Developing Spiritual Resilience through Moral Courage

This Sunday: Developing Spiritual Resilience through Moral Courage

Dear Friends,

We continue our series on how we can build resilience this week by focusing on moral courage. To change the world for the better, we’ve got to develop the strength to step into challenging situations.

Most of us seek to avoid to conflict, but there come those times when you need to stand up for what you believe. I’ll be talking about some spiritual and practical strategies to accomplish this on Sunday.

Please cross-share with others in your extended community who may be interested!

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Readings for The Coming Sunday

John 18 verses 1-11 (Jesus Arrested)

1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons. 4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?” 

1 John 4:18

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

    whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—

    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me

    to devour[a] me,

it is my enemies and my foes

    who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me,

    my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,

    this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord

    and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble

    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

    and set me high upon a rock.

Swedenborg Insight (The Soul 247)

Genuine moral courage is patient and mild even toward enemies, while false courage is inflamed and shows itself in cruelty toward others… Genuine courage is never based on selfishness but is the inseparable connection of a love of others within society.

Recap of Last Week:

We had a great discussion and a request for the list of ways to develop self-awareness, so we’re publishing the entire sermon at the bottom of the newsletter.

We also have information about the 7 Days of Creation that Sheri Smith had asked about:

You can view the sermon recording here.

Also, by popular demand, we wanted to follow up on Joy Barnitz' sermon from several weeks ago and share Hannah's steps to prayer:

"Hannah’s prayer teaches us to pray in three simple steps: The first is to pray with your heart while allowing your lips to move and form words. The second is to concentrate, to be focused and to be “willing to hear.” And the third is to be fully present: physically, emotionally, spiritually in order to be open to connection with the Divine and thus to be transformed.”

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Rev. Tafel to Participate in the

See Change Conference This Week

Rev. Rich Tafel has been invited to speak at the See Change Conference in Vermont on strategies to end political polarization.

Click here to learn more about the Conference. 

See Change is a research institute and consultancy that studies and shapes the role of human behavior in social and environmental change. We work with governments, NGOs, and socially-oriented companies on strategy, research, design, and evaluation of policies, programs, and products aimed at promoting environmental and social justice. Click here to learn more.

Also, be sure to check out the Sept. 6 podcast episode on The Integral Space with Rev. Tafel here

Below is a brief description from that discussion:

In SWEDENBORG FOR A TIME BETWEEN WORLDS, Layman meets again with political advisor and pastor, Rich Tafel, this time to discuss Rich's deep personal and family connections to the Christian mystical visionary, Emanuel Swedenborg; the proto-integral nature of some of Swedenborg's teachings; the wedding of mysticism and social engagement, and the ways that Rich has tried to realize this in his own life; the challenges of working within what appears to be a dying lineage; drawing on the gifts of tradition while facing an open and ambiguous religious future; how the inner practices and experiences of his Swedenborgian path have sustained him and helped him to deal with the shortcomings and disappointments of mainstream Christendom;

Community Updates at CHC:

Next on our Book Discussion Reading List

Church of the Holy City hosts weekly book discussion groups! The group currently meets at 7 p.m. EST on Mondays. All are welcome to join!

Presently, the group is currently set to discuss 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.

If you are interested in joining the Swedenborg Book Discussion at CHC, please reach out to Dr. Malcolm Peck at or Stephen Svelmoe at

A Bit of Humor from Our Pastor:

Transcript of Last Week's Sermon:

The Power of Self-Awareness

It great to be with you all today.

Now, did you know we are doing something radical today?

We are gathering in a groups and working to create community, and in this time that’s countercultural. That’s the sad truth. 

People are Fleeing Community

Throughout the rest of our country fewer numbers of Americans attend any faith community today. The same is true in politics, there are less Republicans and Democrats with a majority unaffiliated. In the workplace, we are during the Great Resignation where people are leaving work. This week the Wall Street journal shared a Gallup poll labeling a new phenomenon of workers called “quiet quitters” who are disengaged even if they come back to the office.

Toxic Behaviors

At the same time, we are experiencing a loneliness epidemic, fewer of us have the skills to engage in community. With narcissism on the rise, we are experiencing an epidemic of toxic behavior in groups. 

In the book “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again” the authors By Robert D. Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrettrefer, describe our period of intense narcissism, which they call an “I” period when we need an “We” culture.

This narcissism creates selfish people unable to engage in community. This is playing out throughout DC.

A recent article in the Intercept showed entitled the “ELEPHANT IN THE ZOOM:

Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History,” reports that most of DC’s social change nonprofits can’t achieve their mission because they are dealing with infighting among toxic employees. 

Churches are seeing the same struggles, and due to that 40% of pastors are looking at ways to leave their church.

We are faced with a dilemma. At the same time, it is important to build community, more people feel are afraid to join or lead organizations.

Before we can build back community, we need to prepare ourselves for this toxic public square by developing spiritual resilience. 

Over the next six Sundays, I’ll be exploring six practices we can develop to enhance our own resilience by, as it says in Scripture to “put on the armor of God.”

Self-Awareness as Practice of Resilience

This first practice in spiritual resilience is developing the self-awareness. If you don’t know yourself, it is hard to really engage and know others.

Our failure to see all of our bllindspot is the biggest challenge to growing spiritually and building community.

Jesus is repeatedly teaching us about the importance of reflecting on our own faults to become more aware of where we need to grow.

When a group of men wanted to stone a woman to death, he famously suggested that the person without sin cast the first stone. He reminds us, when you feel a desire to condemn others, stop and look within.

In another parable he says before you spend any time criticizing someone for the speck in their eye, we should take the log out of our own. Again, use your desire to criticize others to reflect on your own shortcomings.

He also teaches that for some people no amount to teaching will lead them to self-awareness. In a story of a rich man in hell, the man asks Abraham in the afterlife to go warn his brothers. “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The parable reminds us just how hard self-awareness is where no matter who warns us , when we don’t want to see it.

Swedenborg adds some insights to this as well. He teaches that after death all of experience a life review. This is now a common report in the NDE community.

In this description of a life review, he says, we not only see all that we did but we experience the emotions of those we did it to. The goal is not to shame, but for to gain awareness to continue to grow in the next world.

The psychological thrilled movie “Flatlines” has one of the most graphic images of what a life review can do. Four medical students play with technology to see how far they can go into death and back. One of the group, David, faces his life review and sees a vision of a girl, Winnie Hicks, whom he bullied in grade school causing him to go find her and apologize. 

This sounds like what Swedenborg described.

Swedenborg also reports that self-righteous people have the hardest time getting into heaven because they never were honest about their failings. In particular, he points to religious people who presented themselves publicly as saints without fault and condemning others.

Self-awareness Is both the greatest challenge to our spiritual growth and resilience and it is the door to our spiritual evolution as better people.

Here’s why it is so hard.

In our daily life, we are the hero of our own story. Our world revolves around us. 

We like to imagine yourself in the best light. We often don’t want to see our flaws. Over time we work to carefully hide those selfish parts of ourselves that we don’t want to change. Soon, we become blind to our failings having developed complex systems to keep them hidden. We will avoid people who challenge us about our blind spots. Often this process leads to addiction that keeps us in a loop of lack of self-awareness.

Those hidden parts of our self are often called the Shadow—the side we cannot see.

Refusing to see that parts of ourselves that need to change, they exist just outside of our awareness. To keep them hidden, we surround ourselves in tribes of like-minded people who offer a worldview that points out the enemies’ failures while it remains blind to our own.

 Many religions teach “I’m saved, you are not.” I’m in, you are out. I’m God’ chosen, you are not. I’m a child of God, you are a sinner.” This “look how bad they are” culture cultivated by religion has been a great place to hide evils in our own life.

This lack of self-awareness created the Catholic pedophile scandal and the many sexual harassment cases in mega churches. It’s no accident the men throwing the stones in Jesus’ day were doing it based on their self-righteousness avoiding their own sexual sin. With one simple comment Jesus shifts them to true spiritual growth to first look within yourself.

In our more urban secular city life here in DC, we are less likely to hide our blind spots in our religion because most people have little to no religious connection. We find new groups to hide the parts of ourselves. Woke urban culture is a great example. It shares many similarities to a religion. Instead of heretics, we have a cancel culture for bigots. Like religion it offers proper diets (vegan), habits (not smoking) and a good versus bad worldviews.

It too can hide self-awareness as it points out who is homophobic, racist, and transphobic.

It creates a victim status that can blind a group to their own self-awareness. 

I saw that danger of this in the early part of the AIDS crisis. As Randy Shilts reported in his book, “And the Band Played On,” in the 1980’s public health experts explained to the gay male community how AIDS was spread through sexual contact. Public health efforts to shutdown bathhouses were thwarted by activist calling out homophobia. Fearing being called bigoted left many leaders to back-off that allowed for the spread of a deadly disease.

The habit of looking to focus our anger outside ourselves, led to a lack of critical self-awareness with deadly consequences.

Journalist Jonah Goldberg had a good piece in the Dispatch this week that speaks to the lack of self-awareness in our groups.

“But groupthink married to an invincible and unreflective confidence that your side is always right led to all manner of mistakes. …

“While it can take courage to call out the people on the other side of an issue, a deeper political courage comes from being willing to admit that no one has a monopoly on political virtue—or facts. Sometimes, it helps to ask, ‘Am I the bad guy?’ And—just sometimes—the answer might be, ‘Yes.’”

He’s right and our participation in groups and social media reinforce our prejudices leading to a culture awash in misinformation .

All of this leads to what’s known as “values bias” as pointed out in an article in 2021 by Brian McClaren, “where we judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.”

In other words, every bit of information we get is used to reinforce our worldview avoiding looking at things as they are.

This perpetuates a vicious cycle because we don’t look for information that challenges ourselves, but, instead, we become susceptible to misinformation now rampant in our society.

In a May 2021 NY Times article Max Fisher explained three ways this loss of self-awareness makes us vulnerable to misinformation, he writes:

“First, and perhaps most important, is when conditions in society make people feel a greater need for what social scientists call in-grouping — a belief that their social identity is a source of strength and superiority, and that other groups can be blamed for their problems.

Second, the emergence of high-profile political figures who encourage their followers to indulge their desire for identity-affirming misinformation. 

Third, a shift to social media, which is a powerful outlet for composers of disinformation, a pervasive vector for misinformation itself and a multiplier of the other risk factors.”

In other words, becoming more self-aware with true information that challenges us becomes harder to access. All of which makes it hard to become self-aware.

The forces of darkness are clever and will use all these ways to keep us blind to our own shortcomings. So, what can we do?


Here are five suggestions:

1) Pray 

Pray. Use the confession we use each Sunday. As you pray, ask God to show you areas you need to change. When they come up be careful to justify or explain. Even if you are not going to address the issues, just let them sit with you. Write down what comes through.

If you ask God’s help, they will be shown, and you will be able to address them. 

2) Parts Work

One of the best exercises for self-awareness is called Parts Work. You look at the voices and personalities that make you up to discover old behaviors that served a purpose, often defensive, in your life, but no longer serve. I’ve done it myself and with clients and it was powerful. 

I spoke about this in an earlier sermon called “The Voices in Your Head,” which you can reference, and this is also a common technique of many therapists and coaches. 

3) Stakeholder Model

Other people can those failings quite clearly. Here’s a model I’ve used with clients called a stakeholder coaching model. You can try this yourself.

In my coaching practice, organizations often hire me to help leaders who are in danger of losing their job because they have behaviors the simply don’t work, but they cannot see. Using stakeholder coaching model, we help them become more self-aware using these steps. 

The leader of the organization goes out to a large diverse set of fellow workers. An anonymous survey is done asking what area the leader could improve. Of those responses, one area of improvement is chosen. She explains then picks a diverse group of fellow employees and tells them the one area she hopes to grow in and asks if she can check in monthly to get their feedback on their progress. When people give results, they also offer suggestions of things the leader might do to address their blind spot. The results are stunning.

This might be something to try with your own network.

4) Pay Attention to Your Obsessive Criticism

Pay attention to topics where you are obsessively criticizing others. This focus on others as the problem is often a great way to hide areas you need to change. When you are ready to throw stones, stop, use it as a chance to reflect on where you need to grow.

5) Repeated Patterns

Look back over your life and look at the patterns. What mistakes do you make again and again. What life lesson do you keep ignoring so it pops back up? Within that pattern is likely a place you can change so your life doesn’t keep repeating itself.

These are a few ways to begin to see blind spots.

We are on this earth for a short time to grow spiritually through this adventure called our life. We can either grow or not throughout this life. There will forces pushing and pulling us to grow and, often more, powerfully to remain comfortable and the same.

Developing your practice of self-awareness is the door that opens us up to our highest self. It is the beginning of all spiritual growth and critical to develop the resilience needed to engage in the building the beloved community we need.


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