Fight the Good Fight

I grew up in the Midwest region of the United States.  Feelings were pretty much just a bad thing.  It’s not that we did not have feelings.  We just did not admit to having them.  Let’s take that a step further.  We denied having them – especially anger.  So we got angry and did not know we were angry.  We did not know how to recognize, accept and deal with our feelings.  That means they could get really out of control.  And they could do a lot of internal and external damage.

Now, at almost 66 years of age, after losing the benefit of too many conflicts to unrecognized and poorly managed anger, I think I am beginning to learn.  Note that I said, “losing the benefit.”  The joy of the good fight is the transformation that can come in fighting it.

There are fights worth fighting.  And there are ways to fight them.  There will be feelings involved.  The key is to recognize these feelings without allowing them to take charge.  Pema Chodron uses the Tibetan term shenpa.  She says that it is often translated to mean attachment, and that certainly is part of the reality.  We get attached to our feelings and it becomes impossible to distinguish ourselves from them.

But Chodron says a more accurate definition for shenpa is the idea of getting hooked.  A feeling surges up and hooks us.  Or we hook onto it.  Either way, it is painful, it is powerful, and it is hard to get free of it.

When we get hooked by our anger, we leave and lose the fight.  We leave, because our energy becomes consumed by our anger and we have turned our attention from the fight to the overwhelming urge to satisfy our anger.  We also become attached to an outcome rather than a process.  We want only to defeat our enemy, not to stay with a creative process to an undetermined but perhaps mutually satisfactory conclusion – the real benefit of the fight.  Everyone loses, because our anger is the only thing our enemy can see in us.  Any merit in our case has left the building.

As humans, we will experience shenpa.  We will get hooked.  The trick is to recognize when it happens, to hold ourselves with compassion and to not let the hook take control of our actions.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna urges the reluctant Arjuna forward into battle with his relatives.  Arjuna balks and laments.  This is his family.  And yet the fight needs to happen.  Wrong needs to be confronted.  Issues in relationship need to be resolved.

Loving our enemy does not equate to being nice to our enemy at all costs or abandoning the engagement.  True love for our enemy treats the other with compassionate understanding while never shying from truth, to the extent that it has been shown to us.

That stance requires openness.  We must pursue the cause valiantly without the shenpa of becoming hooked to a specific outcome.  We must engage with full energy, even as we remain humble and open to new revelation and the change that comes from truly engaged relationship.

Life under the Tree of Life is not passive.  Neither is it aggressive.  Rather, it seeks transformation, not destruction.  And it is open to the surprise of self-transformation, change that is larger than we can imagine, the transformation that comes from full, open and compassionate engagement.

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

ep-news-business-builder-ad-1610

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.

ep-news-business-builder-ad-1610

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.

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.

ep-news-business-builder-ad-1610

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

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.

The Spirit of Willingness on the Wave of Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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