Worthy Is the Lamb

It’s the Holiday Season in the United States.  Lights, music, trees, the gusher of retail dollars and – Messiah sing-alongs.  Yes, as a member of the Taos Community Chorus (tenor until faced with a high A), I am participating.  How many times, how many places?  And yet these texts from Isaiah and Revelation, set to Handel’s exuberant music, continue to inspire and thrill.  May the abuses and domination of all twisted religious expression wither and perish.  Please, dear God, save this glorious music.

One of the most powerful choruses is based on a surreal image from Revelation 5:12: “Worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (NRSV) Or in the King’s English used by Handel, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain.”

The obvious reference here is to the glorification of Christ, crucified by the threatened powers and resurrected in an immutable assertion that life as intended, the true spirit of love and compassion, can never be conquered, whether by evil intent or physical demise.

But it seems to me there is more in the phrase.  As we journey from our experience of scarcity and fear under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; as we begin to know and trust it as the Tree of Life, there is always a lamb to be slain.  The Buddha asserts with certainty, life is duhkha.  We will suffer.  The innocence of the lamb will be ravaged.  We can delude and harden ourselves.  There will be sickness.  There will be abusers and victims.  There will be war and hunger and loss of loved ones.  And in the end, we will die.

No lamb avoids the slaughter.  Worthy is the one that faces and embraces it.  It’s not that some perverse deity requires blood to be satisfied.  It’s that we don’t pass the test of life without dying to the lies.

We can paste over it with Christmas presents and walls of security and comfort.  We can mask it with youth and pleasure.  We can pretend to fend it off with walls and guns and warehoused kids at the border.

Or we can make a different choice.  We can die right now and get on with the real thing.  Die to fear.  Die to domination.  Die to greed and anger, our selfish anxiety and hoarding.  In the end, it avails us nothing.  Why not end it now?  Why not make the choice, today, to shed all of this and replace it with the giving and receiving of blessing, honor, glory and power?

So let’s sing it, clear and strong.  Worthy is the lamb, the lamb that is slain:

  • The family turned back at the border. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The youth taken by opioids in the towns along the Ohio River. Worthy is the lamb.
  • Christine Blasey Ford.  Worthy is the lamb.
  • The “deep state” public servant, courageous enough to blow the whistle. Worthy is the lamb.
  • Jamal Khashoggi. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The Walmart shoppers in El Paso. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The Syrian hospital patients in the sights of the Russian warplane.  Worthy is the lamb.
  • The indigenous environmental activists killed by governments and corporate thugs in Latin America. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The young women lured to hotel rooms and private jets by promises of open doors to the future. Worthy is the lamb.
  • You and I, friend, when we die to all of this, die to our comfort, our greed, our fear and embrace the cross that leads to real life. Worthy is the lamb.

Worthy, worthy is the lamb that is slain.  Blessing, honor, glory and power be unto her.

Worthy.

 

© 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 to be notified of future posts.

God With Us

Earlier this week, a man I had never met handed me one of those “Don’t wait until it’s too late on the highway to hell” tracts.  “This is for you,” he said, and quickly exited the campus where I am working this year in Guatemala.  He had been staying at our guesthouse.

Not a word of relational greeting, not a gesture of farewell, but, for him, an act of faithful mission accomplished, the first in a busy day ahead, I presume, in a foreign land.  Duty bound and driven.  I offered simple thanks and walked to my office, watching my emotions flicker between mild surprise, adrenalized offense, the dim glow of dormant anxiety, some reflective affirmation for a life of commitment and compassion for what seems to me a misguided purpose.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus have been touted for centuries as the defining events, the sin qua non of Christianity.  There is no denying their powerful drama.  And a million words have been used to amplify, to give religious meaning, to add utility and certainly worldly power to them, whatever anyone may or may not think regarding a greater divine purpose.

Where Christianity as it has overwhelmingly been known leaves the tracks for me is in blood sacrifice and redemption.  The history of our human enterprise of religion is rife with efforts to appease and manipulate the gods.  In this view of the crucifixion, Christianity finally trumps all with God swooping in and sweeping aside the rest.  Finished at last with every failed attempt of the imperfect priest, God sticks it to his own perfect incarnation.  At last, blood that is good enough to cover your sins and mine, if we just believe in time.  And watch out for that devil, stealthily tricking you into delay until it’s too late.

There is, I believe, a healthy alternative.

Come, oh come, Emmanuel.  God with us.  God dying with us.  The God in us willing to live, and if necessary die, alongside our suffering neighbor.

The distinctive call of the true Christian, the follower of Jesus, is the recognition, as with the Buddha, of suffering as the nature of our existence.  And when Christianity really gets it right, where Jesus really got it right, is in the commitment to engage, to join in the suffering of others as the doorway to transcendence for all concerned.  In that light, the crucifixion and resurrection stand as powerful metaphors.

I am reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.  If you have read it, you will understand that I am waking at night with stark visions of unspeakable horrors inflicted on slaves to assure economic privilege and access to wanton depravity.  And I live this year in a country where hundreds of thousands of indigenous passed through and died in a similar hell for the same reasons as little as 30 years ago.  Last week ICE raided a dairy farm in Upstate New York, Syria used chemical weapons against its own and stories of atrocities surfaced from every corner of the globe.

There is no greater hell than the one created by human forces of fear, greed and power, served fresh daily to millions of the innocent on our planet Earth.  We need no other.  A tract of the Gospel, of all things.  It’s difficult to think of a more twisted profanity than scaring the suffering with hell in the name of Jesus.

The crucifixion of Jesus, the lynching of Black folk in America, the trafficking of women and children for depravity and profit, the bombing and burning of anyone to crush a perceived enemy with fear.  There is quite enough blood with far too little redemption.

God with us comes in the hands and feet of those who walk with the suffering in the face of fear, who accept the cross, the noose, the rape and castration, the bullet and blade of every human prince of darkness.  God with us is the resurrection of community in the face of oppression, the dance of kindness 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 above to be notified of future posts.

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Submit Yourself

East, West, which way to look for that perfect spirituality?  Such a quandary for the comfortable with time and resources to spare.  No doubt my deep intentions are tilting the universe in a better direction, while in turn, that very same expanse is conspiring for my greatest good.  But somehow the rubble still gets deeper in Syria.  The thugs paid by the palm oil companies are still burning the houses of peasants in Colombia.  And the string of cars belching carbon, clawing their desperate way to the mountains in Estes Park, Colorado, extend the crack in the Antarctic ice sheet.

There are flies all over all of us.  What to do?  We can rage against the darkness.  It’s so easy to blame the stupidity of others for the burden we share.  We can wallow in despair, sighing our way to the next tomorrow and the next.  We can stick our heads in the sand.  If I am comfortable in this moment, why look beyond my bubble?  We can work ourselves to weariness with good deeds, shrug, and say we did our best.

But these alternatives share major flaws.  They are selfish and disconnected.  All focus on how I feel about myself in relation to the problem or to the rest of creation.  My anger at others exonerates me from personal complicity and, therefore, action.  And yet, especially as one of the world’s privileged, I take no step and breathe no breath without exhaustive and violent extraction from the Earth and all its creatures, including the bulk of humanity.

Despair, of course, is just completely irresponsible.  I can blame my inactivity on the impossible size of the task and the exhaustion I experience just thinking about it.  Focusing on my own comfort at least gives me pleasure and distraction.  But these two options also abdicate responsible participation.

And let’s be real.  My good deeds are never enough.  I can never run fast enough or jump high enough to save the planet on my own.  And the conclusion that at least I tried is just another form of despair, with the gold star of performance pasted on it to relieve my guilt with a little smug pride.

The root error of all these responses is that they focus on me, as though my feelings are what matter, or as though the outcomes of creation are somehow, in a very special and important way, on my shoulders.  And when I am focused on me, I am too distracted to be truly useful.

I opened with a less than subtle dig at the spirituality of intention.  Perhaps that is unfair.  Focusing our intentions for good can, it seems, shift energy with positive outcomes in ways that we can observe, if not yet comprehend.  As Masaru Emoto documents in his Messages from Water and the Universe, even a positive word pasted on a glass of water can yield a response of astounding beauty in ice crystals formed from that water.  Perhaps on a given evening we could effect positive change if millions focused their intentions completely on the healing of our president.  And yet our New Years prayers for universal peace – offered annually all over the world – have yet to tip the balance decisively.  Who can say, of course, that they have not at least held us back from the brink of destruction.

What we miss in all of this is that we are not, indeed, ourselves.  Nor are we just our intentions.  We are intention embodied.  We (not just humans, but every particle and the energy that binds it into being) are the hands and feet of Creation.  Our intelligence, while seemingly vast from where we stand, is just a speck of something grand beyond imagination.  Whether we look big and far to the stars and galaxies or small to the mysterious behavior of the Higgs Boson, we learn that everything is always more and different than we think.  Our book of physics is never more than a scratchpad of notes in the library of what we vainly imagine to be the universe.

We are intention embodied,  We act within the capabilities and limitations of our embodiment.  Granted, that is a statement of blind faith.  But what is more blind than the borders of what we think is real?  I choose – I invite you to choose – faith that the wonder of all we don’t know is expressing itself continually into the void.  And we are part of that expression.

I propose active submission to that greater intention.  We can engage the gorgeous paradox of acting, in complete rest, into that intention.  There is direction available to us for action.  We connect with it when we, as Gerald May has put it so well, eschew willfulness and embrace willingness.

When we submit (read “allow connection of”) ourselves, all our intentions and all our actions, with confidence to Creation/Spirit/Mind/Source (read words I use for God), we move forward, acting with compassion from a position of expectation, the joy and surprise of creation.  We are not exhausted.  We do not despair, nor do we fear or avoid walking forward.

We cannot know.  We do not need to know.  Our satisfaction comes in submitting ourselves and all our gifts to the intelligent Whole, being and acting rather than owning and resisting.

Exhaustion and despair are the net of our selfish frenzy under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Rest and compassionate action join as one for health and wholeness under the Tree of Life.  Come with me, dear one, to the place of wonder and deep satisfaction.

© 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 above 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.

Syria, Guatemala, the Twin Towers and the Tree of Life

Syrian and African refugees are flooding Europe.  Foreign ministers of the EU huddle in angst to find a solution to the crisis.  A little boy lapped by the waves on the beach captures our heart, a heart that we believe helpless to solve either the hostilities of the terrorist threat or the plight of the poor.  Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of Central Americans flee gang and narco-violence only to be housed in detention centers for children in Texas.  We, with Hungary, dream of a better wall.

In 1954 the US Central Intelligence Agency, in league with United Fruit Company, Congress, President Eisenhower and the US Department of State, overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala.  The New York Times, Time Magazine and the rest of the major media of the day swallowed the manufactured anti-communist rhetoric, reporting persistently and with favor what in reality was a thin charade of a military coup against a very democratic regime.  The agricultural land and labor of the indigenous people of Guatemala were the true prize.

Alas, it didn’t work out so well and ultimately required millions of dollars of arms, annually, to support successive regimes of oppression in the slaughter or disappearance of an estimated 250,000 Guatemalans, mostly indigenous, in the years between then and the early 1990’s.  Today, US and Canadian mining and agricultural interests quietly pursue the same business, in league with governments to engineer trade pacts that pave the way for the interests of wealth at the expense of the powerless.  We are blind and complicit in our convenient comfort.

The Guatemalan people, once again last week, spoke up, peacefully and successfully, to unseat the latest propped up corrupt president – a seeming victory.  But let’s read the history.  Anyone elected who intends to act in the best interests of all the citizens of Guatemala faces North American defamation and, as likely, murder for their efforts.  The best interests of all the citizens of Guatemala do not align with the insatiable hunger of the powers that be.

Greed fuels the engine of power abused.  Violence and despair are its polluted exhaust.  And there is no limit to the sophistication and depravity of lies and destruction that, unchecked, may be served up to keep that turbine whirling.

Fourteen years ago this week, these same powers co-opted the destruction of the World Trade Center towers as the demon of terrorism to mask yet another generation of violence in the Middle East.  The bitter fruit of that story is no different than that of Guatemala.  Hundreds of thousands, mostly civilian, lie dead (only thousands of our own, a cynically acceptable return on investment) in an ecological, social and political waste land that cranks out profits beyond the pale for military and oil contractors.  And the embedded press, as always, missed the story entirely, serving up the dulling Kool-Aid® of terrorist threat to a complacent and willing public.

Time will tell whether the demise of those buildings and lives served only as serendipitously convenient cover or whether, just like in 1954, this was an orchestrated sleight of hand to camouflage greed beyond imagination.   No matter at this point.  Violence and greed breed poverty and oppression, paving the way for trafficking and profiteering of all kinds.  Terrorists, drug lords, pimps and gang leaders are no more than a distracting by-product.  The immigrant crisis in Europe and the United States is not the problem of those that are fleeing.  Nor is it the result of the immediate violence that pushes these poor people, at last, to embrace the risk and humiliation of their plight.  Rather, it is the fruit of the soil tilled by the heart of greed.

There is no political or military solution, friends.  There is no magical system or policy.  And our Band-Aid® social and relief programs address only symptoms, not the disease.  There is only our willful refusal to connect the dots all the way back to the root and make the choice for which we are responsible.

When we are stuck in the fear of death under the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we respond with greed, violence and the abuse of power.  We do this as individuals.  And the heart we choose as individuals becomes the collective heart of our institutions of commerce, religion and government.  These work together seamlessly to mask our bottomless fear, hunger and despair.

When the individuals at the helm of obscene wealth and its political, covert and military minions come to terms with the empty depravity of their abusive choices; when we as citizens of privilege are willing to face our complicity in blind addiction to comfort, we may find and embrace the solution to both the misery of the oppressed and the wake of violence that flows in to fill the void of our desecration.

We are neither helpless nor irreparably fallen.  We have a choice.  There is enough.  We are each and all responsible.  When we turn to live under the Tree of Life, we choose to embrace rather than oppress the powerless.  We refuse to create an enemy that masks and justifies the violence of our greed.  And we harvest the fruit of goodness instead of the bitter and rotten fruit we feed to the refugees of our depravity.

Conversion and salvation are not the easy mouthing of the name of Jesus.  They are, rather, the conscious and practiced choice of maturity, of becoming the true Self of compassion and kindness we are intended and able to be.  Come Lord Jesus.  Come Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna and Aunt Susie.  Come you and me, with nothing but the desire to heal our hearts, in rest and sharing under the Tree of Life.  It is there, for our choosing, at the center of the City of Our Source, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.  (Revelation 22: 2)

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© Jerry S Kennell, 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 to be notified of future posts.