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.

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.

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.