to form by first separating the goodness and truth of the Old Church from the "letter" (killing Laban) and then by re-embodying that goodness and truth (putting on Laban's clothes). This re-embodiment is a vessel that helps contain it for the journey ahead (as a side note, this is a parallel to the Book of Mormon itself : the Book of Mormon is to the Bible what Nephi in Laban's clothes is to Laban). Finally, the voyage to the promised land is the way the goodness and truth in the Old Church re-embodied in the LDS Church can get to the Promised Land: the paradise where the New Church can exist in freedom.


There you go: the LDS Church isn't what matters, but the container or vessel for what matters. It's important not because of what it is, but because of what it holds, what it "points to." So don't diss it for not being what it's not meant to be.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review: Spiritual Power: How It Works

Spiritual Power: How It Works Spiritual Power: How It Works by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is my hero. Oddly, nothing else (beside scripture) can make me feel closer to God than his books. He's able to use words in a way that brings God's love into a clear focus that, while hard to explain, is still very powerful. And he gives me wonderful new insights. Here are a few that I gleaned from this particular book:

-Relationships that are formed in the world (like friendships, romantic relationships, family connections, or even and especially things the Internet) are a way that God can "wake up" in the world. The connections made between people, perspectives, cultures, and religions are like neurons in our brain: that interconnection is a material reflection of divine oneness that lets that oneness appear in the physical world. The Internet and things like it are the foundation or "vessel' for that awakening to occur.

-Everything in the world -- from people to nature to crowded cities to reality TV -- is part of a symbolic language that expresses God's love. To understand or "read" this language of love is to understand the divine Word that expresses itself in everything.

-The illusion of separateness is part of a divine joke. God is a playful trickster, much like Zen masters or Sufi teachers: He makes everything seem super serious until he pulls back the curtain and the light-hearted wonder of divine reality appears. Apocalypse as punchline.

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