Friday, June 26, 2009

What lies beyond the Veil?

Where do we go when we die?

Two things spurred me to write this blog today.

First was the passing of three American Icons, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

When legends die most people begin to wonder about their own mortality as well.

Secondly an acerbic comment left by ‘John’, an obviously confused person who by the prejudgment of his Fundamentalist ideology accused me of twisting Scripture to my own ends and urged me in no certain terms to ‘repent’. The topic in question for which ‘John’ had issues with was that of the Scriptural view of ‘Ghosts’ I examined in my article The Bible and the Paranormal Part 1:Ghosts.

When people of deep faith or conviction are presented with the idea that the ideology that they hold so dear might not be based on fact but conjecture, they either get go into a classic stress reaction which leads to fight or flight.

Judging by the comments of some, ‘John’ notwithstanding, that has been the overall reaction by Christians of a particular mindset to this topic.

Beware Christian Dogma Ahead!

While many of you might not hold to Christian belief, the Christian traditions have merged with Western Culture to such an extent that common beliefs in Christian circles are those in common culture as well.

The dominant Christian/Western view is that as Christians when we die, we go to heaven or hell depending upon what you either a) did with your life, and/or b)your relationship with Jesus Christ.

But does the Bible really say that?

Again as in my previous articles I must say we must look at the Bible as a whole and in context.

Most Christians get the belief that they are going straight off to heaven when they die because of some key passages from Paul the Apostle:

2 Corinthians 5:1-8 (NKJV)

1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Philippians 1:21-23 (NKJV)

21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

So it would seem from a quick glance at these Scriptures that the Apostle Paul in these two letters is telling us that when you die you go right to Jesus in heaven. Many Christians comfort themselves with this thought, and to challenge it is considered heresy.

But when looking at Scripture as a whole it is not so clear cut.

Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians tells us something a little different about those who are dead:

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NKJV)

So here Paul says those who die are asleep. They are not alive and consciously living with Jesus in heaven. He also uses this terminology in the first letter to the church of Corinth, 1 Corinthians:

17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.

There is a belief among some Christian traditions of ‘Soul Sleep’. Once the body is dead, the soul is not conscious. The soul and spirit sleep until they can be united with a new body.

So are we ‘asleep’ in souls sleep, or are we in heaven, or something else?

To define this let’s look at the verses that follow 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Vv.9-10

9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Paul is talking about being with Christ in the context of the judgement of believers. If you also follow the context of the other Scriptures here as well, you will see that Paul is putting all this terminology and referencing into the context of the resurrection.

The Judeo-Christian tradition holds that there will be a bodily resurrection of the just at the end days. That is the great hope. We will not dwell in heaven for eternity, though by the language the scripture uses we could, but our bodies will be transformed and be like Christ at His resurrection. It will be a supernatural and multidimensional body that can traverse heaven and Earth. Not only that, but the whole cosmos shall be re-made so there is no more sin, war or death. That is the great hope.

What Paul references here then is what Christian Theologians call ‘The Intermediate State’ or ‘Disembodied Existence’. While the body dies, the soul lives on. It is the state of the body between death and resurrection.

Dr. D.E. Nilsson in his Biblical Doctrine Study concerning the Intermediate State acknowledges that : “The state of the human being after death is left largely in the shadows by Scripture”. Millard Erickson also agrees stating that “The doctrine of the intermediate state is an issue which is both very significant and problematic.” (Christian Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990 p1174)

Early church fathers believed that all who die, righteous and unrighteous alike descend into Sheol or Hades, a gloomy dream state where they await the second coming of Christ.

(Joachim Jeremias, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 10 vols. Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1964-1976, Vol 1, pp.657-58)

Sheol and Hades are terminology associated with the grave, but in early apostolic thought it was almost a purgatory like waiting place where the souls of the dead waited until their final judgment. The just had joy and the unjust experienced torture. So the righteous in Christ experienced bliss, and although they were not in heaven itself (they had to be in the resurrected form to be granted that privilege after the judgment) they did experience comfort.

Many ancient writers who’s belief system that were akin to the ancient church fathers believed there was fellowship between souls in Sheol/Hades and the individual still laid claim to their identity. The supernatural phenomenon of a haunting, if it was not classified as demonic, was often thought of as a soul escaping Sheol/Hades up until the late 19th century. (Burmester, William. New Castle News/Lawrence Country Historical Society: New Castle, Legends of Lawrence County. 1984 pp.85-86)

So where do we go when we die?

Traditionally we await the judgment of God and Christ in a disembodied existence. In that existence to have a taste of what that judgment will be. For the good, Christ comforts them and according to apostolic thought, there is a fellowship with family and friends. It is much like the phenomena related by those who have a near death experience. For the bad, it is not pleasant.

Significant in the early church thought is the concept of a souls escaping or somehow not being in Sheol/Hades.

While many will try to refute that the Bible talks about ghosts as disembodied spirits of the dead in Scripture, you cannot escape the evidence that the Scripture does reference ghost/spirits many times in a manner that does not associate them with demonic forces that need to be exorcized (1 Samuel 28:7-25; Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; Luke 24:33-43; John 6:14-21). Scripture tells us there was a belief in ghosts in the believing community of the Old and New Testament. Early church belief and writings demonstrate that believers untainted by millennia of political manipulation of theology believed that some spirits were indeed the disembodied dead who somehow escaped the confines of Sheol/Hades.

So we have Scripture and ancient church tradition to lean on. After we die we are in a place awaiting our final destination.

A place of peace for some, a place of torment for others.

A place that for some reason or another a spirit can escape or in some way avoid.


We do not know.

But the spirit will not be able to avoid judgment for good or ill by its Creator and Sustainer of life, even though it might traverse the land of the living for a time.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

Saturday, June 20, 2009

UFO in Singapore

I stumbled upon a strange video that supposedly shows a UFO over Singapore on May17th.

The report is from May 18th.

There is speculation that it is sunlight reflected on jet contrails, but that just does not seem right.

The phenomena descends on an angle toward the horizon instead of fades, like a contrail would.

One would also guess it might be a piece of space junk entering the atmosphere, however it does not have the appearance of breaking up, but remains the same as it dips below the trees, during a supposed time frame of 15 minutes.

The video can be found on my Examiner report here: Examiner

Friday, June 19, 2009

An Investigation of St. Paul's United Church of Christ Tonight

Tonight, June 19th at 7PM EST. The paranormal investigative group Erie County Paranormal will be investigating our church, St. Paul's United Church of Christ live on Para-X. If you miss it, I am sure there is an archive. I will not be attending (though I may call in) but ECP has found a trove of evidence at our church which was built in the 1850's. I wrote about their investigations here and here. I'd advise you to take a gander at their site here as well: Erie County Paranormal. They are great guys and are trying to become part of the TAPS family. From what I have witnessed firsthand and by testimony second hand the TAPS family would be truly enriched by their membership.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mystery Marks

By ancestry I am half Pennsylvania Dutch, and my Germanic ancestors were a very superstitious breed of immigrants to the new world, a few centuries ago.

Although sometimes hard to find in our corner of Western Pennsylvania this current century, just a few decades ago it was common to find Dutch Hex signs mounted over every barn you would encounter (and even some garages). Go to Eastern PA and you will find them more common, but not as popular as they used to be. It was believed that the Hex sign would give good luck to the crops specifically and the farm in general. I was raised on tales that supported this belief,such as when a non-dutch bought a farm and took down the Hex, then disaster or misfortune was soon to follow. Nowadays, the hex has been surplanted by the star as a symbol of good luck and fortune.

My parents were raised in these Old Pennsylvania Dutch beliefs and one of the more bizarre Fortean beliefs was odd indeed, it concerned the supernatural nature of birthmarks.

There is nothing coincidental about odd birthmarks, according to the folklore of the Dutch. In Medieval and Colonial times odd birthmarks were perceived as an indication the person was a witch or had some preternatural powers. This superstition still lingers today as many people have curious birthmarks that resemble a splash of liquid across various parts of their body. Called Port Wine Stain marks (PWS) these birthmarks sometimes have a purplish hue that makes it look like the person has been stained by a deep purple liquid like concord grape wine. Many superstitious families have their own stories about how these spills were transferred to the baby during pregnancy, many can be found here at

When I was young I was told of many such odd birthmark stories. One was of a PWS, my cousin was at a restaurant with her husband in the late 60's when her water broke. Her husband was so startled that he spilled his glass of wine across her belly. OF course true to the common format of these PWS stories the baby was born with a stain across her abdomen identical to that of the spilled wine on her mother at the beginning of her birth. The girl was just a few years younger than I and I remember during a family picnic she showed me the purple splash just above her belly button and I was an instant believer.

My mother also had a friend who during her pregnancy always had a craving for strawberries. She had to have them every day. Sure enough when the baby was born there was a strawberry birthmark on his chest. According to her you could even see the green leafy top, as if it had been freshly picked.

However the strangest birthmark story my parents ever told me hit closer to home, it involved my older brother David.

In the late 1940s my parents lived in Detroit, my father was a laborer and they had little money to support their family with three small children, and they lived in a cheap tenement house in the inner city. Their next door neighbors were an older black couple Hattie and Sherman, who they quickly became friends with. They would play cards and go bar hopping together. My mother became pregnant with their fourth child and while my father was out working, Hattie would help her with the daily chores when it became harder and harder to get around. Finally during a hot summer day while Hattie was making lunch for my mother and herself, the pains started and the water broke. My mother quickly dressed herself for the trip to the hospital and Hattie packed a suitcase. Being there was no elevator in the old tenement building and they lived on the 10th floor, they had to make their way down the steep stairway to get to the taxi that awaited them to go to the Hospital. My mother went first, slowly waddling down the stairs and Hattie followed, suitcase in hand.

It was very hot in the stairwell and my mother's sweaty hand slipped on the railing and started to tumble down the stairs.

Hattie threw down the baggage and dived toward my mother, knowing sure well that if she tumbled all the way not only would the baby be lost, but my mother might be killed as well. Quickly Hattie reached out and grabbed my mothers leg on the upper thigh, and both spun around and slammed into the railing. Hattie's grip was so tight that it caused a great bruise on my mother's leg. Both women sat for a while to regain their breath and cry a bit from the stress. Finally they made it down to the cab and to the hospital.

My brother David was born without further incident, and when it came time to do the first diaper changing my mother found something startling. On the baby's leg there was a huge birthmark. It was at the same area as the bruise she received from Hattie's daring rescue. The birth mark was a face. Hattie's face.

Hattie had a special sense and while she did not exploit it for personal gain, she seemed to be pre-cognitive. A church going lady she saw it as a gift from the Spirit of God and would share whenever something stirred her heart. My mother was religious but not a church goer, so she saw it as some sort of magical thing. And she was sure that Hattie's magic was what caused the mark of her face on her son's leg.

Family and friends along with Hattie and Sherman both gathered to wondered at the mark. It was a miniature portrait with eyes, nose and smiling mouth. Even the hair style matched the elderly woman's. They all took it as a sign that Hattie had saved the baby's life and my brother would carry that mark as a sign all the days of his life.

But it was not to be so.

Eventually my parents moved from Detroit to Erie, where my father found more lucrative employment at a local steel mill. As the family grew they would still make an occasional trip back to Detroit, and of course my mother would always catch up with Hattie. They remained friends through the years. Then when my brother David was 12 years old, they received the horrible call from Sherman that Hattie had passed away during the night. They travelled back to Detroit and paid their respects. While staying with relatives at the time of the funeral, my brother David was startled to find that the birthmark had changed color. For 12 years it was a dark brown, but now it had turned lighter. Over 3 days the birth mark faded away entirely. All that was left was a small indentation to his skin like a pock mark.

Was it coincidence? Of course my parents did not think so, Hattie had died and the paranormal mark she had left on their son faded away with her. A testimony that it was no mere birthmark, but a supernatural sign.

I was born many years after Hattie's death, but heard the story told over and over by both my parents, my siblings and by Sherman himself who visited us before he too passed away.

Coincidence or a supernatural sign? Like many other odd occurrences we face day to day, it is a matter of perspective. To some it is just old wives tales, to others it shows a deeper meaning of life- as if we have had a brief glimpse at the pattern of the cloth on the Creator's loom.

Until Next Time,
Pastor Swope

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Mystery of Flight 447

I would myself consider it the height of hubris to exploit an incredible tragedy to stress a paranormal explanation for a horrible accident.

Please believe me I do not wish to do that in this writing.

When word first broke of the disappearance of flight 447 Monday morning here in the United States I had some strange misgivings about the information. Of course there were the usually feelings of empathetic sorrow for those who might be lost and their families, but there was something else.

However, I felt something else was at work here,for my senses that I have long trust told me that there was something just not right about this terrible loss.

As the story expanded this week and we learned about the automatic transmissions that reported strange electrical malfunctions, I reflected upon the reports of Gremlins, the evil impish creatures reported by World War 2 pilots that caused malevolent mechanical maelstrom on Allied planes during the war years. Most aeronautical pundits reporting for the various news channels were at a quandary as to how such a massive electrical malfunction could have occurred. To me it seemed like horrible omen that pointed to the malicious entities at work.

Then the reports of the severity of the storm through which the plane desperately tried to make its way through came to light. Previously we had been told it was a heavy storm but nothing out of the ordinary, but soon reports that it was some mega storm began to swirl around the news hubs of the internet. Could lightning have brought it down, or severe wind turbulence? The verbiage rattled about by the various talking heads of those days in early June 2009 brought vivid images to my Fortean biased mind. I was hearkened back to the 70’s when such storms around the Bahamas were signposts of a possible dimensional vortex through which many planes and sailing vessels had vanished through the Bermuda Triangle. It made one think of the television show “Lost” brought to life.

But then by mid week we all heard the news that wreckage had indeed been found in the jet’s supposed flight path. At times I heard that various parts of the plane were found in scattered debris fields around the area and the recovered parts included seats, mechanical parts and an obvious oil slick. Hope in Fortean possibilities faded as the terrifyingly horrible but mundane fate of all those 228 passengers was imagined in our collective minds. We think of the young families, the children and the flight crew hopelessly being thrown about to their doom. Without hope and completely out of control they were careening down to the dark embrace of the deep Atlantic Ocean never to be seen again.

Then as of the writing of this article (Friday June 5th) we find out that what the host of officials had thought was wreckage found in the water in the flight path of that doomed plane was nothing more than discarded material from passing ships.

So after a major scouring of the area by thousands from various nations we have yet to find anything concerning the fate of Air France flight 447.

And what is more disturbing, the blame at the time of this writing is drifting toward terrorism. Some terrorist organization blew the plane out of the sky.


I thought terrorists conducted their dastardly deeds to strike terror into the heart of those who may be potential victims, demoralizing a designated populace.

Thus the name terrorist.

But the quintessential characteristic of a terrorist act is either the warning or boastful claim of such an act.

So far there has been no publicized claim for the incident. Which would be an oddity indeed it the loss of Air France 447 was due to a terrorist act.

And then we come back to the reports of the electrical failure of the plane midair. There were automated messages received from the doomed plane that do point to a catastrophic electrical failure.

At 11pm on the night of May 31st the pilot of flight 447 signaled that he was flying through a large and ominously dark mass of black cumulonimbus clouds.

Within ten minutes the automatic pilot had disengaged and stabilizing controls for the plane were damaged. The core computer system switched to emergency battery power, indicating the main power had shut down aboard the plane. The emergency warning system was heard, which indicated the flight system had been compromised to such a level that they could not ensure any countermeasures that would ensure the plane’s safety through the storm.

Next within thirteen minutes of the initial contact with the dark massive clouds over the Atlantic the automatic messages reported that there was a cascading failure of all controls that monitored every aspect of the plane's physical location on our earthly plane- speed, altitude and direction. The flight crew had lost control of the main flight computer, they were flying blind in the hand of fate and even the wing spoiler control had failed as well.

Just 14 minutes after entering those ominous dark clouds over the deep Atlantic that stormy night of May 31st 2009 flight 447 sent out one last automatic message that its electrical system had experienced complete electrical failure and the cabin pressure had been compromised.

Such is the fate of Air France Flight 447 as we now know it.

What was its fate?

That is complete conjecture.

Complete electrical failure in a thunderstorm? There were other planes that endured that very same storm that night, they all found their destination. We send storms into the eyes of hurricanes just to gather data.

Was it the airspeed as others would claim, thus creating a fatal spiral? Then what about the automatic messages from the plane? They were of an electrical cascade failure, something which modern planes should have no problem with even in the most violent storms.

What happened to Air France Flight 447 during 11:00-11:14PM on May 31st 2009?

Were they victims of diabolical entities called Gremlins by our brave air warriors of WW2?

Were they whisked away to another dimension ala the Bermuda triangle and a temporal or special rift?

Or was it a simple tragic accident that ended the life of 228 innocent passengers of that Air France Jet?

Let’s pray for the families that lost their loved ones during the impact of this horrible incident, including the innocent children such as 11 year old Alexander Bjoroy who was returning to school in Great Britain after visiting his parents and sister in Rio de Janeiro. Our hearts go out to them. To the Family: Words cannot express the grief you surely endure. I myself cannot imagine the unanswered questions you must face. To just lose a child to the unexplained and no one has any real answers in our modern era…I cannot comprehend your grief. You have our prayers.

One day we all shall know what happened during those 14 minutes on May 31st, 2009 just off the coast of Brazil. Until then we are awash with more questions than answers.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope