Mennonites, Sexuality and the Abuse of Scripture

Delegates to the Mennonite Church USA convention this week passed three resolutions regarding human sexuality.  The first, supported by more than two-thirds of those gathered, affirmed a stance of forbearance, or tolerance, for practices in the church that reflect deeply held beliefs of many, but are in direct conflict with the one man/one woman marriage clause of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective.  The second resolution, in direct contradiction of the spirit of the first and passed by just over a majority, reaffirmed the confession as it stands and tabled consideration of changes in confession language for a period of four years.  The third resolution named and repented a generation of brushing over the sexual abuse perpetrated by a prominent Mennonite theologian, bringing finally to full light an exceedingly slow and painful journey for the victims who steadfastly refused the darkness.

Let me be perfectly clear.  Thousands of us in the Mennonite Church are firm in our stance in support of inclusion and broken-hearted by what is at best an extension of tenuous tolerance by the church.  And we are dismayed in our souls by the grinding inertia of a body of believers whose roots are deep in radical transformation of society and the church.  Somehow we keep missing trains that have long ago left the station.  We arrive at what might have been prophetic voice a generation late, the potential public witness having slipped through our fingers, the sands of dynamic time in a heap of entropy on an increasingly empty platform.

A people originally martyred for their courageous stance against a church lost in the abuses of control and power have grown up and become the dragon they once dared to face.   The most hopeful events of the convention took place in the heartrending songs of solidarity sung with brave and gentle protesters outside the doors of the official gatherings.  And the pervasive sense of a meagerly attended convention was one of discouragement and weariness under a thin and tattered veil of praise band rah-rah.

Sixteen hundred years ago the intended bride of Christ eloped with the government of Rome at the altar of Augustine.  Despite the various reforms and the occasional bright spots of true social transformation initiated and carried forward by the prophetic few, we have dumbed ourselves down almost every day since.  Our view has been one of an irretrievably fallen creation, connected to its bloodthirsty author by a closed canon of scripture read through the lens of violent sacrifice.  We choose the easy path of institutional judgment and control, expressed through burdens of guilt, alleviated through sacraments meted by the priestly caste to masses numbed out by empty and mindless repetition of the sweet name of Jesus.  In this we mock the very one who died inviting each so powerfully to freedom from political, social and religious oppression.

We need an entirely new and far more expansive faith and view of scripture, a view that sees us unequivocally created in the image, enlivened by the very breath of God – creatures with the gift of choice tooled into our minds and the Word of Love written on our hearts.

Scripture, dear friends, was written for people and by people.  It is the human record of our slow waking to our connection and oneness with our Divine Creator.  It is useful.  It is not finished.  You, and your Aunt Susie, too, were granted every gift of Adam, of Rahab, Ruth and Jesus, the one who over and over called us brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of God.  We just will have none of it.

True scripture explodes outside the cover of any book.  It is never, never, never beaten into swords to wear down and crush the weary.  It is the Word of Love, written for all time on the walls of our hearts, expressed in every breath of creation.  And when we read that Word in the depth of our spirit, we know that we are one – not just in relationship with each other but truly one.  And when we trust and yield to it, we celebrate and welcome the other, for they are us.

Sexuality through the lens of that faith, that scripture, looks entirely different.  It is the gift of deep beauty, the flowering of our embodiment.  Each bloom is lovely.  The only possible profanity is the wanton destruction of our own bloom or that of another through acts of disrespect, shame and abuse.

Our twisted view and discomfort with sexuality lie largely at the feet of Augustine, who projected his own distraught struggle with and rejection of God’s good gift so effectively and pervasively, now for more than a millennium and one half, onto the life of the church.  It fits so neatly with institutional control and power, and with our own refusal to accept the goodness of creation in the sexuality of every living being.  We are complicit in our abdication of freedom in favor of the sword of guilt and shame, granted freely to the hand of our ready institutions.

Time is long past to stop bashing each other with a wearied and sorely abused book, squandering the opportunity for our own salvation, freedom and relevant public witness.  The Word of Love is profoundly simple.  And its beauty is expressed with glory in the flower of our sexuality.  We must embrace, nurture and celebrate this beautiful gift, with deep respect and welcome for all.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Dylann Roof and the Invitation to Transformation

On June 19, 2015, in a courtroom in Charleston, South Carolina, members of the families of the shooting victims of Dylann Roof, one by one, addressed Mr. Roof with words, not of reconciliation, but of forgiveness and the invitation to his own transformation.

In the words of Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of the murdered Daniel Simmons:  “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win.”

These were words of deep maturity, of great strength and power of spirit.  These were the words of people who have made the arduous journey of transformation from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.  They speak volumes to each of us and to our society, a society that more naturally turns to the language of vengeance than to the invitation to transformation.

Transformation is the movement from the lie to the truth.  It involves abandoning the lie of violent protection of the defended self and moves to open and compassionate engagement.  It is an assertive and passionate stance that postures itself in fearless non-defense as it presents its invitation to compassionate connection.

Transformation is all encompassing.  True transformation addresses every corner, every action and interaction of life.  The big transformation reflected in these people’s beautiful statements does not happen without continual loving attention to the mundane.  I want to drive the same streets as these people.  I want to meet them when the clerk cannot solve my problem at the checkout counter, when my computer crashes and the washing machine breaks down.  I want to be them when my neighbor hates cats or believes something not true about me.

Transformation denies nothing.  Rather, it feels all fully, expresses all truly and then makes the choice of non-defensive invitation.  I cannot say this more clearly than to use the words of Nadine Carter, daughter of the slain Ethel Lance: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Transformation is not distracted.  Rather, it is present and engaged.  This is no small thing in contemporary culture, a culture of the numbing distraction of the material packaged in the seductive pill of perpetual media.  The transformed life is practiced and lived in active presence, not in passive distraction.

Transformation addresses the heart, not the periphery of the matter.  Change happens by planting and nurturing the right seeds, not by trying to stick new leaves on old trees.  The courts will perform the duty of public safety by placing necessary physical constraints on Dylann Roof.  And to the extent of the law, they may go beyond that, in expression of the tree of our broader culture, by acting out violent retribution.  Aside from limited safety, nothing changes in this model.  But these profound people, instead, have offered Mr. Roof the seeds of true transformation in the gift of forgiveness, the invitation to repentance (change of heart and mind) and the call to engagement of new life through the path of transformation.

Transformation is for people and affects systems.  It is true that we need systems that reflect transformation.  But systems only reflect the condition of the collective soul.  Our collective soul reflects, increasingly, massive greed masked by perpetual distraction and enforced, ultimately, by violence.  Johnny Appleseed grew apple trees by planting apple seeds.  True transformation of systems happens through the constant invitation to and nurture of individual change.  Dylann Roof, dear friends, has been invited.

Transformation is a choice.  In fact it involves one choice after another, with practice.  Like musicians who have mastered their instrument through years of focused practice, these fine people have achieved mastery of their lives through abandonment of defended ego in favor of compassionate connection and engagement.

Ultimately, transformation is the singular journey of our life.  It is the journey home, the journey from isolated small “s” self to connected capital “S” Self.  It is the journey that transcends suffering and death, that recognizes and clings to the eternal and relinquishes the temporal.

May we each have the courage to engage transformation and practice it with the persistence demonstrated by these amazing people.  May we abandon isolated and defended ego in the embrace of fearless connection.  May we invite others – even those who would kill us in hatred with the hands and feet of fear – may we invite them to join us under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The Spirit of Willingness on the Wave of Creation

Last year I lived in a completely secular cooperatively owned housing complex.  Each person was there for their own reason, with the common denominator being affordability.  Each brought, consciously or otherwise, their own set of enacted values which, as a whole, shaped the character and life of the community.  I learned in spades the difference that each individual choice and action made in the quality of life and relationships.  Careful attention to full awareness of the other and to actions that strengthened relationships and built community yielded palpable and tangible changes in the nature and spirit of daily life.  Attitudes of selfishness and defense contributed equally powerful results in another direction.

There is a sweet spot of rest and action for our spirit.  It rides the crest of the wave of creation – the push of energy into the void, the place where sound and light – the Word of Creation and the Spirit that carries and speaks it – manifest as something new, another beauty, in the world as we know it, the world as it becomes.

I can perceive myself as alone on that crest, as an isolated individual, a singular atom or particle that must fight for protection, the avoidance of destruction in what seems like a violent rush forward into the unknown.  My action response is willfulness.  Willfulness pushes out to force into being what I hope will be a safe and protective space.  Willfulness grabs for resources that I think will sustain me against the rush.  In willfulness, I believe I am using my own power to protect and preserve myself and my little space against a scary and unpredictable world.

But the truth is, I have no singular power.  I possess nothing that is uniquely mine.  And my only achievement when I believe and act otherwise is to create an insubstantial lie, an illusion of security that will crash, burn and drift to nothingness, certainly at the time of my physical demise if not before.

There is a paradox of singularity and oneness on that glorious wave crest.  I am, indeed, a spot and spark of awareness, a phosphorescence – something perhaps analogous to the bioluminescent organisms in the bay at Vieques, off Puerto Rico.  My actions and intentions matter.  They matter because I am, whether or not I like it or believe it, connected to the whole.

When I act alone with willfulness, I create a small scar, something that does not fit and flow in the creative surge.  I hinder the curve and curl in my brief moment.  And I may destroy the hope and creative activity of those around me, all those with whom I am in direct or indirect relationship.

But when I recognize and rest in my connection to broader spirit and act from a posture of willingness, I flow forward with confidence.  And I am aware of the others flowing forward around me.  I see their spark, I understand our connection in the wave.  I realize that beauty and community depend on and respond to both my restful connection and my acts of intention.  I contribute to the luminous glow, the shape and texture of the curl as creation advances.

We are not, as we falsely tell ourselves, alone under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We are one under the Tree of Life.  Willfulness blinds us to this truth, throwing up barriers of fear that cause pain and brokenness in our immediate and extended relationships.

Willingness opens to the whole, with an understanding that our creative power is one, a point of lovely and loving energetic awareness on the leading edge of the complete breath of God/Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source as it pushes forward in its surge to beauty and being on the edge of the void.  Rest in the flow.  Open your light with willingness, yielding up its luminescence to join with others, as far as your relaxed awareness will take you on this ride to all that will be.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Forgiveness II: Our Emotions Are Our Teachers and Not Our Rulers

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  (Jesus to Peter, Matthew 18: 22, NRSV on the question of how often to forgive)  Stuff just doesn’t go away that easily.  It’s not so much that someone has wronged us seventy-seven times.  It’s more that we keep working on the wrongs that really nail us over and over and over.  The encouragement, I believe, is not to be a fool and allow the same person to harm us seventy-seven times – the delightful wallow of co-dependence – but rather to keep working it out, keep working it out.

Whatever the cause of a deep pain, our overwhelming response is anger, the desire for revenge and even hatred of another.  These are natural emotional efforts to protect ourselves.  It hurts.  I’ve been wounded.  I have lost things that cannot be recovered.  There are scars.  The wounds may be physical, psychic or both.

Here’s the thing.  We need our emotions to be our teachers and not our rulers.  We need our emotions to be our teachers and not our rulers.  The first seventy-five times we work at forgiving someone in our head we are probably just learning that lesson.  The problem is that we feel bad about the emotions – the fact that we are still angry about having to give our perpetrator a Get Out of Jail (or Get Out of Hell, as the case may be) Free Card.

Emotions jump up and tell us that we have been hurt, that we have been violated, that we are suffering and in need of repair because of the actions of another.  Pay attention.  These are messengers.  We need compassion.  We need care.  We need healing.

Our Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil response is to let these emotions become our rulers.  OK, anger, take charge.  This feels good.  Let’s get violent, whether in thought, word or deed.  Whether in aggression that is active or cloaked in passivity.  Let’s break some china.  Let’s destroy some things, deliver the pain that will bring this sum back to zero.  Let’s take it a step further to teach a lesson and win the game.  Be done with this sucker.

All of this is compounded by the deep wounds of childhood, wounds that happened before we had any clue of how to deal with them.  Wounds when we were innocent and did not even know that the world should not be, or might not be like the world we were experiencing.  Seventy times seventy times seventy, the iteration and years of learning and coming to terms with these wounds.

Under the Tree of Life, our emotions are our teachers and not our rulers.  They tell us that our little manifestation of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source has been wounded.  We need protection and shelter.  If we are wise, we will give true heed to the inclinations for fight or flight, and we will make, for us, the best choice about the immediate and longer term path out of danger.

Ultimately, perhaps around cycle seventy-six of our desire for revenge, we may begin to understand the edict that we love our neighbor as our self.  We begin to love our self.  We hear our own pain and respond with compassion.  We see our wounds and apply the dressings, or find the person who can help us apply them.  We sit with our self.  Our capital S eternal Self beyond all harm sits, and holds, and cries, and rocks and soothes our small s manifested and wounded self.  We gift our self the Breath of Life that cools, the Healing Water that cleanses, the Leaves of the Tree that create the balm of protection and restoration.

And when seventy-seven rolls around, we might just be ready to turn to our neighbor, our father, our mother, our colleague, the perpetrator of our hurt.  We turn and we offer, from our Self to their self, the seat of welcome and restoration.  Come sit beside me, here, beneath the Tree of Life, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

It’s Not Always Clear

It’s not always clear, the path forward.  Our vision is limited.  There are far too many factors to weigh.  Feelings are a roller coaster ride from day-to-day, and then there is the vast unknown.  If I go left, will I be right?  If I go right, am I wrong and left behind?  Could‘a, would‘a, should‘a are crying from the back seat and the whole trip begins to seem like a sham.

“Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!”  (Fred Hillebrand, 1932)  We walk by faith, not by sight (Paul, 2 Corinthians 5: 7).  Fear and misgivings are the roadblock, the isolated ego cowering in the corner.

In the three worlds,
there is nothing I must do,
nothing unattained to be attained,
yet I engage in action.

What if I did not engage
relentlessly in action?
[Humans] retrace my path
at every turn, Arjuna.

As the ignorant act with attachment
to actions, Arjuna,
so wise [folk] should act with detachment
to preserve the world.

(Krishna to the wilting Arjuna in The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, The Third Teaching:  Discipline of Action; 22-24, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam Classic Edition, 1986)

Creation is the path forward.  Something from nothing.  Or something new, something that has never been, as the next step from all that is.  Beautiful, joyful.  There is no wrong path in faith, there is only the next step of creation on the road ahead.

Faith, by nature, is blind.  It is not ignorant.  Faith is based on the experience of goodness and beauty that result when we act while resting in the Spirit of all that is.  Even God, I think, has no idea what is going to happen next.  Let’s take a step and see!

What matters is not where we are walking to, but where we are walking from.  If we are walking from a place of fear and defense, our steps will falter and creation suffers.  If our steps are from a place of joy, kindness and compassion, the beauty of the universe unfolds with us, just far enough ahead to meet our foot as it greets the path of creation.

When we are attached to what we think is/will be the outcome of our action, we falter.  We have no idea of any outcomes.  Or if we do have that idea, we fool ourselves.  We can never know all the implications before we act, or the outcome of a different course.

Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!  Home to the Tree of Life.  Create with joy.  Create with kindness.  Create with compassion.  Put the paintbrush to the canvas, in faith, and see.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

We Are One

I speak of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, one of a million inadequate names for that which we commonly call God.  In the very use of the name, of any name, I imply separation.  But we are not separate.  Separation has been our perennial blinder.  We are One.

Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we hide in our shame because, in our awakening to awareness of our surroundings, we believe we are separate.  We have a sense of self.  All good and true, that sense of self.  But at the same time, We are One.

We think, rightly, of creation as the work of C/S/M/S.  Creation is, in fact, the very outbreath of the energy of C/S/M/S.  Because we can observe it, we are tempted to think we are not part of it.  But even as we are gifted, in our limited capability, to look deeper and deeper into the infinite marvel of creation, we are the very thing itself.  We are One.

All of our anxiety and distorted behavior; all of our anger and angst, our greed and despair; all of these are rooted in our shortsighted view of separation.  Yes, we are unique in our embodied presence.  Yes, we look out of these eyes and we see others and every thing.  But every other and every thing emanates from the same breath, the indescribable marvel of mass, the speed of light squared and its energetic product.  There is no difference or separation.  We are One.

All evil emanates from the lie, the limited and incorrect view, that we are separate.  We create.  We make things.  We buy things and sell them.  When our making is isolated in self – when it is self-ish – it is corrupted and the wealth we generate and hoard only confirms our illusion of separation.  I have more.  That is good.  Someone else has less.  Too bad.  Violence erupts and the only solution we can see is greater violence to crush our enemy.

When our making, our creating, takes place in the spirit of connection, we are conscious that we only touch, we co-create, we one-create with the Spirit of every thing and everything.  And our product is a gift of beauty and utility for the world, the universe, the everything of which we are part.  We are One.

When we wake in the morning, we can practice seeing things as whole.  For me, the simple exercise of breathing in “Thy Will,” breathing out, “be done,” takes me to a place of connection.  I am not separate from the creative will of C/S/M/S.  Nor am I obliterated or forgotten in it.  I am just in it, part of it, participating with openness and willingness.  I am being my true Self, breathing, creating, acting in relationship to each one and each thing.

When we realize our true home under the Tree of Life, we are at rest in motion.  We are at ease in creating.  We have no fight with our surroundings, no fear of the other.

And we are empowered to speak with clarity, to touch with compassion, to invite with kindness.

We are One.

Scripture today from my soul brother JD Martin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q5ia2jUeqc

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The Choice of Devotion

Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century Indian saint, embodied above all things the practice of devotion.   He eschewed study and strict adherence to Hindu ritual in favor of childlike adoration of Kali, the feminine aspect of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  Sometimes petulant, sometimes playful, often appearing mad and completely out of control with devotion, he yearned to become one.  He whimpered, pestered and cried to experience absolute unity with the Godhead through ceaseless pursuit of Kali’s attention and affection.

And by all reports he was rewarded, after a time but then regularly, with the state of Samadhi, the expansive experience of complete absorption, joy and oneness with C/S/M/S.  In the midst of teaching his disciples, he would break into songs of adoration and then effortlessly enter and return from extended states of unitive bliss.  He brought back tales of love and beauty beyond measure.  Even dying of throat cancer, he seemed oblivious to his physical condition because of his laser focused devotion to the divine, the profound reality of his journeys.

Rumi, Teresa of Avila, Paramahansa Yogananda, Hildegard von Bingen; the great mystics of all traditions have been explorers of the outer edges and inner depths of human spirituality.  Their times and cultures somehow made space for them, accommodated their extravagance, supported or at least tolerated their journeys.  For all time, we welcome and stand in awe of the news they bring back.

Most of us live in the world of more mundane dimensions.  We are the householders, the engineers and teachers, the burger flippers and shopkeepers of day-to-day existence.  We raise kids and deal with plumbing problems and domestic struggles.  We worry about our finances and the decisions of our governments.

But here’s the thing.  Is there really any less wonder in the day-to-day?  Is the amazing expression of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source any less as I turn right onto Montgomery Boulevard and walk or drive to the grocery store?  I don’t think so.  I don’t believe for a minute that C/S/M/S is any less present or less available for connection in the ordinary moments of daily existence.

In a single block, I see, I am part of the homeless person holding a sign for support at the intersection, the turquoise sky of the Southwest, the courtesy and service of the store clerk as I check out my oranges and baking powder.  I am granted in every instant, at every turn, the opportunity for choice and participation.  Will I engage consciously, with all my thought, all my intention, all my heart?  Will I play my part, giving and receiving with wonder and gratitude?  Will I practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control – the beautiful and deeply satisfying fruits of the Tree of Life?

Or will I stay asleep at the wheel, angry at the young person who cut impulsively in front of me in the parking lot?  Will I numb myself, choosing to be lost in the tedium, bother and annoyance of a world that just doesn’t get what I want, what I need, what I deserve?

Whatever my talent, whatever piece of the extravagance of God I am gifted to touch and unfold for the world around me, I have the choice of devotion or neglect.  I can touch a relationship for healing, or I can stay lost in my hurt ego.  I can polish my little part with the devotion of joy, or I can miss the moment, the now, entirely.

Truly, we each choose our devotion and practice it persistently throughout our life.  Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our primary devotion is to preservation of self.  We think we protect an isolated and threatened ego with fear, anger, defense, power, greed and violence.

Under the Tree of Life, we choose a different practice.  We practice connection of Self; not an abandoned ego, but a connected Ego.  We offer, we recognize and realize with willingness, our connection to Creator/Spirit/Mind/Self, the entire created universe.  And we start and end by focusing that connection on the immediate.  We are clear, we are conscious.  Where there is anger we see hurt.  Where there is the inability to function productively on a daily basis, for whatever reason, we feel cold and hunger.  Wherever, whatever, we experience the deep beauty, the struggle of the birthing universe.  And we become the midwife of creation.

Let’s choose that devotion, our home in all that is.  Let’s find ourselves beneath the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of everything.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.