Doctor My Eyes

Donald Trump is not our problem in America.  He is not the disease, although he is certainly a very troublesome symptom.  Electoral politics and the dash to polarization are not the problem, nor the antiquated function of the electoral college, not to deny that a few systemic tweaks might provide some small relief from our indigestion and pain.

Our problem is our eyes.  It’s literally that we have chosen and clung to a very limited vision, an illusion that we believe to be complete and real.  Whether we quake in fear and despair, watching blue states tumble to red and making frantic calls to legislators who seem deaf to voices without dollars.  Whether we fulminate from the brilliant ivory tower of The New York Times.  Whether we are certain that the immigrant other, seasoned with a dash of moral decline, is undermining our safety and the foundation of our American values.  Whether we shake our snarling 4×4 fist as big government swallows the last guppy in our hard-earned and well-deserved Mar-a-Lago koi pond.  Whatever our fear and angst, we are all, for the most part, just looking through the eyes of our chosen limitation.

And that’s just it, the eyes of fear and angst.  The thing that binds us together, the foundational truth of America today is eyes that see only my shrinking piece of American pie.

Jackson Browne laments:

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand*

Doctor, my eyes.  They see the hurt, petulant little boy spinning like a pulsar between his black hole need for adulation and his fits of distemper when we are unwilling or unable to pacify him.  But he is our little boy, and we put him in charge.  We must accept full responsibility.

Noble democracy, precious concept, is not our elixir.  Today it is our exfoliant.  It reveals the perilously thin skin of our fear, our polarization, our sorrow and longing, our greed, our corporate angst.

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams*

From the Gospel of Thomas saying 22 or Gospel of Mary Magdalene 30:12, these confounding words are essentially the same:

When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will gain the Kingdom.

“When you make . . .” my, your, our making.  When we make our eyes something other than the eyes of our personal fear.  When we rebirth our limited sight with the panorama of the kingdom of the spirit, we see a different world.  It is not an American world, a Russian world, a Christian or Muslim world.

When we make these eyes, we might see the hurting little boy just as he is and take care of him.  Certainly we would protect him from the inappropriate terror, his and ours, of placing him in the most powerful political position in the world.

We might also see the broken dreams of the working class and the hopes of the refugee and immigrant, with or without papers.  Perhaps we would see through the paper money walls of our financial skyscrapers and over the bulwarks of our gated communities.  Maybe we would see that these gates, these flimsy walls, are built by and rest on the shoulders of the formerly invisible and now despised.  And we would have compassion for the hunger and fear of every being across this entire spectrum of humanity.

We might see that promoting hollow entertainment all the way to the doorstep of our nearly abandoned White House does not make for good governance.  We might comprehend that the illusionists of “reality TV” can never transform petulance into POTUS.  We might notice that fanning the flames of polarization to sell media ultimately burns away the bonds of healthy community.

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me*

Good news.  The doctor is in.  She’s got our eyes.  They are truly ours.  We can make them new.  We can use them to see a world without borders.  We can peer with them into the heart of each and see the need of all.  But let’s not stop there.

Let’s look up and down, left and right, in and out.  Take in the beauty beyond imagining, the world as it is without the borders of our old eyes.  Absorb the wonders of the created and the unfolding.  Rest in the assurance of a shared enough.

May our true eyes light the path of compassionate action with no attachments.  Perhaps in this way, we will pick up and wield the tool of democracy with better respect and to greater effect.

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

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development, Estes Park, Colorado.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

*Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne.   • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

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What Is Truth?

In 2010, Jehanne De Quillan published The Gospel of the Beloved Companion:  The Complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  De Quillan is a member of an independent religious order rooted in the Languedoc region of southern France.  The order claims a spiritual lineage to Mary Magdalene, who is said to have come to the region in the first century, bringing with her an original Greek text of her own version of the story of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the early twelfth century, Jehanne De Quillan’s community translated the text into Occitan, the common language of the Languedoc in those times.  They claim to have protected both the Greek and Occitanic versions of the text in the centuries since.  The hidden nature of that protection stems from the early thirteenth century Albigensian Crusade and ensuing Inquisition, a twenty-five-year reign of terror unleashed by the Roman Church in this region, aimed at rooting out and destroying an elevated apostolic status of Mary Magdalene and other perceived heresies.

De Quillan claims, for the first time, to present a modern English translation of the original Greek Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  She does this with the permission, but not universal support of her community, which fears reprisal and persecution even today.  Reading the text, that fear seems justified in the shadow of a centuries old religious patriarchy.

The clear and consistent message of Jesus’s teaching in this gospel is simple, yet deep and very beautiful.  It is this:  The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, a seed of the Living Spirit waiting to be discovered, nurtured and cultivated.  And it is to be lived into the world outside you.

The fruits of this cultivation are described in a lovely vision of a tree at the close of the gospel, with eight levels separated by seven guardians, each to be overcome and left behind before the fruit of the level can be consumed, allowing ascension to the next.  These levels and gates are:

  • level one, the fruit of love and compassion, hidden by the guardian of judgment and wrath
  • level two, the fruit of wisdom and understanding, hidden by the guardian of ignorance and intolerance
  • level three, the fruit of honor and humility, hidden by duplicity and arrogance
  • level four, the fruit of strength and courage, hidden and defended by weakness of the flesh and the illusion of our fears

At the completion of this fourth level, the guardians are replaced by lessons or truths to be learned and fully embodied through the consumption of the fruit of the associated level:

  • level five, consumption of the fruit of clarity and truth, yielding the clarity and truth of our soul with the understanding that we are truly children of the Living Spirit
  • level six, consumption of the fruit of power and healing, yielding the power to heal our own soul
  • level seven, consumption of the fruit of light and goodness, yielding freedom from darkness and a resulting fullness of the light and goodness which is the Living Spirit
  • Having completed these seven levels, the eighth level is granted, which is described as a fierce joy in knowing and being embraced fully by the grace and beauty of the Spirit.

All else is folly.  In this narrative, Jesus is even more explicit than in the canonical gospels about this folly and the oppression practiced by dominant religion through laws, rules and dogma.  At one point, for instance, when challenged about the importance of circumcision, he responds that if God wanted males circumcised, he would cause them to be born that way.  And in his closing admonition to the disciples at the last supper he says, “Tell others of what you have seen, but do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you; and do not give a law like the lawgiver, lest you be constrained by it.” Mary Magdalene 35:22

The Gospel of the Beloved Companion reads at heart like a truer version of the Gospel of John.  Why do I say truer?  Somehow it hangs together better.  Whereas John is told by a narrator, this gospel is told in first person by someone who was not only an eye witness, but an intimate participant in the life and teachings of Jesus.

There are simple things.  De Quillan points out, for instance, that when the various events and their locations – which are sometimes different than in John – are plotted on a map, they make more sense in terms of the walking distances of the day.  We don’t have John’s mysterious “disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is unambiguously clear that this is a story told by a woman, Mary, also called the Migdalah, or tower, who is the beloved companion of Jesus.

There is nothing sensational about any of it, and the message at every turn points to the teaching about being born of the Spirit, living as a child of the Spirit, experiencing the Kingdom of God.  But it has a much more whole and human feel throughout:

  • Without making any particular point of it, it is simply clear that what we know as the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine, was actually the wedding of Jesus and Mary.
  • It is clear in this gospel that Mary Magdalene is the Mary of the Mary, Martha and Lazarus household, and they were essentially home base for Jesus during his ministry.
  • There is a different and gender balanced inner core of disciples who consistently understand the message of Jesus. This core includes: the original disciples Thomas and Matthew (referred to as Levi in this book); Mary, Martha and Lazarus; two women called Salome, one of whom is the mother of Peter and Andrew and the other who is the woman we know as the woman at the well; and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who seem to be close friends.
  • The gospel does not try to disguise tension between this group and particularly Peter and Andrew, who challenge Mary at several points, indignant at the idea that Jesus might have told Mary, a woman, things that he did not tell them, or that she, a woman, might better understand the core message and teachings of Jesus than they did.

All of these very human interactions give the book an air of authenticity, as opposed to a story that was augmented or glorified in an artificial manner to prove the divine and extraordinary nature of Jesus.  Jesus is clearly someone sent by the Living Spirit with a message and invitation to his human companions that they, like him, are children of that Spirit.  He invites them to own it and live it.

I say authenticity.  To be clear, when I read this, it rings true to me.

OK, so you may ask the sardonic question of Pilate, which appears in this gospel just as it does in John, “What is truth?”  That is an excellent question when it comes to any scripture and, for most of us, especially the traditional biblical scriptures, which, as we grew up, were presented as ultimate truth.

Let’s ask it again today.  What is truth?

  • Is truth a canon of gospels, letters and visions written and rewritten to suit the tastes of a male hierarchy of patriarchs, three centuries after any fact and in league with the government of Rome?
  • Is truth the Gospel of John, which when read side by side with the Gospel of Mary Magdalene does not hang together with nearly the same consistency and authenticity? I come away from the reading with a sense that John, while certainly a unique and lovely book, was a redaction of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene intended to make it palatable and acceptable to a patriarchal church.
  • Is truth what appears in the traditional gospels to be a systematic denigration of a woman, the only person who consistently in all the narratives stayed by the side of Jesus through his trial, crucifixion and resurrection – the first one to whom Jesus appears and speaks? The institutional church, from the days of canonization forward, has painted Mary as a demoniac and whore.  Her only redeeming quality in that picture is that she is repentant.  I find it more likely that the portrayal of her as someone possessed by seven demons was a male redaction and upending of the vision Jesus gave her of the seven gates to be conquered in the journey to complete experience of the tree of the Living Spirit.  And the casting as a whore seems the ultimate stake of death, hammered through the heart by a male power structure that could not bear the possibility of a woman being the closest disciple and companion to their savior and champion.

What is truth?  By now we know that truth is not historical inerrancy of every word of the canonized scripture.  The inconsistencies are too glaring, the contradictions too complete.

Truth, capital T truth, seems something quite other than facts which can never be firmly established.  Even if, for instance, the Greek text guarded by this spiritual community in Languedoc turned out to be a first century original, there is no guarantee that it is factually true.  Anyone can write a story.

Truth, it seems, is something entirely other than proof positive.  So what is it?  Jackson Browne touches it for me, somehow, in a line from a song titled The Dancer:  “I don’t know what happens when people die.  Can’t understand it as hard as I try.  It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, I can’t sing it.  I can’t help listening.”

Truth, I believe, is the song sung in a quiet heart.  It is as much a sound as it is an object.  Jesus, in every portrayal, whether canonized or otherwise, is consistent in this.  He says that the children of God, the children of the Living Spirit, are the ones who truly hear his words, who understand them and live them from their hearts.

Truth is the abandonment of wrath and judgment in favor of love and compassion; the eschewing of ignorance and intolerance in favor of wisdom and understanding; the forsaking of duplicity and arrogance to take on honor and humility.  Truth is the journey of the soul toward embrace and union with the light and joy of the Living Spirit.

May we quiet our hearts.  May we hear the song.  May we follow that sound to the Tree of Life, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.

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

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

The Super Bowl, Election 2016 and God in America

It was a whizz-bang week – the final presidential candidate debates before the New Hampshire primary capped off by the 50th Super Bowl.  God bless America, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Beyoncé and certainly Peyton Manning.  And fighter jets.  And the pyrotechnics.  And Wilson.  And Hyundai.  And CBS.  And the pill that remedies various colon related issues that prevent us from success in our daily conquest.

The Western Christian narrative of God and humanity has been one of separation and not connection, a fierce, frantic and fearful individualism.  A whole host of problems arise with this.  First, there is the underlying sense of alienation and isolation, resulting in chronic anxiety and uncertainty.  We are never quite sure, short of less than satisfying dogmatic formulas, whether we are safe or not.  Am I forgiven – enough?  Am I saved?  Is it really possible that God hears me when I pray?  How can I get that right and be sure?  Is there even God?

The flip side of the uncertainty is vain over-confidence.  I am all-powerful.  I can do anything.  The world is my playground.  You just don’t get it.  Get out of my way.  Stupid you if you don’t have enough.

Oscillating between these two poles, we exhaust ourselves.  The existential angst is never relieved, the material satiation is never enough, the domination is never complete.  We are a sometimes weary people in need of greater and greater assurance, no matter how shallow or hollow the language, no matter how sensational the show.

There are those that would say this separation, this individualism, is exactly the triumph of the West – that our belief in the power of the individual and the application of that belief in the material realm have created all that is good in the world.  We have imposed order on chaos, driven out superstition with real medicine, turned raw materials into comfort and pleasure and, through accumulation of wealth transformed into overwhelming force, assured the safety of humanity.

Certainly much that is good has been accomplished.

But back on the panic side of our void, our concept of prayer remains characterized alternately by begging or claiming – as if we are constantly but inadequately grasping at something that is not quite ours.  We need demonstrable proof, sure results.  The tornado lifted when it came to my house.  Or it didn’t because I didn’t pray hard enough.  Superstorms and terrorist threats are God’s judgment on “the gay lifestyle.”  We dash about and shout our certain proclamations.  And we allocate more money to put a material or military patch on the mess to keep it all from falling apart.

Presidential politics in 2016 reflects the fever pitch of our bifurcated anxiety.  It’s as if the deep underlying infection of isolation and desperation is finally forming a boil, a small and intense festering that burns under the thinnest layer of decaying skin, ready to burst.

The infection is spiritual.  It is not religious.  It is not political.  It is not tied to one economic system or another.  One candidate epitomizes the bluster and desperation.  And only one comes close to naming the underlying spiritual vacuum and disconnect that rules our discontent – the fire that drives our fever toward the threshold between morbidity and mortality.  When Senator Sanders pulls back the curtain masking unfettered greed, he touches, without fully naming, our great hunger and despair.

I am not suggesting at all a vote of any sort.  No party, candidate or election can salve the infection of our soul.  Nor am I recommending that we shut off the Super Bowl.  But I am inviting us to see, to understand, to absorb and to embrace the nature of the illness.  And I am suggesting we can cure it with a change of orientation.

It is our isolation that fuels our insatiable hunger.  And it is our underlying narrative of separation that walls us off from the deep satisfaction and power of existence.  Believing conquest and satiation to be the elixirs of at least happiness, if not eternal life, we drive pedal to the metal toward the brink of extinction.

There is a different way, a different orientation, a different direction in which to look.  The forest sages of ancient India captured it so clearly in the Upanishads.  Through the practice of stilling the mind and quiet observation, these sages document a Self, immanent and transcendent, that is the loving essence of each one and every thing.  It is as if the flashing stream of still pictures that create the illusion of motion has been stilled, and the space between revealed to be something entirely other, a space without fear, a limitless expanse of satisfaction and creative bliss, a place beyond need or desperate grasping.

No matter what or how much it consumes, the separate ego is never satisfied.  And our belief that we are disconnected beings in a world we increasingly understand as only material, accelerates us exponentially toward exhaustion and annihilation on the wings of glittering despair.

Mastery of our lust comes from understanding and turning away from isolation and toward connection, away from insatiability and toward satisfaction.  It comes from abandoning fear in favor of trust, and willful grasping in favor of willing service.

And, ultimately, it comes from embracing our true Self, the Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source that is the light, the eternal energy and limitless love we begin to glimpse between the moving frames of our desperation.  We are not separate and fallen.  We only blind ourselves with the fear born of our limited consciousness and chosen view.  We are Spirit, experiencing the material.  Touch without owning, look without lusting, enjoy without hording.  There is enough.  Our greatness already is and has no vital connection to anything at all in the halftime show or ads or victor yet to come in Super Bowl 51, no critical dependence on the outcome of election 2016.

Embrace it under the Tree of Life.

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

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

Where is God?

Nothing cuts to the chase quicker than evil and suffering when it comes to the question of where or what is God.   Or for that matter, “Is God?”

Inevitably, the Holocaust comes up in the discussion.  Are you Frankl or Wiesel?  And terrorist attacks, with responses that range from “We will not be afraid.  Our love will conquer all,” to the Donald Trump trample.  And the potpourri of painful ways that life comes to an end.

The answers seem glib.  We point to various interpretations of the Book of Job.  We give up the concept of omnipotence, because a loving God cannot possibly be an all-powerful God and let this stuff happen.  We say that God is standing by – or with us – in the thick of it – or that God is judging and blessing in turn, based on our behavior.

Buddhism has the slickest answers in nonjudgment and the nature of life being suffering.  But those seem too easy.  They ring hollow in the face of our yearning for meaning.

Inevitably our answers, whether hardline zingers or thoughtful stories, fall short.  They are too empty or too full.  One answer undermines another.  And still, the suffering continues.

God, ultimately, is the thoughts we project on Big Mystery.  And Big Mystery is really big – or small, depending on our frame of reference and where we look.  For all we know there are an infinite number of universes in every Higgs Boson.

We throw our concepts and stories at it to see what sticks.  It all falls short.  We fall short.  Our consciousness is just not yet that well developed, if our consciousness is even anything at all.

We are left with speculation and choices.  Do we choose faith?  If so, faith in what?  Go ahead and try to answer – you, me, Job, the kid next door.  We slam our books on the table with condemnations to hell and a gunshot to send us there.

To what end?  We don’t know.  We just seek meaning and relevance.  Some little path forward.  Who can blame us for that?

As for me, I choose to believe that there is, indeed, a balm in Gilead.  I just want to.  Isn’t that enough?

I believe that when my wife and I dream the very same dream in a given night, that when we show up at the same time at a favorite haunt, from different points of origin and not a word spoken in advance, that there is more – that it is good, that there is healing, that the ultimate word written on our hearts is love.

And from there, all our choices unfold, and they all matter.  Not because there is anything certain that can be pinned down under them, but because something completely ineffable has spoken in our mitochondria – deeper, even, in the empty spaces between whatever particles form us, if those things are particles at all.  And that ineffable something has found its ways through our synapses and into our muscles, our visions and the words we speak to each other, the touch we share and the kindnesses exchanged.

Somehow it is better that way.  And so I believe.  I believe that we are the awakening of consciousness in its steady progression into the void, that we ride the very curl of the wave of creation.  I believe we shape that wave in all our intentions and connections, just like we shape our images of God.  And I choose together and not alone.  Where is the separation?  Can you find it?  Can you see any reality in it at all?

Somehow that awakening contains the full spectrum, insofar as we know it, of pain and beauty, of suffering and healing, of bloom and demise.  Our choice is to embrace or reject.  We cannot change it.

Let’s join in the embrace.  Please!  Come with me, will you?  Let’s sit together, under the Tree of Life.

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

EP News Business Builder AdJerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

Announcing Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development

Friends and travelers, with this post I am announcing the launch, in Estes Park, Colorado, of Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Think spiritual fitness center.  Think practice for growth and maturation of our Vital Essence, our connection and oneness with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

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For all the richness of our various religious traditions, we have for the most part built them on a foundation of separation from our Creator.  Augustine the Roman outmaneuvered Pelagius the Celt in the Christian tradition to ensconce the fall over celebration of original goodness.  Our myths and rituals are about appeasing and placating the gods we have created, begging their recognition and touch, hoping for redemption, salvation and eternal life.

In our deluded embrace of the fall, we lose ourselves in fear of physical annihilation, of death, of no longer being.  And we turn, individually and in our societies, to greed, hoarding and violence in a panicked and futile attempt at physical preservation.  Indeed, we lose sight of, we forget Ourselves.  We search for paths home, never recognizing that in reality we never left the house.  The path never left us.  The path is Us.  The path is Home and We are there.  Our blindness and isolation are chosen and habitual illusions.

Redemption is the choice to wake up, to open our eyes, to see Ourselves.  Salvation is breathing the Breath of Our Being with rest and no fear.  Eternal life is the practice of willing connection, of embracing Our True Nature.  Dropping the scales from our vision; unlocking the chains of our delusion; shedding the shell of our fear: these things take practice, practice, practice.

Two Trees Center is a place of practice, a place of celebration and nurture of connection, not separation.  It is a place to greet, to embrace and to practice our True Nature, the Word written on our hearts, the Eternal Breath of Our Spirit, Our True Self, Our Calling.

At Two Trees Center you will draw freely on every aspect of our rich heritages.  You will learn to own and take responsibility for our present and presence.  And you will find your light to shine on the creative path forward.

The initial manifestation of the Center is in the practice of spiritual direction, of greeting and accompanying each other on the path.  It is already happening in conversations at my dining room table, on mountain paths and by video connection.

The Center will grow.  Likely next steps include group spiritual direction and classes to develop practices like centering prayer and meditation.  It may bloom further into new ways of celebrating our connection – ways that honor and build on the best practices of our various traditions and new ways that well up in the Spirit of Now.  And always, Two Trees Center will foster and nurture the expression of our True Connection in lives of compassionate service.

You need not abandon your tradition to participate any more than you need to abandon your home in order to go to the gym.  Come as you are.  Celebrate as you are.  Become Who You Are.  The first step is to recognize and embrace a yearning to be the True Emanation of Spirit, the Word of Love and Breath of Life from which You spring and to which You belong.

The second step is to send an email, voicemail, text or instant message that says “I am coming.”  Come in person.  Come by the cloud.  Take courage today.  Choose Life and Your True Self.  Contact Two Trees Center to partner with you, to nurture you, to celebrate with you on the path to your True Home under the Tree of Life.

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

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar (way, way up near the top of your screen : ) to be notified of future posts.

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.

For Christmas this Year, Let’s Let Jesus Off the Bloody Hook

For Christmas this year, let’s give Jesus a gift.  Let’s let him off the bloody hook.  Somewhere between the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s letters, “Follow me” turned into “I did it all with blood sacrifice.”  Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 – 1109, sealed the deal with his writing on the satisfaction theory of atonement.

And ever since, we’ve been killing him (Jesus) softly but surely by piling on the sins of the world, Sunday after Sunday.  Data tells us he’s almost half dead now, under the load.  Barna Group relentlessly counts the beans of evangelical angst, documenting the slippage of the “churched” through the door to become the “unchurched”, searching for just the right moves to get’em “churched” again.  Their latest book, Churchless:  Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, documents that the “unchurched” segment of the US population has grown not just steadily, but at an ever increasing rate from 30% in the 1990’s to 43% in 2014.  For Barna and company (A better book title might have been Clueless.), it seems a daunting task to stem that tide, given what they see as the relentless bashing of Christianity by godless unchurched culture.  A small first step might be to get rid of those repelling and out of touch churched and unchurched labels.

Let’s let Jesus off the bloody hook.  Lots of folks have tried to redeem atonement by turning it into “at-one-ment.”  Too little too late, I fear, but the sentiment is useful.  I believe with all my heart that Jesus was “at-one” with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  And I believe “the way” to which he persistently called the people of his small corner of the world in his time is, indeed, the path forward – the very same foundational path forward whispered by the breath of life in all places and all times.

But we – you and I and Aunt Suzie – won’t find that path by continually “casting our burden upon the Lord.”  (If you are sufficiently unchurched, that phrase of evangelical atonement might be unfamiliar, and I promise not to use it again.)  We will find it, metaphorically, in our own journey from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.  We will find it by changing the way we view ourselves and the world around us.

“Salvation,” another hopelessly abused and by now nearly dead word, is really just our choice to grow up and move along that path.  A bloody choice?  Well, let’s be honest.  Turning from the fear and separation of the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is very threatening to power, at least to the misused power of twisted politics and those that wield religion to mediate your redemption and mine.  Taking personal responsibility for growing up to compassion, confidence and responsible relationship – becoming the Adult of God (Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source – not an old man in some heaven) that we become under the Tree of Life – taking that personal responsibility and acting on it generally, at some point, puts us crosswise with the powers of fear.  Witness Jesus as the Romans nailed him to a tree, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer and six millions Jews up in smoke in bloody Christian Germany.

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 21-24.  God I love my old Revised Standard Version.)

Want to be saved?  Stop going to war.  Want to be saved?  Take care of the planet.  Want to be saved?  Don’t even think about killing the food stamp program.

Want to be saved from “sin and death?”  Stop nailing Jesus to the tree and crying salvation.  Grow up and choose it.  Forgiveness is not a gift that was given in the bloody slaughter of the Lamb of God.  Forgiveness is a state of being.  No one can give it to you. You must truly embrace it for yourself.  And then move on.

Move on, move on down the road.  And consider a gift to Jesus this Christmas.  Take him off the bloody tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree of fear and hate and twisted power.  Clean him up, like the Good Samaritan would.  Clean him up and walk with him, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  Walk with him, all the way to 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.

New Worship

Alas, for many who are no longer comfortable within the confines of a single religion, or who can no longer accept core doctrines of their root tradition, worship has become both a problem and a loss.  There is a desire to touch, to engage.  And there is an aversion and disappointment in what is found in that touch.  Beautiful hymns in four part harmony lift the spirit in ecstasy, only to crash suddenly to earth in a glorification of blood sacrifice.

Our existing traditions and the accoutrements of worship that support them have been built over centuries, with great care.  Meticulously orchestrated and standardized rituals mediate the sacred, serving as metaphorical doors that open for a moment beyond the limits of physical pain, daily toil and bodily death.  They deliver a prescribed, and for many still effective formula of immanent experience and transcendent connection with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

But for those with one or both feet outside the doctrinal door, satisfaction is limited or seemingly unavailable.  In varying degrees, there is a sense of alienation, of fraud.  We can choose to stay, crossing fingers or going silent when songs and liturgies lead us into language outside our defined circle of spiritual integrity.  For many, that is a useful transitional compromise, preserving aspects of community and offering some level of the expression of ecstasy.  But this route offers only a partial, incomplete and less than fully satisfying solution.

A richer alternative may be to extend the circle beyond judgment of the mediated.  Recall in our discussion of the sacred and profane that these are not two categories of phenomena.  Rather, sacred and profane are the lenses we choose between when we view and engage all that is.  Do we choose a sacred life of connection and reverence, or do we engage phenomena as though they are outside ourselves, materialistic products for consumption in a zero sum game of winning or losing, wealth or poverty?  This view, this choice, has profound implications for our concept and experience of worship.

Living only within the confines of mediated worship, or fighting its limitations are both positions of judgment, positions that leave us with the dissatisfied sorting of sacred and profane.  Either way, we decide that something – whether our traditional worship or our disdain of it – is sacred while the other position is profane.  We limit ourselves to external sorting and judgment rather than to holistic seamless engagement of the immanent and transcendent nature of all that is.

When we live life with the eyes of the sacred, we remove the barrier of judgment.  We expand with ease outside the limited mediated experience of organized religion without a need to judge or reject it.  It’s just that religion and worship are no longer compartmentalized experiences packaged and delivered by institutions.  They are not activities like a sport or a class that we choose to take.  They are not the prescribed clothing, food, prayers or practices of a given day of the week.  Religion and worship become, instead, the very fullness of life itself.

Worship in this sense becomes attention and connection.  We become aware of the people on the bus, the driver in the next car, the car and the road themselves.  We hear each sound, see each sight, feel each touch, glorious and mundane.  We engage with appreciation and reverence, without judgment, experiencing no boundary between institutionalized religious experience, if we choose it, and the fullness of life itself.

We hear the prophetic voice in a rock song, the hope and longing of a ballad.  A flower, a fly, a fleeting smile.  All things and all acts, ours and those around us, become part of the song of creation, the perpetual praise of becoming – the joy that we are, in the same moment and for all time, ourselves, the spark of being, at one, integral in the fabric of everything.

From this perspective we are free to engage even what we may feel that we have left behind.  There is no aspect of loss or limitation, only expansive, extravagant and compassionate welcome of every expression and exploration, each tentative test and step forward into the unknown, the unfoldment of the yet to be created.

There is no loss.  There is only more, something whole and complete, worship as the fullness of life and all that is, glorious expectation and engagement of all to come.

I am in Latin America right now.  In Spanish one might affirm, “Así es!”  This is how it is!  Así es!  Así es, 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.

Second Birth: The Upanishads, Jesus and the Journey to Self

Recall that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a metaphor for the first awakening of human awareness: the ability to perceive a discreet self; the ability and propensity to judge phenomena as good or bad, depending on how we think we are affected; the ability to contemplate life, death and the nature of the universe.  It is, in short, the realization of ego.  In its immature form, the ego only perceives separation and vulnerability, and the response is fear along with a desperate grasping for protection at any cost.

The metaphorical Tree of Life represents a maturation of awareness.  It is achievement of a stage of realization that recognizes the interconnectedness and spiritual nature of life and all that is.  We are no longer just isolated selves, dependent solely on our ability to protect our body and our fragile ego.  We achieve a realization that we are part of something larger, something that transcends time, space and physical manifestation.  We are, in fact, living sparks of the very mind of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, breathed full of the breath of life, the creative thrill of the universe.

The garden trees themselves are, in reality, only one.  They simply represent the manifestation of all that is, the complete creative activity of C/S/M/S.  They are the source and stuff of life, the universe and everything (appreciation and apologies to Douglas Adams).  The two trees are not distinguished by their unique and independent natures.  Rather, they are distinguished only by how we view them.  Their names – Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or Tree of Life – are just indicators of the level of our own spiritual maturity.  Have we grown to a level of trust and comfort with our place in the universe, a place of willingness to give and to receive without fear or grasping?  Do we trust that there is “that” of us that transcends birth and death, space and time?  Or do we see only as much as we can through the blinders of separation and scarcity, good and bad, physical life and death?

The journey from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life is, in reality, the journey from small “s” self to capital “S” Self.  Nowhere is that journey presented with more clarity than in the Upanishads, wisdom teachings attached to the Hindu Vedas that grew out of the merger of the Indo-European speaking Aryan culture and the resident culture of the Indus Valley.  This merger of cultures is believed to have happened about 4,000 years ago, placing the Vedas among, if not distinguishing them definitively as the earliest of what we would call scriptures.

The relevance for those of us in the West, particularly as we move away from a spirituality based on original sin and redemption through blood sacrifice, is tremendous.  Here are writings, among the earliest on spiritual reflection and experience, that discover and declare the difference between these two different levels of spiritual maturity.  There is no presentation or burden of guilt, just recognition that we are born into small “s” self and that our task in life is to grow, to mature to capital “S” Self, our connection with and existence in timeless being.

We are, in truest essence, born again when we make this move between the two trees, the journey from disconnected ego to connected essential being.  We achieve this step, our second birth, through renunciation of attachment to the senses – the mindless drive to chase what we think is pleasure and safety and to run from what we perceive as danger and pain.  Renunciation is not separation or disengagement from these life experiences.  Rather, it is to live them fully without attachment, without being driven and governed by them, recognizing their passing existence as opposed to our eternal being.

From the Isha Upanishad*:

6 Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no fear.
7Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no grief.
How can the multiplicity of life
Delude the one who sees its unity?

8The Self is everywhere.  Bright is the Self,
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and transcendent.  He it is
Who beholds the cosmos together.

From the Katha Upanishad*:

Part I [3] 15The supreme Self is beyond name and form,
Beyond the senses, inexhaustible,
Without beginning, without end, beyond
Time, space, and causality, eternal,
Immutable.  Those who realize the Self
Are forever free from the jaws of death.

Part II [1] 2The immature run after sense pleasures
And fall into the widespread net of death.
But the wise, knowing the Self as deathless,
Seek not the changeless in the world of change.
3That through which one enjoys form, taste, smell, sound,
Touch, and sexual union is the Self.
Can there be anything not known to That
Who is the One in all?  Know One, know all.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3: 3, NRSV).  This is indeed second birth, to renounce the fear and slavery of small “s” self, and to engage our true Self, at peace, at one with all there is.  Experience without fearing.  Enjoy without grasping.  Share without owning.  Choose, practice, to be born to Self under the Tree of Life.

*From The Upanishads, introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press, © 1987, 2007 by The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.

© 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.

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American Christianity’s Elephant in the Room

Since the very beginning of the nation, Christianity has been the dominant cultural narrative of the United States.  Or, more accurately, the narrative of American Christianity has been the dominant narrative, and it reads something like this:

  1. Jesus, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, was different from you and me. He was truly God’s child, the first and last God incarnate.  We are not.
  2. Jesus loves you and wants to live in your heart.
  3. Jesus looked pretty much like a white middle-American, except he wore a robe.
  4. Jesus plays good cop to God’s bad cop. We sit in the chair of interrogation.  In the end, if we don’t answer right, we’re going to get it.
  5. Jesus said a lot of wonderful things and performed a bunch of miracles, but what really matters is that he died on the cross to save you from your sins. Jesus saves.
  6. Everyone is welcome in heaven, so long as they believe Jesus died for their sins and they praise his name on a regular basis.
  7. Jesus is coming again to get those who qualify under number 6 and to leave the rest behind, gnashing their teeth as the world goes down to hell. One of my favorite bumper stickers, in fact, reads, “Jesus is coming soon, and is he pissed!”

I would argue that this is not at all what Jesus was about.  But that is for another day.  Today, the message is that Christianity, at least in this cultural narrative, is dying in America.  And for the most part, the Christian church does not begin to comprehend the reason why.  Look around carefully, there is an elephant in the room.

Church attendance has indeed declined steadily for at least the past two generations.  Catholics have been hit hardest, followed by mainline Protestant congregations.  Large evangelical churches have been more likely to hold on, but even these are now seeing some decline.  In every research result, the “nones” and their “spiritual but not religious” cohort (all unaffiliated with any church) are steadily rising, especially in the emerging dominant millennial generation, but even among boomers and the silent generation that preceded them.

The evangelical mega-churches which had their hay day in the last twenty-five years are not immune.  Their marketing strategies and strategic plans implicitly acknowledge the consumer mentality of their, should we even use the label, parishioners.  Entertainment is not true religion.  Run the country out of fossil fuels or put on a better show down the street and watch what becomes of the theater seats, big screens and easy faith.

Some pollsters say the numbers lie, that what is happening is that people just go to church less often.  Others say that people are expressing their faith in house churches and other nontraditional gatherings.  There is no doubt a level of truth in both of these observations.

But no one is identifying or addressing the elephant in the room.  The American Christian church is dying.  It is dying not because of Jesus, but because American Christianity’s dominant story line, its basic value proposition, is bankrupt, with fewer and fewer willing to consider it credible enough to buy.  Fewer and fewer give any credence to the narrative that we are at core defective, not made just the way Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) intended, and that America’s Christian God requires blood sacrifice – specialized human/deity blood, at that – to keep from damning us to hell.

And nowhere in the church is that being acknowledged or addressed straight out.  In my review of religious demographic surveys I could not find even one that asked Christians or anyone else whether they truly believed that God required the blood sacrifice of a human incarnation to redeem them from their fallen nature.  Why is that?

I suspect at least three problems.  First, American Christian leaders are scared to hell of the likely results, which is why they persist in speculations and surveys about every other possible reason for their steady and imminent demise.  Further, it is possibly beyond the realm of imagination for these bearers of Christian angst to conceive of this issue at all.  It is literally unthinkable.  Finally, the elephant is both so large and so preposterous that people in general find it simply easier to dismiss it quietly and not to talk about it.  Who wants to disturb a holy elephant, dead or alive?  The result is that hot air is steadily cooling in this once dominant balloon.  And the poor wizard, while nervous, convinces himself that the curtain still hides him and the illusion holds sway.

Spirituality in America needs a new value proposition.  There were two special metaphorical trees in the Garden of Eden, both intended for us in the mind of C/S/M/S.  We ate from the first, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We did not fall, we just thought we did.  We simply woke to all the splendor and terror of human awareness.  C/S/M/S never wanted us to kill anyone or anything to get free of that tree.  That was our idea.  The call in all times and places has been to grow up, to make good choices in the context of who we are and to move on to 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.

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