Doctor My Eyes

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

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

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

Jackson Browne laments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Authoritative Word

Authoritative is a word often used in reference to scripture.  It implies a superior truth.  Paul claimed that his vision of Jesus, his gospel, was superior to and superseded the Torah of Moses, which he viewed as a temporary or even flawed fix of the human condition and our relationship to the divine.  Muslims claim that the book – the Koran – received by the prophet Mohammed is a more perfect revelation of the word of Allah.  Latter Day Saints claim that the books revealed to Joseph Smith are a more current gospel.

The natural result of any claim to exclusive authority is division and strife.  All are required to make clear cut, dualistic, judging statements of acceptance or rejection.  The response and action of those who decide in favor of a given authoritative word ranges from benign tolerance, to active proselytization, to violent vengeance and retribution.

Christians in the United States busy themselves with bloodying each other and the society around them with special authoritative words for or against select issues of morality.  Islamic fundamentalists feel righteous zeal and justification, based on their authoritative word, in delivering death to the infidel.  The West responds with “justified” violence.  Latter Day Saints take their authoritative word, two-by-two, from door to door.  Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to get by with just one carrier.

I believe – I know in my heart of hearts – that the Authoritative Word is, indeed, one.  It’s just not this one or that one.  The Authoritative Word is beyond the limitations of language.  It is bigger than any single revelation.  It is greater than any set of rules or code of ethics.  It includes all scriptures.  It is none of them.  It is read on all pages, but seen only in blindness.  It is heard by the ear, but known truly in silence.

In essence, the Authoritative Word is.  It manifests in creation and evolution.  It is glimpsed in beauty, felt in kindness, spoken in healing and known intimately in the depths of the heart.  It does not judge and is not judged.  It is not born and never dies.  Found in book, in song, in story, it is none of and beyond all of those things.

All our scriptures exist within the limits of our bodily manifestation.  They are temporary touches and glimpses of the eternal reality, as are the bodily manifestations inhabited by you and me.

When we claim any manifestation as completely and exclusively authoritative, we stay stuck under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We judge and are judged.  We participate in aggression and defense.  We find ourselves threatened by the enemy or deluded by a false sense of security.

Be still.  Be still and know.  See all, hear all, experience all.  Judge none.  Encounter the Authoritative Word.  Be the timeless, Authoritative Word that you are, through and beyond manifestation, under the Tree of Life.

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

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype.  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.

Stand Clear of the Closing Dogma

For five years in the 1980’s, I had the wonderful privilege of working for New York University, in the heart of Greenwich Village.  I commuted by train, the first two years by subway and the last three by a combination of commuter railroad and the PATH tubes under the Hudson River.

Unlike the automated trains I took for years at Denver International Airport, these trains had human operators, accelerating, braking and using their own voices to announce station stops and safety messages.  The standard warning on the NY Subway system before departure was, “Stand clear of the closing doors.”  One memorable operator had a deep, slow, ominous and very serious voice, a real attention getter.  “Stand  Clear  of  the  Closing  Doors.”  Never lost a passenger, that one.

And so, in my deepest, most serious and reverential voice, I implore you, “Stand clear of the closing dogma.”  If you must believe any hard and fast set of words, believe the words silent, open and empty.  I mean it.  Take it all and take it all in.  And then throw on that grain of salt.

Every message out there since the beginning of time has contained the whole truth.  It’s just been wrapped up in limited human words and experience.  The stories unfold and circle around, carrying the cloak of their own times and the long since desiccated husks of the messengers who told the tales.

We turn these words and tales into idols when we insist that they are carved in stone, unchanging, hard and fast rules for life and salvation.  “Dogmattit!  Do it this way or go to hell.  Go directly to hell.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200!”

My poor Mennonite Church USA is going through the throws of dogmattit right now, with a herd of selective literalist thumpers holding up their marble idols, their rock hard billy-clubs insisting that, “Dogmattit, the divine billy-club says you can only have sex this way, under these circumstances, with one individual from the opposite sex and only for procreation, to boot.  Dogmattit!”

“Dogmat mutual respect or right relationship.  Dogmat the way you were created and the one you love.  Dogmat you both.  Dogmat all’a’y’all.  Dogmat you straight to hell!  And we love you.  We just can’t abide that you don’t kiss our holy billy-club.”

“We stand firm at the holy doors, dogmat billy-club in hand.  Stay out, you that were made to tickle in the wrong place.  Stay out, the one who would give their life and lifetime to you.  Stay out ‘r I’ll club you and all the other vermin that snuck in here when I wasn’t lookin’!  And don’t forget I love ya.’  And God does, too, dogmattit!  Just can’t abide your low down ways.  And by the way, I’m a pacifist, just like Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong.”

Ah, the painters, poets, songwriters and novelists get it right.  We accept and appreciate the changing styles and times when it comes to art.  If only all the religions of the world could do the same with their scriptures.  Take a step back.  See the line, the beauty, the color.  Soak up the kindness and truth in the whole picture, the whole story.  Let it fill your heart and feed your soul.

Make no mistake.  We need to learn the rules and ropes.  We need grammar and syntax.  We need technique, tools and methods.  It is good to teach our children.  But as we master our trade, our art form, we grow when we see and paint something entirely new – something entirely new that will become old and tested in tireless time.  And we need to give it to the world, the gift of picture and story that will be viewed and heard and felt, so long as its communally acclaimed quality speaks a growing, evolving, universal truth.

Scriptures are stories and pictures, dear friends, stories and pictures to show and tell under the Tree of Life.  The ones who see and hear have hearts of flesh and not of stone, hearts that beat in relationship and compassion.  Hearts that grow and evolve and create, radiating kindness and beauty and welcome.  Dogmattit!  Tell me a story.  Sing me a song. Show me a picture.  And please, put down that billy-club.

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

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.

Adoration

So much of our connection and relationship with others is shaped by our emotions.  We don’t like this person, because they do things that annoy us.  Someone else made us angry.  Another just sweeps us off our feet because they are so incredibly attractive.

These feelings are powerful.  If we try to ignore them, they find ways to keep popping up.  Or sometimes we just give into them and let them shape our responses.  We may vent our anger. We may carry a grudge.  We may pine away with hopeless longing for connection.

Long term intimate relationships can be especially confusing.  We are never another and they are never us.  We never fully understand another, and so we often interpret their actions as somehow directed at us.  That leads us to an emotional response.

And feelings, of course, wax and wane for a huge variety of reasons.  Our partner can become the unwitting object of all these changes.  While they are always the same person, there are days when our feelings for them may be wonderful and other days when we really don’t want to be with them.

We can chase our tail for life, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, responding to one feeling and another, giving those feelings power over how we act and how we use our energy.  The end of that chase is generally exhaustion, and never satisfaction.

We have an alternative – a Tree of Life alternative.  Somehow I suspect that the Spirit that created us absolutely adores us.  We do not always act adorably.  Yet the choice of our Creator was and is an ongoing act of adoration.  We block it and don’t respond to it for much of our life.  But that is our choice, not the action of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

While we may say we adore something or someone – you know, the warm fuzzy feeling – adoration, as I am using it, is not a feeling.  It is a practice.  It is an ongoing active choice.

Really.  Sooo – how does that work?  Well, let’s say we start by choosing to adore our long-term committed partner in life.  We acknowledge that our feelings in that relationship will ride the usual roller coaster.  We accept and don’t fight those feelings.  Rather, we choose to own them as our own, not something created by our partner, or for which our partner carries any responsibility.  And we choose not to let those feelings, positive or negative, carry the day with us.  We observe them and we learn what we can from them about ourselves.  And we own that our actions and reactions are ours, by personal choice.

That realization is called being free from attachment.  We are ourselves.  We are not the feelings to which we thought we were attached.

OK, step two.  Once we are free from attachment, we can choose not the feeling, but the practice of adoration.  Suddenly we are free from the blame game and the tail chasing, because we have stepped out of that vicious cycle.  We can stand still and truly see.  We can observe, we can soak in our partner as they truly are – an adored creation of C/S/M/S, just like we are.  And we can choose to adore them.

We can choose not to judge or to criticize.  We can choose to appreciate and to love what we see – all of their unique expressions, all of their hopes and fears, all of their work along their own path, as a creature learning and growing in all that C/S/M/S has for them.  And we can give thanks, and appreciation and adoration.  We can choose, in reality, to see them exactly as we can choose to see ourselves and all of creation around us.

We can accept and be grateful for the gifts they offer, rather than grasping or demanding what we think we need or deserve, or being disappointed that somehow they haven’t figured out what we really want from them.  We can give up “want” altogether, because we know we have what we need, and we are satisfied.

Adoration is not blind.  Rather, it is compassionate, knowing that we have far more to work on for ourselves along the path than we can possibly expect of or get from another.  Adoration reflects back, helping another shine her or his own light, rather than hitting back.

There may be times when safety or wisdom require separation – even permanent breaking off of an intimate relationship.  There is still no need to engage in the blame game.  Self-adoration, self-care, is our first responsibility – and then to love our neighbor.  Becoming stuck in hatred or bitterness is really just another way of giving up adoration of our self – another form of unhealthy attachment to feelings and to what we project about the other.

Practice is the key to success.  We practice the adoration we have received from our Creator.  And we practice letting go of our attachment to emotions and to our dependency on blaming someone else for the way we feel.

There were two special trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.  Practicing a different way locates us under the one that yields true satisfaction.

© 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.

Spiritual but not Religious

In the past few years I have heard people describe themselves, and have sometimes described myself, as spiritual but not religious.  The label begs definition.  I guess, on a very simple and literal level, it means having a sense of larger connection to something we might call spirit that envigorates, guides and, in truth, is us, but having checked out of, or never been part of, institutional religious expression of a particular faith.

I have admired that position, at least insofar as it represents a bravery about rejecting or not being actively concerned with blind dogma and positions that separate rather than unite humanity – demands that people say this or that and assurances that if you follow the particular company line, heaven is just around the corner.

But there is, at least for me, something significant lost in that position, as well.  What is lost is the sense of belonging, of being part of a close-knit community of commitment.

Every fall, just after Labor Day, the community of Estes Park hosts the Long’s Peak Scottish Irish Festival.  There are bands and dance competitions, jousting, and real cannon firing bowling balls to try to sink an inflatable plastic dragon in Lake Estes.

And there is a parade.  It features, I think, just about the biggest collection of pipe and drum corps in the nation.  And it features clan after clan marching in alphabetical order, families in their tartans and kilts, marching proudly and happily together behind their particular plaid.  I have to admit there is something that grabs me at the root and brings tears to my eyes as I see them march by – little children, old men and women, their little Scottish terriers all decked out, heading to no war, setting aside their own squabbles and differences for a day of being part of something that reaches way back and commits to going forward, reveling in pure belonging.  I can’t help it.  Tears just run down my face.

I don’t know how long it has been true, but it is true now that something very special has happened in those ranks.  Yes, there are tall lordly Scotsmen – some kind of purebred marked by a particular demeanor and full white moustache – and strong women capable of cutting down forests with only a few strokes of the axe.  But there are also, in the clans, marching with all the same pride, people of Asian or African descent, fully Scottish just because they have married into the clan and everybody says so.

There is nothing inherently bad about religions.  They are just the tools we make them.  And there is value and meaning in belonging – in a commitment to community that says, come hell or high water (or, as we have in Estes this week, the hell of high water), and regardless of our petty differences, we are one.  We will stick together and care for one another and we will take pride in and celebrate our values and commitments.

There is nothing inherently bad in this, so long as there is a significant grain of salt in all our sacraments.  Strength comes in offering and welcoming, in serving and caring.  The stories we tell and the lessons we teach are nothing if they don’t result in true humility and compassion.  We may display our colors with pride, so long as the door is open and says come in if you like.  And so long as we know our door is just one of many on the street.

At the end of the day, we may take off our clothing, grateful that it has protected us and provided a vehicle and context for our service.  But that is all it is, a bit of pretty decoration for a body that is no different, or better or worse than the one inhabited by each of our global and religious – or not – neighbors.

And our religious families are wasted and nothing if they are not chiefly a magnification of service and welcome at the level of community, rather than just the individual.

Spiritual but not religious is, I believe, a wonderful position that sheds, appropriately, the strictures when community has lost its way, more concerned about the clothing than the body, wrapped up in pomp, power and appearances.  It is a sign of prophetic rejection of all that is hollow and false.

But it is also lonely.  Grant us community, a family that makes us part of something broader and stronger, that accomplishes so much more than we are able on our own.  And gift us, Great Spirit, Breath of Life, the vision that whatever our community, we are always part of a larger family still, a family that flourishes on strong humility and confident sharing, founded on a bedrock of compassionate service.

Make us one, be us one, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  If you like it, share it.  Kindly note the source

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.

The Day of Non-Judgment

Check yourself when you wake up in the morning.  What’s that first feeling inside?  Is it angst about the things you have to do?  It might be worry about meeting with certain people or concern about the pile of unfinished tasks that lies ahead.  Or maybe it is relief that this is a day off, or excitement about an especially anticipated event – a birthday or the beginning of a long awaited journey.

Whatever the feeling, it is almost certainly one of prejudice – pre-judgment.  We are pretty sure that things will be this way or that way.  And we have pretty much decided that this way is good or that way is bad.

I am not an advocate of positive thinking, of trying to manipulate actions and outcomes by painting them bright yellow and giving them a spin to the left or to the right.  Positive thinking is only what it is – a veneer we try to paste on our muddy core of judgment.

Nor am I an advocate of denial of feelings.  Feelings are simply the natural reactions to reality as it is perceived and experienced by small “m” me, the me I discovered when I awoke to my surroundings under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The very name of the tree implies exactly what it is – the tree of judgment.

Waking up under that tree, we believe that our life task is to sort our pile of baby blocks just as quickly and effectively as we can.  This block is good . . . It goes in this pile.  This block is bad . . . It goes in that pile over there and I hope I can figure out a way to trash it so it never comes back.  And, oh my goodness, worst of all, I can’t decide about this one.  What will it become?  How do I know?  What should I do with it?  What will it do to me?

I think I will bury the feelings, maybe over here under positive thinking, so I don’t have to feel this way anymore.  Shit!  That didn’t work either!  And now I am late for my meeting!

Chill, baby “m”.  Let “Me” (big “S” Self) hold you and tell you that we are here together.  And we are not, as you believe, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We are under the Tree of Life.

We are not our feelings.  We just experience them.  And our true response comes from the source of everything we need – the fruit of the Tree of Life and the living water of the river by which it is planted – the gifts of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source – our essence, breath and true being.

The essence of that water is love.  It nourishes the sustaining fruits of the tree, which are peace, true joy, patience and compassion.  Whether baby “we” know it or not, that is what we truly seek.  And when we open the eyes of our Spirit, on any given morning, we know that we have exactly what we need.  And we can offer it to our small “s” selves.  We can live it in all of our actions, in the touch of all whom we encounter.

Let’s hold that little fearful self for a moment to calm its terror about the day.  Let’s sit with it in joy and help it to let go of the angst that the things we have judged to be good might not work out.  We can tell it that all is well, that we can choose to be and to act, in each moment of each day, without judgment.  We can choose to be and to act as our true Self, the one that is fed and cared for – by and one with C/S/M/S – under the Tree of Life.

The practice of stillness, at one with the action of willingness, creates the doorway to non-judgment.  It is the practice of being the center of the spinning wheel – completely at rest and fully in motion.

Our focus and activity, in each moment and without judgment, is to drink the living water, which makes it possible for us to be the very fruit of the Tree of Life.  We offer this nourishing fruit, we offer Ourselves, in each moment and in each action.  We offer it first to the little one, the little self, crying in our arms.  We offer it to redeem and to transform the false vision of all who find themselves anxious and unhappy under the tree of judgment, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

A peach, for you and for me, together, under the Tree of Life.

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

Deep Wounds, Pure Hearts

About ten years ago I heard a bright young praise band at a church singing a love song imploring Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) to “Break me, Lord.” I am sixty-one. I, and likely you, have been broken. At the time, I was pretty much shattered – not by the music, but by the events of my life. I actually felt anger as I listened to the song, and after the service I felt compelled, firmly, to address the unsuspecting singer. I looked the poor girl straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you ever ask God to break you. You will, indeed, be broken, whether you ask for it or not. And when that happens, you just pray your heart out that you live through it.”

Who knows, she had probably already been broken. She certainly did not deserve my hurt projection. I hope that she has forgiven me and, perhaps, that she even found, sometime or other, something useful in the experience.

We speak of a broken heart. But somehow I don’t think it is our hearts, really, that get broken. Our hearts are only found. And generally that takes some heavy duty cracking of shells and some serious excavation.

We get what we seek from our tree in the garden. Stuck in our perception of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we get a calcified hardness. Wounded as children and watching so much of life and relationship in the world around us, we paint ourselves with layer after layer of lies. Year after year, layer after layer, we build up our defense.

Mostly we try to create an image, a projection of something. Like Alice, we may make our images bigger or smaller. We may give the appearance of hardness, of knowing, of being aloof. We may project power, weakness or defense. We may paint ourselves servile or happy or the color of pity. We bake our colors on with fear, anger or greed.

And after a while, we actually begin to believe in what we have created – to believe, in fact, that we are what we have created. Our belief becomes the motor and wheels that move our bigger than life image around under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

We meet and confront other images. We create alliances and do battle. We bully and jockey for position, seeking protection through both defense and offense, wheeling around in our armor, busy being the thing we have made of ourselves.

Sometime, some place, our illusion is shattered. The bigger we become, of course, the harder we fall. Hitler, Qaddafi, the various empires that have come and gone, Elvis – any one of us, or any communal collection of us, can only push this thing so far.

Let’s bring it home. Whether it is in a violent, surprising or dull demise, whatever it is we have created comes to its end, at some point, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We die, and while we may have done some damage, the illusion we have created is gone. The shells fall away and turn to dust.

Our shell is shattered in the relational, institutional and political pile ups we engineer on the autobahn we have built around the base of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we are fortunate enough to walk away from the wreckage with breath and years ahead of us, we have a choice. It’s the same choice, of course, we had before we painted on the layers. It is the choice between willingness and willfulness, the choice between experiencing the giving tree in our garden as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or the Tree of Life.

Our hearts are not broken. It is only our shells that shatter. Our hearts are pure and supple and everlasting. Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa all knew this. To the extent that they were able to set aside ego and fear, they expressed their true selves, their pure hearts. They chose the fruit of the Tree of Life.

None can avoid the end, or protect themselves from the hazards of mingling with all in this life. The little hard-shelled knights with their wheels and motors of fear and greed shot Gandhi and King to get them off the road. Jesus got nailed to a tree. Mother Teresa, well, I think she pretty much died every day she went to work.

But when we are open, when we are open and willing, we stop painting on the layers, and the layers get stripped away, and away, and away. They crinkle, break and roll off. They peel and are rinsed until all that is left is our heart, the one we were given from the start. All that is left is the undefended. All that is left is kindness, regard and compassion. All that is left is true creativity, a creativity that gives and receives, rather than forces and grasps.

All that is left is what always is, the heart and breath of C/S/M/S that we truly are, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden. Quote as useful. Please reference the source.

I Believe

Two Trees in the Garden grows out of more than sixty years of experience in Christian community, with a steadily growing awareness and restlessness about the boundaries and limitations of that experience and particular discomfort with the dominant narrative of creation, fall and atoning sacrifice.  Twenty-some years of study and reflection across the scriptures and religious traditions of the world, carried out in the context of a constant, simple breath prayer (“Thy will be done.”), have led me to the following working statement of faith, the themes of which are expressed in the weekly blog:

  •  I believe in Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) – immanent, transcendent, omnipotent, omnipresent, love, essence, ground of our being and so much more, beyond all language, in whom/which we live and move and have our being.  I grew up with the name God, but choose in general not to use it in this writing because it seems especially important in these times to break out of the cultural trappings surrounding that name.  Names of any sort speak only to the limitations of our gift of language and intellect and fall inconceivably short of the reality.  Most succinctly: C/S/M/S is; C/S/M/S is love; love is.
  • I believe we are expressions of prana, the Sanskrit term for life essence breathed by C/S/M/S.  We are created in the image, like Jesus, like the Buddha, like Aunt Susie and every other Child of C/S/M/S who has walked the Earth.  We are enlivened by the breath of life.
  • I believe in basic free will choice.  When prana enlivens a body, we gain awareness, including awareness of our temporal limitations.  This body needs resources to live.  This body is born and dies.  We can choose the isolation and limitation of our bodies (the choice of ego), which results in fear and its countless expressions in efforts to possess and to control, coupled with its rage when those efforts are thwarted, as they ultimately are.  We can also choose our higher Self, the fruit of which is confidence and rest in the eternal and enlivening C/S/M/S essence which both pervades and transcends all things temporal.  Our life is the journey of that choice, with consistent results, individually and as societies.  We grow to the extent that we learn from our choices, moving toward Self and away from ego.
  • I believe that revealed scripture –whether Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, Islamic or other – is inspired.  It is full of Truth.  This Truth is filtered and interpreted over and over: by the person to whom it was revealed; by the scribe; by the translator; by the reader; by the listener; and by the responder who turns it into human action.  When the human interactor is aligned and free in Spirit, the truth of scripture is revealed and results in acts of creative beauty, kindness, healing and compassion.  When the human interactor is aligned with ego and fear, scripture is twisted and misused.
  • I believe there are no closed canons of scripture.  My friends Jeff Gundy and JD Martin write scripture – the expressions of their C/S/M/S essence – in poetry and song.  Georgia O’Keefe painted it and a million voices sing it in every instant.  Scripture is the very essence of our created hearts, yours and mine.  Time and historic comings and goings do not begin or end the Word, nor do the sacred and secular labels that we apply to justify our egotistical judgments.  An open and willing heart is an open canon.
  • I believe that historic scripture is a useful record of the human experience with C/S/M/S, subject to the limitations of vision and experience for the writer, requiring and welcoming constant conversation, evaluation and fresh revelation in the context of the present experience and expression of C/S/M/S in our hearts and being.
  • I believe that religions of any label — Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, Islamic and hundreds more, past, present and future – are neither more nor less than our corporate (communal) expression of the maturity of our understanding and expression of C/S/M/S.  A powerful social tool, religion holds the potential for the communal expression of an open and willing heart, with hands, feet and voices of compassion, healing, welcome and stewardship.  It holds the same potential for chasing useless sacrifice, empowering hierarchical mediators of the sacred and profane, instituting rules of obligation and shame, and justifying hatred and violence of all kinds.  Either way, we choose, engaging and using the tool under our own gifted power.
  • I believe that worship means to be engaged, individually and corporately, in the creative activity of C/S/M/S.  It is to be engaged in joy, beauty, healing, compassion, curiosity and creation.  It has nothing to do with noises of adoration separated from these acts of creation, especially when these sounds and acts are engaged primarily for self-indulgence or a hope of gaining points for access to an eternity to which we already belong and of which we already partake.  As with so many of our religious terms, we do well to let go of the baggage laden worship label and engage in being the true article, our essence, that for which we are created.
  • I believe in life everlasting – that prana, as the metaphorical out breath and in breath of C/S/M/S, never changes as it enters and leaves any particular body or temporal expression.  We – our spirits – are part of that breath, enlivening and departing the bodies we inhabit.  While some report direct awareness of lives before and beyond the one we experience in any given present, I have yet to possess, and do not strive for, that particular gift or awareness.   Yet I trust that, to the extent we are open and willing, we are always (before, in and beyond time) growing, learning in grace and love, with deeper and deeper Self-awareness, which is to say, experience of our C/S/M/S essence.

Who knows where that may take us.  I love our journey.

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

George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and the Path Between the Trees

I speak of this journey on the path between the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life as though it is an individual adventure.  It is, certainly.  But it is also a social journey, the journey of the family, the journey of the community, the journey of society, the nation and humanity.  Yesterday George Zimmerman was acquitted, in the State of Florida, on the charge of murdering Trayvon Martin.  There was never any question that Mr. Zimmerman shot and killed young Trayvon.  The question had to do with the crime of murder.  And by Florida law, which says in essence that if you are afraid of someone, you can shoot to kill, Mr. Zimmerman was not guilty.  He was afraid of young Trayvon.  He is exonerated under the law.  The case is closed.

I believe, truly, that Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, with infinite compassion and wisdom, will in good time call everyone involved to healing and to home.  But somehow, in this twisted travesty, I have difficulty imagining the task complete in my lifetime, or in yours.  Who knows what the path holds for Mr. Zimmerman.  Nor can I imagine any quick and easy cleanup for the Florida legislature, and their voting electorate, that chose to pass laws that embrace and codify fear and its cousin, hatred, as legitimate bases for the function of society.  And what of this life so rudely cut off for young Trayvon?

We have a common phrase in English, “the straight and narrow.”  It is an allusion to a teaching of Jesus quoted in Matthew that many of us learned as kids: “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  (Matt 7:14, NRSV)  The common meaning of both the phrase and the way it was taught is, “Be good, really good, which is really really hard, and you might, after you die, get to heaven.”

But that is not at all what these words are about.  They are about finding our way, as individuals, as communities, as societies, nations and humanity.  These words are about finding our way off the merry-go-round of fear that keeps us travelling round and round the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, one lifetime after another.  As Joni Mitchell wrote, “We’re captive on a carousel of time.” (Joni Mitchell, “Circle Game”)  The lights are bright and the music is loud.  It’s hard to imagine, riding in the nighttime of this blaring sorrow, that the Tree of Life is just a few steps away.  It’s hard to leave the cotton candy and the popcorn.  It’s hard to venture into the quiet darkness.  And when we do, there’s a pretty good chance that our leaving will threaten the whole show enough that someone will just shoot us in the back.  Because the merry-go-round, friends, stops when the riders all walk away.  And that’s a major threat to those who can’t imagine anything besides that ride.

The way, the truth and the life, friends, looks like a tiny path in the darkness from up here on the merry-go-round.  It is not illuminated by the lights of fear or greed.  It is not paved and policed by laws that say the right thing is to live behind a gate, to be afraid and to shoot to kill whenever we have the least worry about our seat on the painted pony, or that someone might have the audacity not to be aware of or paying attention to us and to our rules about our street, full of our possessions.  Too bad about that, young Trayvon, too bad.

It’s hard, today, not to run right back to the merry-go-round and jump on a pony and just chase Mr. Zimmerman down the same way his neighborhood and the laws of Florida are set up to hate and chase down folks like young Trayvon.  But friends, the way, the truth and the life demand that we close our eyes to a false light that draws us like moths back to that endless circle of fear, hate and despair.

Yes, we must, with complete detached engagement stand in the path of fear.  Yes, we must with complete detached engagement let our government and the Florida legislature know that these laws point us down an easy path to certain destruction.  Yes, yes, yes and YES!!!

But we must do these things from the clear path that leads to life.  It’s not really that the path is so small and narrow.  It’s more that we refuse to look for it.  It’s more that we keep coming up with reasons, even when we have found the path, to stop singing and to turn around and run back, get on our pony, claim our seat, hold on to our righteous stuff and hate someone.  We dare not.  We dare not forget our song.

We sing it with confidence, forward to young Trayvon.  We sing it with confidence to Mr. Zimmerman.  We sing it with arms around mom and dad Martin.  We sing it with clarity to the Florida legislature, and to the judge and to the jury, and to all the corners of our own hearts that want to turn our tears back into bullets.

The way, the truth and the life leads only one way between the trees.  It is lit by one light and sung by one song.  Let us close our eyes.  Let us open our hearts.  Let us sing our song and let us walk forward on that path.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Quote freely, with reference.

For Shouldness Sake

Many of us grew up with the notion of God and God’s religion – which was God’s complicated way of getting to us – as  being a big list of shoulds and should nots.  All of this, of course, had nothing at all to do with the intentions of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source in the establishment of our being.  Nevertheless, I look back on a good bit of my life and realize that I could have been a lead character in a blockbuster children’s book, The Little Engine That Should.

It all started right there under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, where we learned that long long list, and the certain knowledge that we would never be good enough to stay in the garden because there was no way that we could ever possibly be all that we should be.

Should, in its very essence, is an endless chase that lasts beyond any concept of exhaustion.  Because any time we should be doing something, we are either:

  1. not doing it, which is totally unsatisfactory and fraught with guilt; or
  2. doing it because, well, we should – an External Motivator, which, chances are, leaves us perpetually falling a little short of full expectation.  Duck and run, here comes the big Unsatisfactory Rubber Stamp again.

Questions of should also lead to endless and useless discussions of how much and how often.  These questions imply giving up things in a zero sum game where, if we give what we should be giving (a tithe, for instance), we will have less of what we had.  If we do have more, it will, of course, be only because that External Source has rewarded us in some way for our good/should behavior.

Or we go to this meeting or belong to this church or that organization because we should.  Then we must attend x number of times per month or, once again, we are not measuring up for the Shouldness Judge.  Not to mention the time and energy wasted on worrying about this stuff.

And then there are the opportunities for humans to dress up like little Shouldness princes, princesses, priests and judges, casting shouldness spells on their scared and foolish but quite willing little subjects who pay exorbitant sums for the privilege of running around, all in a dither.

Ah, sweet life of our little ego creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Krishnamurti said it so well:  “You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day.  In a month you will be worshiping it and not to put the flower in front of it will become a sin.”

True creation is the flower, friends, and it is us.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source the Universe – that, who, what, beyond concept and language, whether noun or verb – Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source breathed the flower and breathed us, too.  There is no should under the Tree of Life.  There is only being.  And the essence of that being is both noun and verb.  It is the will and the willing to trust, to love, to appreciate, to give and to receive, all in the in and out breath of kindness and compassion.  These are action and stillness, a complete fullness, all in one.

There is no obligation, there is only essence.  There is no bondage, only freedom.  There is no shortage, no need for hoarding, only and always enough.

The one by Galilee got it so right:  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”  And what did we do under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  The usual thing, of course.  The shouldness thing.

We put him on a stick on the mantel and started to worship him.

Oh my shouldness.  Oh my shouldness.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to use this stuff, referencing the source, if you find it helpful.