Good Friday

It’s Holy Week, Semana Santa.  I started it this year in Guatemala.  Everyone is back to their hometown, it seems, to visit family and friends.  Alfombras, block long carpets of brightly colored sawdust and flowers, transform the cobblestone of colonial streets.  Huge elaborate floats depicting the passion of Christ are carried on the shoulders of fifty or more of the faithful, inching their way past the cathedral and central park.  The brass and drum corps marks time, in cadence befitting the gravity of the Lamb of God, taking upon himself the sins of the world.

It’s an outsize burden, I think.  Mayan women hawk fabulously beautiful weavings, made of handspun yarn and natural dyes, painstakingly extracted from spices, flowers, berries and insects.

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No price can adequately compensate the weeks of labor by these women, sitting on knees, the weight of their bodies creating the tension needed for the woof and warp of their backstrap looms.  The work is so gorgeous.  They ask so little.  The market prevails in its daily disappointment.

Our travels took us to their villages, where tombstones decorated with primitive art depict burned houses and hanged, hacked and bleeding bodies of the hundreds, thousands, perhaps 250,000 of their beloved family and friends, slaughtered by soldiers and paramilitary in the 1980’s, pieces dumped into mass graves.

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The generals justified these deaths with biblical quotes under a valence of anti-communism, preparing the way, as it has for 500 years, for the insatiable lords of wealth and power,  the robes cast off by the killers piled for safekeeping at the gates of the School of the Americas.

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I fly home.  Three simple words that separate me indelibly from the suffering on the ground.  I ride the slick shiny blade of the machete of progress, hacking its way through the friendly skies, bounding lightly across borders that say “No, you may not partake.  Your cup is a sop of vinegar served up on whatever stick you can find.”

59 missiles flip their way mindlessly to an airstrip in Syria and MOAB, the “mother of all bombs”, is dropped in Afganistan, this week’s blackbird pie served up for the ego of a spoiled child, daily millions demanded to fund the latest Mar-a-Lago deal, the White House an empty shell of a sucked out egg, the hollow hope of the poor and downtrodden.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

No amount of blood poured out has ever offered a drop of redemption.  It’s just another killing – another lie of the king, sanctioned by the priest, to justify clearing the path ahead.  Jesus died because of our sins, never to take them away.

Good Friday.

© 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 above to be notified of future posts.

ISIS, Paris and the Fight for Dominance

ISIS this week brought its bloody bully show to the world media stage in the City of Light.  We are saddened and disgusted by the loss of innocent lives in Paris, guilty only of being different.  We grieve with the bereft and hurt with the wounded.  We are twisted with angst that people disparage their own lives for the sole purpose of doing violence to others.  How can this happen in the modern world?  Will it happen to me?  How can we stop it?  What can it possibly be about?

Ultimately, all fights are about dominance.  We perceive someone or something to be a threat to our wellbeing.  Something about them makes us afraid that our particular way of life, our daily existence, is at risk.  We respond with force.

A toddler wants control of a toy.  Another toddler takes possession.  A sense of violation takes over.  Words or blows are exchanged, followed by tears and rage employed to elicit the intervention of a higher power to enforce justice.

Really, that is all there is:

  • A fundamentalist wants their god to dominate all others.
  • A mining company wants a peasant’s land.
  • A racist wants safety from and control over people of different skin pigmentation.
  • A man wants to dominate a woman.
  • A consumer wants the latest gadget for a life of no bother.

Violence ensues, whether in person or by proxy.

Good teachers and parents show children the value of sharing and cooperation.  But the world around us teaches other lessons.  At the end of the day, people are wounded and die.  Some are beheaded or torn to bits in a suicide bombers’ blast.  Most, truly, are the innocent casualties of another’s war.  Iraq Body Count estimates somewhere between 146,000 and 166,000 violent civilian deaths since the 2003 United States invasion.  When combatants are added in, the toll rises to 224,000.  When secondarily related deaths are counted (a person in need of medical services or other life necessities they cannot access because of the war), the toll rises to over one-half million (see Huffington Post).  And that is just one of today’s many wars.

Whether we are a toddler, a religion, an economic system or a nation, we see dominance as the antidote for our fears.  And we set all good teaching and rationality aside, spending any resource to preserve our wounded ego and supposed safety through the use of force.

It does not work.  Hitler rose to power by channeling collective fear into violent domination.  The whack-a-mole response of World War II put an end to that only to yield the greater horror of nuclear annihilation and the super-power struggles of the Cold War.  And no military or terrorist action by anyone in any place since then has achieved a lasting peace as a net result of the violence applied.  Humanity ultimately seems cowed only by the insanity of mutually assured destruction.

Is that what we want?  Whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist; whether American, Iraqi, Malaysian or Saudi; whether capitalist, socialist, communist or military dictator; whether retiree, school teacher, cashier or toddler on the playground, we make our choices.  We make them in each breath.

Will we make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil choice, the one that says there is not enough and that every other being is a competitor and a threat to our existence?  Will we strike out in violence, large or small, overt or subtle, to secure what is never more than a temporary chimera of control?  This happens each day at every level, from the battle to dominate our little vehicular turf on the highway to the unfathomable resources thrown into the assertion of military force.

Or will we learn the Tree of Life lesson of all our good teachers – everyone from the Buddha to Jesus to Mohammed to Mr. Rogers?  Life works when we listen to others and share.  Life works when we give up dominance, altogether, in favor of mutually assured satisfaction.

Life works, in fact, when we are willing to suffer the blow delivered by another and return only compassion and kindness.  There is never a victory through violence.  There is never ultimate security in threat.  We win only when we give up the fight altogether and show another way.  And so we teach our children.  But we refuse to believe it and live it in every breath and aspect of our adult lives.

Love your enemy.  Turn the other cheek.  Walk the second mile.  There is nothing passive about these things.  All are active assertions of a better way.  The Tree of Life grows surely at the end of that road.

© 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.

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.

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.

The World We Dream

In his book, Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval, medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo describes the shamanic/spiritual practices of the Laika, an indigenous community of the Peruvian Amazon:

The Laika believe that everything is imaginal.  Whatever we perceive is a projection of our inner world, and the world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  I believe that to be true, individually and collectively.

So what does that mean?  Does that mean I can imagine great wealth and it will happen to me?  Maybe.  The prophets of positive thinking would say so, and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates certainly imagined something.  I have actually heard people say that the entire universe is constructed, at root, to conspire for our greater good.

But there is something about this glib thinking that is potentially shallow and backwards.  This thinking tempts us to focus on changing the reflected image – the world we create or manifest – rather than the underlying reality, the condition of our soul.  We act out, we manifest, what we have allowed ourselves to become.  And the work for a better world is done not by sitting around and imagining a better world, but by working on the condition of our souls.

If I focus chiefly on the universe conspiring for my greater good, I will get a world that looks like my soul – a manipulative and selfish world with relationships and outcomes to match.  When I move my focus to outcomes, I lose track of who I am and I become, perhaps unintentionally, but truly, the picture of my neglected soul.

This is true collectively as well as individually.  The United States has begun air strikes in Iraq to counter forcefully the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Our focus is on outcomes.  But the real world, the world that is, reflects the condition of a collective soul that wanted wealth and oil at any cost.  The condition of our soul manifested a world that supported oppressors like Saddam Hussein – or the Shah, or Somoza or any number of puppet regimes – in the oppression and pillage of people to yield the comfort we thought was our greater good.  And the perpetual wars that result, whether the violence in the Middle East or the violence in Central America beneath the current child refugee crisis, truly mirror and are an accurate manifestation of the condition of our soul.  When our soul, anyone’s soul, is sick with greed, we manifest a world of oppression and violence.

I remember bumper stickers that said “Visualize World Peace,” as though sitting still and picturing a peaceful world in our mind would make it happen.  But that is magical thinking, no better or more effective than the satirical bumper sticker retort, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  Mirrors can be useful.  Any one of us can look in the mirror and learn something about reality.  I might learn I am aging and wrinkling.  I might learn that I am contorted with anxiety, or that I am satisfied and radiant.  Certainly I can paste on a different face if I want to imagine something different than what I see.  I have manipulated the outcome of an image.  I have not changed the underlying reality.

There were two metaphorical trees planted at the center of the Garden of Eden:  the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and, beside it, the Tree of Life.  We ate from the first and were given the gift of conscious awareness.  We could see the mirror image of all that we had manifested.  It was frightening and disconcerting.

Our reaction was to try to manipulate outcomes, to make the picture we saw safe and comforting.  Seeing only ourselves, we resorted to fear and greed.  We created religions in an attempt to get the gods to conspire for us, to cooperate with us, or at least not to work against us.

But there were – and are – those who grew up, who awoke to a different truth.  These prophets, saints and mystics realized that the world was just a reflection of something deeper, of the condition of our true spiritual selves.

Their call in all times has been to turn from the mirror, to embrace and nurture the reality.  The reality is the quality of our soul.  If we cultivate peace and harmony in our spirit, the mirror reflects it.  It’s not that we changed the picture.  It is that we changed our being.  We made the choice to grow up.  We nurtured the condition of our soul.  And the picture around us – the manifested world of relationships – reflects our nurture.

The two metaphorical trees in the garden, as I have noted before, are really only one.  When we focus on the mirror, we see only the image of the tree.  That image is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we bang into the mirror, over and over, trying to get what we want, what we think we need from that picture.  And the picture only gets worse, because it reflects our frustration and unhappiness.

When we turn away from the mirror of our manifested world, and cultivate the quality of our soul, we find that we are living in true reality, under the Tree of Life.  We manifest peace.  We manifest kindness and compassion.  We manifest abundance – the power of enough for all – because we have cultivated those things at the root of our being.

Turn inward.  Cultivate your soul.  Live in reality under the Tree of Life.  You won’t need the mirror to know the outcome.

© 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.

Born in You this Day

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”   Luke 2:11, NRSV.

There are so many ways to wreck a good story.  In fact, we might as well call it Christmas Cancer for all that it has become in the last two millennia:  grafted onto holiday trees from other traditions; the insanity of soldiers stopping to sing carols to the enemy across the front lines of WWI, resuming the fight in the morning; Santa Claus and Rudolph; enough lights to outshine a supernova; a worldwide binge and burp of the economy big enough to make us confident that Jesus has finally entered the temple and whipped, once and for all, the rogue dogs of evil empire.

What was born?  Who was born?  Lamb of God?  For all our focus on blood sacrifice to grab salvation, Jesus might as well have been a 4-H calf, corn-fed and off to the fair, sold at auction to the highest bidder, the owner of the fanciest restaurant in the state.

What was born?  Who was born?  The birth narratives of Matthew and especially the iconic scene of the stable, manger, angels and star in Luke, are memorialized annually from the tiniest of crèche scenes reconstructed in the shell of a bird’s egg, to the bigger than life plywood or even living crèches that, despite our silly doublespeak laws about what religious freedom is or isn’t, stand in front of churches or town squares worldwide.  God almighty, the things we fight about to avoid our own truth.

What was born? Who was born? Without doubt, a true Rose of Sharon, a balm in Gilead, a little Prince of Peace.  And stories like these pasted onto the front of Matthew’s and Luke’s life narratives are effective “sit up and take notice” calls that here was a birth and a life of great importance.

Alas, we are so prone to losing ourselves in icons, drama and worship – anything to avoid personal responsibility.

The real birth of Jesus, good friends, took place in the silent stretch of nearly twenty years between Luke 2 and Luke 3, a gestation of learning and practice, of formation in the womb of wisdom and spirit.  The real birth of Jesus was the birth of authentic Self, the hero’s/heroine’s journey to which we are all invited when we are silent in the presence and willing in spirit.

Luke tries to hammer this home with his genealogy, the long list of names at the end of the third chapter, almost entirely ignored by 2,000 years of Christianity, that ends, for both Adam (read “you and me”) and Jesus, with “Son (child) of God.”  This genealogy marks the line of transition, the end of gestation.  It is followed immediately by a baptism of grown-up spirit and the launch of Jesus into his brief public life of healing, bathed and swaddled in an honest and consistent call to peace, compassion, fairness and, most of all, the pleading invitation to each of us to join him in our own true birth.

What was born?  Who was born?  A human was born, like every human, who gained his life with the whisper of prana, the tickle and nudge of the breath of God, the life force of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Self.  Born a human, you and me, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This one grew up.  This one accepted that suffering (true love, while it may cast out fear, just as often draws fire) was the price of second birth, the true and human birth to capital “S” Self, the birth canal of silence, prayer and practice that bore him all the way to the Tree of Life.

How utterly astounding that for all the effort to tell us in symbol and story, for the repeated invitation of Jesus to each of us to grow up, to enter and to walk through the inevitable suffering of birth to true and mature life, we choose instead to worship the stories.  We shield our eyes in the waving of palms and drown the voice in our din of praise.  Truly, for the most part, we would rather kill the guide than hear the call, hear the invitation and embrace the path.

Born in you this day.  Born in you this day, kind friend.  The invitation to embrace the path, the invitation to second birth.  Born in you this day.  The call to accept, without judgment, the pain and suffering of growing up.  The call to embrace and transform it with the practice of peace, of compassion for self and others.  The call to be authentic sons and daughters of C/S/M/S, true birth under the Tree of Life.

Born in you this day.  Let it be.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Share what is useful.  Please quote the source.

Suffering

My wife is a special educator.  She tells me stories about kids who are and will be, no matter how hard they work, miles and miles short of successful functioning in our society.  I hear about the amazing ways that she confronts them and engages them to draw out even the most basic responses to external stimuli – things like pointing to or grabbing a particular picture that indicates something they want or need, communication in its most elemental forms.  My mind spins off into the future for these little lives and I ache.  Something in me inclines toward discouragement.

According to Wikipedia, 230,000 people died, in 2004, in the Indian Ocean Tsunami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami), triggered by an undersea megathrust off the west coast of Sumatra.  The millions that survived carry the soul etching memory of terror, and the loss of loved ones, places and ways of life that were wrenched irrevocably out of their being.  Even from a distance, the collective soul of the earth feels and bears the rip, the wound and the scar.

The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University (see http://costsofwar.org/article/afghan-civilians) estimated, in February 2013, that between 16,700 and 19,000 civilians have died in Afghanistan as direct or indirect casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom.  iCasualties counts 3383 deaths of coalition troops since the war started in 2001 (http://icasualties.org/oef/), not to mention the traumatic head injuries, loss of limbs and suffering of families of the injured.

Life as we observe it and experience it is full of suffering, whether natural, psychological or of our own making.  And it is so for the observer and survivor just as it is for the victim. 

The Sanskrit term dukkha captures this completely.  The Wikipedia article on dukkha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha) explains it in three categories:

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birthgrowing oldillness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

When we choose to stay stuck under the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, life is indeed dukkha.  We see everything through a lens of a battle to eliminate the pain of our current existence, even to the point of killing others and increasing pain because we think somehow our own security will be enhanced and our dukkha decreased.  In reality, we just pile it higher and deeper.

I have a friend, Vern Rempel, who postscripts his emails with these words of his:  “The code of the universe is written in beauty.” The Buddha said:  “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.”  Somehow I think these two assertions are headed in the same direction.

We cannot judge the pain of temporal existence any more than we can judge – as good, bad or indifferent – the unfolding of our universe and the emergence of life itself.  It is.  It is, it is, it is.  To say “it is” is not indifference, but rather acceptance of and wonder at the mysterious whole and trajectory of creation.

The cessation of dukkha is no more nor less than the choice to live under the Tree of Life.  It is, I believe, a more complete nirvana, and the essence of the Greek term metanoia, translated in the Christian Bible as repentance.  That word has become heavy laden with the trappings of a religion of judgment.  More accurately, it simply means to change, or to turn away from.

When we turn away from our judging and fearful view of life under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we find ourselves, simply, under the Tree of Life.  We repent of dukkha.  We let go of, we turn way from our limited and temporal view of suffering and we engage fully in the ongoing act, the revelation/evolution of creation.

We, in our evolutionary state, have been given at least the level of awareness that comes with observation.  And we have been gifted as well with the ability to judge what we observe.  We also have the ability to choose our response.

We can willfully try to manipulate life and the world around us, desperately seeking to avoid what we perceive as dukkha.  When we do this, we only create more.

Or we can willingly accept and participate in the beautiful and staggeringly powerful onslaught of creation, sharing compassion, soaking in the beauty and mystery, acting in the creative initiative of God/Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

There is a tremendous ache, the ache of birth, in the act of creation.  We are part of it.  The birth, the code of that ache, is the handwriting of the universe.  The child of it all, the child of us all when we participate in and do not fight the unfolding, is beauty beyond words and saying.

Come, turn, breathe, care, steward and create.  Live under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Share as you please.  Mention the source.

Environmentalism and the Two Trees

In some big way, the Earth is the tree in our garden.  Going back to the C.S. Lewis view of the garden of creation in the Narnia books (Two Trees in the Garden, “The Fruit of Our Heart’s Desire”, July 26, 2013), our two trees – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life – are really the same tree.  The difference is in how we approach the tree and our use of the fruit we take away.

The Earth is the giving tree of creation.  It is full of fruit.  We choose, each day of our lives, which tree we will make it.

When we view the Earth from our perspective under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we view it through a lens of scarcity.  Whatever the Earth might provide us, there is never enough.  The natural response is to grab, to grasp, to hoard and to engage in glutinous consumption.  The consequences of that view are apparent.  There is a rapidly increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots in the United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth. (A recent president referred, with some chilling sarcasm, to “the haves and the have-mores”, blatantly celebrating the disparity.)  Resources are gathered and consumed without regard to the social or environmental cost.  And, ultimately, this gathering and hoarding is protected with violence and the cost of life.  War after war has been waged in the name of some lofty principle or other that masks the underlying defense of access to natural resources and the associated wealth.

We can swing our environmentalist, social justice and peacenik bats as fast and furiously as we like.  Certainly we must take positions of clarity on this issue.  Ultimately, this is a spiritual problem and needs to be addressed at that level.  We should be neither blind to nor distracted by the possible consequences.

Jesus, Gandhi and King are exemplary here.  Certainly there are others, but these we know in the West, the United States in particular.  In our objection to greed and abuse of power, we should never overlook the obligation and compassion of call to the one lost under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Jesus’s call to Zacchaeus, whose greed and fear were expressed in the abuses available to the tax collector, is a clear and simple picture.  There was some spark for Zacchaeus, at least enough curiosity to cause him to climb the tree so that he could see Jesus.  Jesus called him out.  He confronted him with compassion.  Zacchaeus changed his behavior.

Under the Tree of Life, our response to greed and fear must be the call of compassion, a call that cares for the perpetrator lost in self-centered fear and greed while at the same time fending for, protecting and improving the lot for the victims of the perpetrator.

We should never delude ourselves about the grip of power and wealth.  The human heart lost in that grip will resort to killing and devastation of anything to avoid freedom from and relinquishment of those false protections.  But neither should we be deterred or dismayed.

If we save the world from devastation through violence, we have saved nothing.  We have only lost ourselves to our own isolation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

There are no guarantees of success in the short-term.  We could lose the Earth to the violence and environmental degradation caused by those who are themselves lost in the grip of plunder, convinced that comfort and ease in this particular life will somehow protect them from bodily demise.  And we could easily die, as so many others have, standing in the way and making the compassionate call to view the Earth as our shared Tree of Life, with enough for all, and with a vision that is longer, broader and deeper than our current incarnation in the here and now.

In fact, there are no guarantees of success in the long-term, either.  There is only a choice of faith:

  • faith that the choice to live under the Tree of Life is the ultimate path of spiritual progress
  • faith that sets aside both hatred and fear
  • faith that expresses compassion and stewardship in ways that transcend our necessarily limited physical view and understanding of the world around us

I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist about the future of our planet.  It is a beautiful gift, one that calls for nurture, restoration and compassionate stewardship that seeks the good of all.  We choose what tree it will be – a nourishing Tree of Life or a depleted and exhausted Tree of the Know ledge of Good and Evil.

What I am convinced of, deeply, is the challenge and importance of our choices, personally and collectively.  My spirit rises to the call of the Tree of Life:

  • the call to steward, to stand, to confront and to call with compassion and welcome
  • the call to take the bullet or to be nailed to the tree when a frozen heart is convinced that our death will clear the path for the temporary safety of wealth and power
  • the call to rise up again – and again and again – to rise up again and to live in the home of love under the Tree of Life.

There is no end.  There is nothing to fear.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Take what is useful.  Share it.  Mention where you found it.

Heading for the Information Wars

I get “push” messages on my iPhone – CNN and The New York Times duking it out in the information wars to see who can be the first with the latest to ring that little bell in my pocket. Sometimes it’s just AT&T about my data usage or the Estes Park App with the latest dinner deal. The information wars.

But this week it is chemical weapons in Syria and the build-up to whether the President of the United States will declare war on yet another country in the Middle East. Holy holy Jesus. Allah, Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. How did we get here? And where will we go next?

Somehow we have to kick it up another notch. We are all, every adult on the face of the planet, responsible for every action of every government. And death for so many innocents, by our collective hands, is the consequence of our lack of imagination and our inaction.

Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, greed and power are always poised to dash in for the kill in any moment of weakness – the greed and power of individuals, the greed and power of political factions, the greed and power of religions, the greed and power of nations. It is all the same, collectively or individually. It is our human choice.

We are President Assad. We are the religious factions looking to force their will and control into any chink in the wall of power. We are the soldier we train and equip and send in to the next bloody and endless conquest. And we are President Obama, doing what? None of us, when it comes to the festering pain of our world, seem capable in the final instance of thinking or acting effectively outside the sandbox of violence. The biggest gun may kill the most people, but it never ever wins the heart. Our heart, folks. Everyone’s heart.

And no amount of individual meditation or spiritual practice, uncoupled with creative action, will ever ever tip the scales. Jesus tipped the scales. Gandhi tipped the scales. Martin Luther King, Jr. tipped the scales. You and I can, too, with deep, deep spirituality hand-in-hand and at-one with crystal clear intentional action.

But what kind of action? If it is not action taken under the Tree of Life, it is doomed only for the cycle of violence and death. If it is not action that lifts up every voice, calms every fear, touches every heart – bar none – it is the action of judgment that puts us back on the merry-go-round of death and despair. If it is not action taken with the strength of full vulnerability and the absolute absence of fear, it will be ineffective.

What are the ideas, the dreams of your heart, that you are afraid are just too small, too irrelevant, too naïve to possibly be effective? What is the rock of your love, slung tight in the cords and pocket pouch of your heart, which might just slay the Philistine of our collective fear – the fear that numbs us to inaction?

Is it maybe a Peace Force? Damn our halls of fear and power! (Make no mistake, those halls are us. We have no fingers to point.) Is it ten thousand people willing, at a moment’s notice, to find their way from many countries, to walk together across any border in the face of any fire?

I will tell you that such a force could sing a song, a song that breaks through the fear that underlies the manic greed of President Assad. It could sing again the true song of Allah, the one who calls us to mercy, compassion, hospitality, the giving of alms and never to be the judge, jury and hangman of anyone – never never ever that. And it could sing a song that tells us we no longer need to carry around the supersized arrogant balloon image of ourselves, fabricated of the wealth and complacency that lull us into the belief that we will never die.

Can you share this a thousand times, and can we do something together, now, across the globe that celebrates the Tree of Life in the vacuous and lying face of death? What will it be?

How will we stand up together and sing that song under the Tree of Life?

Scripture today from Jackson Browne, “Information Wars” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoCfII2p8BA – 

© Two Trees in the Garden. Share it. Speak it.