Do You Believe in Miracles?

(E. Kent Rogers, 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: A Path of Healing from the Gospels, Swedenborg Foundation Press, 2012, 210 pages.)

The opening track of Paul Simon’s landmark album Graceland ruminates on what the word “miracle” means in the twenty-first century:

These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call … / The way we look to a distant constellation / That’s dying in a corner of the sky / These are the days of miracle and wonder…. / Medicine is magical and magical is art / The Boy in the Bubble / And the baby with the baboon heart / And I believe / These are the days of lasers in the jungle / Lasers in the jungle somewhere / Staccato signals of constant information … / These are the days of miracle and wonder. (“Boy in the Bubble”)

Indeed, in many ways, modern technology regularly performs more miraculous feats than even the boldest ancient miracle worker would have claimed to have been able to accomplish. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider give us miraculous vision: “eyes to see” farther and deeper into the universe that previous generations could not even conceive as possible. The healing power of medical science is extending length and quality of life for stunning numbers of people across the planet. And devices such as iPhones can allow crystal-clear “Facetime” video conferences for two people on opposites sides of the globe.

Our author, Kent Rogers, however, is interested in another kind of miracle for the twenty-first century. Each of the twelve chapter in his book addresses a biblical story related to different sorts of spiritual healing:

Healing from Feelings of Unworthiness

Healing from Lack of Forgiveness

Healing form Spiritual Slavery

Healing from Inner Warfare

Healing from Lost Innocence

Healing from Doubt

Healing form Faith Arrogance

Healing form Lack of Joy

Healing from Fear

Healing from Spiritual Apathy

Healing form Blame-Blindness

Resurrection from Spiritual Death

I am on record as being open to reclaiming the practice of “healing” from the charlatans and hucksters that too often populate the “faith healing” circuit (see my post, “A Progressive Christian Explores Healing Prayer“). But I hasten to add that the author would not, as far as I can tell, identify as a progressive Christian. At the same time, his interest in the writings the 18th-century Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, whom Rogers quotes a few times throughout the book, would presumably put him on the outskirts of Christian orthodoxy.

I have not read Swedenborg extensively, but I have seen him quoted and referred to periodically. Carl Jung, for example, writes admirably of him. I also recently read a book review of a new biography of Swedenborg, which I have added to my “to read” list.

Prior to being invited to review this book, I was not familiar either with the author (I believe this book is his first) or with the publisher, Swedenborg Foundation Press. According to the back of the book, “Rogers graduated from Bryn Athyn College with a B.A. in Religion and has a M.S. in mental health counseling form the University of Massachusetts.” (“Bryn Athyn College is affiliated with the New Church, also known as the General Church of the New Jerusalem, a religious organization based on the teachings of the Bible and the 18th century philosopher and theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg.”)

His background in the mental health field perhaps contributes to what is, in my opinion, the strongest part of the book: the guided meditations at the end of each chapter. Rogers also includes a helpful Appendix on Meditation, which includes sections on “Overcoming Three Hurdles to Meditation,” “Preparatory Yoga/Stretches,” and “Creating a Physical Space”

Two majors weakness in the book are sexist language for God, and a general lack of acknowledgement of historical-critical scholarship. I appreciate Rogers’ emphasis on cultivating firsthand religious experience, but each of his chapters is based on an excerpt from one of the four canonical Gospels and particularly his references to first-century Jewish figures perpetuate harmful Jewish stereotypes that scholars have been debunking for decades. As a counterbalance to his anti-Jewish bias, I would recommend supplementing the reading of his text with looking up each of his scripture references in the excellent resource The Jewish Annotated New Testament.

NOTE: Please see the comments section of this post for the book author’s response to this review.

This book review is a sponsored post that is part of the Roundtable at the Patheos Book Club. Visit the Book Club website for more free resources related to this book.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg)and Twitter (@carlgregg).

About Carl Gregg
  • http://www.gordoncstewart.com Gordon C. Stewart

    Thank you, Carl, for the review. I, too, “am on record as being open to reclaiming the practice of ‘healing’ from the charlatans and hucksters that too often populate the ‘faith healing’ circuit…” Krister Stendahl described the human task as “mending the creation” – repairing the torn fabric of the world. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is a treasure. You may have already read this, but, in case you haven’t take a look at “You don’t get to have a non-Jewish Jesus” – one of the earliest pieces on Views from the Edge: http://gordoncstewart.com/2012/02/14/a-front-porch-conversation/ The Jewish New Testament scholars see things in the texts that non-Jewish eyes cannot see, and they do not characteristically engage the mind-body, spirit-matter dualism of so much Christian exegesis.

    • Carl Gregg

      Thanks, Gordon.

  • Kent Rogers

    Thank you, Carl, for your thoughts. I deeply regret if what I wrote communicates an “anti-Jewish bias”; a characterization which, frankly, does not represent my feelings or beliefs whatsoever. I have to disagree with this description and I feel aghast to have this labeled on me, especially in a public forum. The most prominent theme throughout the entire book is that of embracing and serving all people with love. In the healing accounts from which the book is drawn, there are some descriptions of religious leaders expressing an unforgiving attitude, or a burdensome interpretation of the third of the ten commandments. I use these to illustrate parallel dysfunctional attitudes we may hold in our hearts–an unwillingness to forgive ourselves or others; a restrictive, rule-bound interpretation of our relationship with God, rather than a living one based in the idea that to amplify our ability to love others is the purpose of all God’s commandments. I appreciate your freedom to say what you think and I value all feedback, regardless of how bad or unpleasantly shocking it might be, as it is in this case. I do ask you, however, to consider if the book I wrote actually communicates anti-Jewish sentiments. I find that hard to believe when I sense no such thing in my heart. Bitter water flows from a bitter spring. I have a great respect for both the Jewish religion and also for my many Jewish friends and family.

    • Carl Gregg

      Kent,

      Thanks for your clarifications. I apologize for my delayed response, but this morning is the first time I have had access to my copy of your book since reading your comment.

      Without reading all the way back through your book, here’s one example. On page 101, you talk about “In nearly every other account, the Jewish leaders despise both Rome and Jesus.” Sure. That’s true on one hand about the text itself. On the other hand, there’s my comment in the review about “a general lack of acknowledgement of historical-critical scholarship.” At least since landmark books such as E.P. Sanders’ 1977 book “Paul and Palestinian Judaism” mainline — and increasingly many evangelical — scholars have been emphasizing what Jews in and around the first-century said about themselves in contrast to the increasingly anti-Semitic Christian rhetoric about Jews (see, for example, “Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews — A History” by James Carroll). And if you read the New Testament in isolation, you often just get the growing anti-Jewish bias of early Christians defining themselves against Jews and seeking to establish an independent identity — and you never hear what Jews said about themselves. So it is not enough in the twenty-first century to say, “In nearly every other account.” You have to do better than read the New Testament in isolation. Well, you don’t have to, but if you do, you leave yourself open to criticism of anti-Jewish bias.

      That being said, I appreciate your insistence that you have no desire to be anti-Jewish, and I’m glad to hear it. The parallel that comes to mind for me is that I don’t want to hear that my white privilege has led me to unintentionally do or say something that is racist, that my male privilege has led me to unintentionally do or say something that is sexist, that my heteronormativity has led me to unintentionally do or say something that is homophobic. But it happens from time to time, and I do what I can to be more sensitive, compassionate, and responsible in the future.

      So, I apologize if my review was overly harsh on this point. I have added a note in the main post to “please see the comments section for the author’s response to this post,” which will help draw people’s attention to the comment section to see your response and my reply, as well as any future comments.

      I will also reiterate in closing my point in the review that your book has a huge strength that most historical-critical books lack: you do the hard work of subjective engagement of how we can have firsthand experience of the power of these texts in the twenty-first century. Too many historical-critical scholars never get past the original context to make an contemporary application.

      I wish you all the best in your future work.

  • http://lamchildren.org Kent Rogers

    I appreciate your response to my post. There are a number of reasons your reaction has been surprising to me which I would like to innumerate.

    First, as stated in a previous post, the predominant thrust of the entire book is one of growing into complete love and acceptance of all people—seeing all people as doing the very best they can given all the factors—seen and unknown—that comprise their reality. I figured this, the spirit of the book, would negate any misgivings about my regard of Jewish leaders of 2000 years ago. Indeed, in chapter 11, I specifically draw attention to the fact that to judge the Pharisees and other leaders would be to totally miss the point of the message of the chapter.
    Second, because modern Judaism is distinct and different from that of 2000 years ago, I do not see the actions and attitudes of the latter to reflect on the former whatsoever. To state that, in the past, many Americans of European descent treated Native Americans with utter cruelty passes judgment neither on modern Caucasian Americans, nor on Europeans.
    Third, the negative descriptions in the Bible (and so in my text) are isolated to leaders, and never include the Jewish people. Bashing American leadership as corrupt and succumbing to the will of big money does not reflect badly on American citizens.
    Fourth, I do trust the accounts in the New Testament to be more or less true. Willingness to discuss the mistakes of men in the past for the sake of avoiding making similar mistakes is, in my mind, an honest and valuable pursuit. In every culture, those with power end up using it unwisely. That Jewish leaders had some unsavory attitudes or judgments to me has everything to do with leadership and nothing to do with the Torah, which defines Jewish culture and which also is a fundamental aspect of mine. I have recorded a CD called “Meditating on the Ten Commandments.” (You had speculated about my practice of meditating in your original post. Actually, I was meditating 20 years before I began my course work in mental health counseling).
    Fifth, in the text, I clearly state my belief that we humans are all united as one so that you, me, and all people of the past, present and future (including the Jewish leaders of 2000 years ago) are fundamentally, inescapably bound within a spiritual oneness by the authorship of the Divine. We are of one another. So to be against any group of people is to be against the whole and my own being.
    And this leads to the sixth point. I only ever discuss the shortcomings of the leaders within the context of their symbolic representation of aspects of our own consciousness. “12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth” is founded on the underlying belief and vision that the Bible is a unique revelation describing through allegory the evolution of the human spirit. In other words, the Bible is a Divinely inspired parable detailing our journey from the misery of self-absorption (void and darkness of the first day of creation) to the bliss of genuine selfless love which is to be made in the likeness and image of God (sixth day, after which ensues the spiritual peace symbolized by the Sabbath). Therefore, the way I engage with the Bible is largely incompatible with modern trends in Bible scholarship and criticism. I delve into the Word for its emotional and symbolic content; its personal, practical and spiritual application. The difference is much like allowing one’s self to become absorbed into the emotional and spiritual message of the “Hallelujah Chorus” rather than dissecting the music theory and structure of the music and the historical precedents influencing Handel’s composition. Both ways of interacting with the music are fine, but you can’t do them simultaneously. I much prefer allowing myself to become absorbed into the message and meaning of the text within the Word of God. It is a song of Divine love.
    I have written a manuscript that describes the symbolic messages of spiritual evolution contained in Genesis and selected other stories from the Old Testament–much the same as I did in “12 Miracles” in relation to Jesus’ healings. The drama, heroics and antics of the characters are always understood as symbolizing the play of inner spiritual forces within the individual. In this manuscript, the Philistines, Egyptians, Midianites and the like symbolize forces of delusion which give rise to selfishness and so strife in our life. The Children of Israel on the other hand represent various positive spiritual forces such as humility, willingness to make effort towards self-improvement, faith in God, hope, inspiration, enlightenment and love. Will this text endanger me of being understood as “anti-Egyptian”? No, it has nothing to do with Egyptians or Israelites, Jews or disciples. It has to do with inner states of mind.
    I hesitated writing this because it could easily come across as a glib dismissal of your reaction, something I don’t wish to do. Rather, I wish to explore and gain. There is an obvious difference between Egyptian history and Jewish history—namely the latter has been persecuted and traumatized repeatedly for centuries. Thus, as you state, it is my duty (and privilege) as an author to do no harm—even inadvertently—which requires that I be informed and sensitive. Truthfully, I didn’t know about the scholarship you mention and perhaps I am guilty of a level of insensitivity based on the presumption that others would readily see the six points I have made above when in fact, they may be less obvious or less meaningful to others. Nevertheless, I wanted to explain clearly my thoughts on the matter and to describe the mental space from which this book was written. I hope you and your readers see that I have no anti-Jewish bias. And I will use your words to spur myself onwards towards increasing appreciation of the sensitivities and perspectives of others—something I already actively value and seek.

    • Carl Gregg

      Kent,

      I disagree, at least partially.

      To say “because modern Judaism is distinct and different from that of 2000 years ago, I do not see the actions and attitudes of the latter to reflect on the former whatsoever” is to miss the horrific ways Christians have been treated Jews throughout the centuries because of the ways that Christians have read the Bible.

      Your claim that “To state that, in the past, many Americans of European descent treated Native Americans with utter cruelty passes judgment neither on modern Caucasian Americans, nor on Europeans. “also fails to account for the ways that many are inheritors of advantages earned on the backs of past injustices. There is a responsibility there.

      “Third, the negative descriptions in the Bible (and so in my text) are isolated to leaders, and never include the Jewish people.” Off the top of my head, the Gospel of John often refers generically to “the Jews” collectively . And Matthew 25:27 notoriously says, “all the people said, ‘His blood shall be on us and on our children!’”

      “Bashing American leadership as corrupt and succumbing to the will of big money does not reflect badly on American citizens.” Yes it does for allowing that corruption to be perpetuated. We can vote the bums out. We can work to change the system. As Howard Zinn said, “You can’t stay neutral on a moving train.”

      “I do trust the accounts in the New Testament to be more or less true.” That stance unfortunately makes you complicit with the Anti-Judaism that is deeply woven into the New Testament. We need to read the texts critically and responsibly in light of 21st century knowledge.

      I’ll stop here, but I do appreciate your response. I’ll certainly leave up your comments so that readers can read your defense of your writing directly and for themselves.

      It’s perhaps also important to say that I agree with the goals to which you are working as well as most of your means of getting there. I celebrate the many ways in which we are both working for love, unity, and justice.

  • http://lamchildren.org Kent Rogers

    In response to your first point: What other Christians have done out of a deluded misconnection of history with the present does not mean that the two are in fact connected. That is pretty obvious isn’t it?

    In response to your second: A responsibility, yes. That is very different than equating the sins of ancestors as sins of the descendants. That too seems obvious.

    To your third point: I was referring to the Biblical text used within my book, since only that is the relevant material here. And within that text, there is no negative depiction of Jews who are non-leaders.

    To your fourth point. I disagree. I do not hold the general public responsible for leaders who abuse their position, power and privilege. In the US, the case could be argued, but we are talking about Israel, 2000 years ago and there was no democracy. Even in the US, the people can make a huge fuss in protest, and nothing changes. Occupy Wall Street is case and point.

    To your final point: I embrace the New Testament and am not anti-Jewish. So don’t tell me I am implicit in anti-Judaism.

    I believe that I tried hard to receive your words assuming your good intention and with an open mind. However, with these your most recent arguments, I no longer can continue assuming you are writing from goodwill and a search for honesty and truth. I say this because your arguments are attempt to justify your views, while failing to make sense. If another person wrongly unites two distinct cultures divided by 2000 years, that doesn’t mean I am doing the same. If my ancestors commit atrocity, which some of them have, that doesn’t mean I am guilty of their crime. Think of what you are saying: we are guilty for the sins of our ancestors simply because they preceded us; we are guilty for the racism of other Christians only because we are Christians; we are guilty for the excesses and indiscretions of our leaders because they preside over us. To truly believe such things would be to live under a terrible and unending burden. Again, in my mind, these arguments don’t make sense. So I feel that this has perhaps become a defense of your original point, and not a search for understanding, goodness and truth.


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