Posts Tagged 'tree of life'

Falling Upward

This life is a descent

To the center

Passed dissent to dissenter

Holy contagion

Scared discontent

(Gives way to)

Sacred malcontents

Who don’t pay this rent

(Which, after all, is too damn high)

But embrace the feast spread out;

The locusts and wild honey

of

Downward
Mobility.

Upward,

Falling

We don’t cling to the branches

But instead

eat straight

from the root.

Note: I have not yet read Richard Rohr‘s Falling Upward, but I’ll bet it’s good. Its very title touched off an inner impulse that’s been composting in me for some months now; hence this poem.

Devotion, Ethics, & the Tree of Life

treeoflifeiiIn a few days I’ll be speaking at the Transmillennial 2009 conference in Little Rock. I’ll be sharing on The Incredible, Edible God: You Are What You Eat. (or, How Faith & Food go together like Peas & Carrots) – Love feasts! Home gardening! Farmers’ markets! The Tree of Life! What on heaven & earth do all these things have in common? Join Mike Morrell in an interactive conversation on spirituality, hospitality,  culinary pleasure and the coming deep economy.

The Tree of Life has always fascinated me – as a symbol, and icon, a pointer to a deeper reality of divine fellowship and a new way to live. When I heard that Frank Viola was doing a mega-blog-circuit for his latest (and quite possibly greatest) From Eternity to Here today, I just had to ask him about his take on the Tree of Life, which he discusses in Chapter 19, God’s Building Site.

Here’s the interview:

1.) Can you give us a practical example of what it might mean for an individual or fellowship to partake of Christ? Is this a way of describing all spiritual activity a person or church does (ie, worship, prayer, thanksgiving), or do you mean something more particular?

Worship through song, prayer, and any other “spiritual disciplines” or activities can certainly be the vehicle through which a person partakes of Christ. However, an individual can do all of those things without partaking of Him. So it depends on whether or not their inner being is engaged and they are connecting with the Lord through it. For example, in Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts the Asian believers to be filled with the Spirit by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Now, one can sing a song and their heart (mind, will, emotions, and conscience) not be engaged at all. In such cases, there will be no “filling.” Or they can sing the same song and be turning to Christ and receiving from the Lord’s Spirit through it, i.e., eating and drinking of His life. It’s the same with reading Scripture. One can read the Scripture in such a way wherein there’s no spiritual transaction at all. Or they can read it as a means of spiritual communion with the living Christ. That said, I think of various spiritual activities simply as utensils. But those utensils are designed to carry food into one’s body. It’s possible to put an empty fork or spoon into one’s mouth. We wouldn’t call that eating.

2.) You outline the superiority of living by eating from the Tree of Life rather than the Tree of Knowledge; you rightly point out that, biblically speaking, the Tree of Knowledge contains knowledge of good as well as knowledge of evil and that the only one who is innate Goodness is the Father. Can you share with us an example of an individual or fellowship who was partaking of the Tree of Life in a way that might have appeared ‘evil’ in the short term but was later vindicated as the highest Good (or Life) in the long-term? I’d love to hear a story from history or your personal experience.

I’m not sure if I can think of a case in my own life where something I did was considered “evil” in the eyes of others, yet I felt it was the Lord. Perhaps writing the book Pagan Christianity falls into that category 😉

Nonetheless, I can think of many cases where a certain action wasn’t understood or thought to have been wrong by others and the Lord’s vindication came later. (At the same time, I can think of times where I completely mistook what the Lord was putting on my heart and interpreted it wrong. Or where I expected Him to do something, and He didn’t.)

I’ll just share one case that comes close to what you’re asking. Once an individual came into our fellowship. For purposes of clarity, we’ll call this person “Pat.” Pat was frustrated because they felt I wasn’t spending enough time with them. Pat then began to sow seeds of discord between myself and a friend of mine. It got so bad that Pat and my friend visited me unannounced and began to rebuke me for all sorts of vague things that Pat had “sensed.” I didn’t say a word. The silence was deafening. I was then rebuked for being silent and not responding to the charges. In a private conversation with my friend sometime afterwards, my friend pressed me about what I really thought of Pat. Feeling forced to give an answer, I said that Pat was not being honest with us about who they were. I perceived that Pat came into our lives under false pretenses and was sowing seeds of discord. My friend defended Pat and asked for concrete evidence. I had none. I just perceived it, and I was certain enough to say it. Not long afterwards, it came out to everyone that Pat had lied about who they were and where they had come from. The story shocked everyone who knew Pat because the details weren’t pretty at all. As soon as we all found out, Pat disappeared.

As to your specific question about something appearing “evil,” some would offer Bonheoffer’s decision to support the plot to kill Hitler as a case in point. Bonheoffer felt it was God who led him to do this, even though he was seriously conflicted over God’s will in doing it.

So there you have it! What do you think, dear readers?

Mine is just one of 50+ blogs asking Frank questions and reviewing his CBA-bestselling From Eternity to Here today. Find out more about the book & join the Facebook group here; see a full list of the blogging participants after the jump.

PS: Do you Twitter? Let’s follow each other! I’m @zoecarnate

Continue reading ‘Devotion, Ethics, & the Tree of Life’

Texas Talking Secession – Really??

So apparently the Right is having some kind of ‘tea party‘ today, protesting excessive spending and big government. (Really? Where were you these past 8 years??)

So, um, Fox anchor Glenn Beck, a key organizer of this tea party, is also urging states’ secession from the union. Think states would be too crazy to try such a thing? Think again! Texas – or a faction within her – comes through for us in the form of Governor Rick Perry a few days ago:

[Concise version here.]

Forgive me if I feel like the SNL ‘Seth and Amy’ Really…Really?? skits – but really, arch-conservative friends? For eight years you stand silently by while your man is in office, eroding our freedoms through the Patriot Act, expanding executive and governmental powers exponentially, never saying no to a spending bill, particularly those involving his trillions-of-dollars Iraq war? You just sit that one out? Really?

And so now, when a new administration inherits this moral and economic mess, and wants to invest (what I’ll admit is an incomprehensible amount of) money into restoring some of our core infrastructures, creating green jobs, and keeping things from spiraling out of control, now you find your voice and principled fortitude? Really??

Ideals and Means

I love socio-political ideals, and I think variety is the spice of life. I’m not trying to pooh-pooh your ideas, but I am asking you, my libertarian friends: Is this the right way to go about introducing your ideas, in a way that will further polarize a tired nation? Is this good timing? Secession – really? Let’s examine this along conservative lines…is it good for national security for our enemies to see us a divided states of America, right when we’re over-invested in an exorbitant overseas war and riding an economic maelstrom? Is secession going to help the economy? Is it going to help your poor neighbors? Are you looking for civil war? What on earth could be motivating you, right now?

I don’t have much of a dog in this fight…I grew up basically libertarian, and these days have anarchist leanings. I appreciate certain underlying tenets of both the Republican and Democratic parties, and I’m as unsure as you of current government responses to our macro-economic problems. But I do think that the Obama administration spending is principled spending, I do think they have a plan, even if it’s not something I’d align with every jot-and-tittle on.

When I was a kid – and before I married a beautiful black woman – I romanticized the South’s side in the Civil War. (I was a fundamentalist homeschooled kid in the ’80s, after all! Civil War re-enactors were common in my churches and homeschool groups) The battle for states’ rights, local vs. impersonal; these all seemed like worthy fights. Now, as both a follower of Jesus and an anarchist wannabe, I have a different set of values – though there are some continuities. I’ll address the continuities first: I do favor decentralized, locally-organized community. I think it’s the most sustainable way to self-organize and live – for food production, economics, et al. In one sense, Texas’s taunts and threats could be seen as a stepping-stone to just such an anarchist dream – but I doubt it. The belligerent attitudes I saw on display in the Governor’s video show me that if Texas were to secede, it would be a “Mini-Me” version of everything they’re projecting onto the Federal government. Texas rule would be at least as autocratic and top-down as they’re claiming the Feds are being. Now, for the part of me that’s inspired and empowered by Jesus: I don’t have a dog in this fight because I won’t fight. Nonviolent direct action, yes. But violence – physical, verbal, or threatened – no. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword – it wasn’t just Tupac who said that.

Let me put all my cards on the table: I hope that, 100 years from now, statehood is a thing of the past. I hope that the United States of America goes the way of the dinosaur. I hope the same for China, Russia, Brazil, Cuba…you get the picture. And I plan to work for this goal – respectfully and nonviolently – in my lifetime, in my 2009. But my methods cannot be incongruent with my goals. I want to see generative local communities working together in whatever interdependent relationships with other local communities that they wish. I don’t want revolution – revolution is too costly, and the ROI sucks. I want to see an evolution, which begins with a transformation in consciousness – a transformation that, I believe, is rooted in the renewing of our minds in the mind of God in Christ. Others who are not apprentices of Jesus will see this transformation practiced in different ways – I welcome them as neighbors and friends. So for me, consciousness change + local action change + global meme change = the change we seek. I don’t place faith in secession or the status quo to be what we’re looking for – it will only perpetuate cycles of violence, regime change, and decline.

North American Union or Divided Nation-States of America?

Here’s what I see happening: For years now, many on the far right and in anti-globalization quarters alike have feared the formation of a proposed North American Union, a Canada-US-Mexico trifecta that would institute a common currency and eliminate borders, paving the way for a continental monolith. I think that fear of potentially negative dimensions of this scenario have created an anxiety-fueled counter-scenario in the ‘foresight imaginations’ of many. As I’ve learned in futures studies, images of the future are powerful social indicators, containing in themselves the seeds of a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s look at this counter-scenario a little bit, from the fringes to the halls of power other than our own.

John Petersen of The Arlington Institute talks about intra-national division in an interview with EnlightenNext about 1980s research on

remote viewing exercises. They asked twenty-five hundred people to envision the United States in the year 2030. About eighty-five percent of them reported the same thing: It’s a place with no government, divided politically into four quadrants, and everyone is living in small communities, some of which are very defensive and full of guns and others where people cooperate and work together. Then Stephan Schwartz, a man who was involved in the U.S. government’s remote viewing program developed during the Cold War to psychically spy on the Soviet Union, reported a very similar thing. In his remote viewing exercises, he asked thousands of people what North America would look like in the year 2050, and they said: “There’s no government; it’s split into four; there are these small communities.”

Weird? You bet. (Especially strange that the US hires both remote viewers and Peterson himself on occasion – hey, Minority Report isn’t the only place where precogs work – welcome to real life in the 21st century!) And speaking of those Russians, leading Russian political analyst and professor Igor Panarin has said since 1998 that the US will divide into separate parts. Last fall, he said he saw the signs of this happening in 2009…

six parts altogether. The first one is the Pacific Ocean coast of the USA. I can give you an example: 53% of San Francisco’s population is Chinese. The Governor of Washington state was an ethnic Chinese; its capital, Seattle, is called the gate of the Chinese emigration to the USA. It is obvious that the Pacific Ocean coast has been gradually influenced by China. The second part in the south is definitely the Mexicans. In some areas, Spanish has become the official language already. Then comes Texas which has been openly fighting for independence. The Atlantic coast has a totally different ethnos and mentality. It could be split into two parts as well. And we are left with two central depressive areas. May I remind you that five central states where the Indians live had announced their independence. It was perceived as a joke or a kind of a political show. But the fact remains the same. Canada is making a strong influence in the North. By the way, Russia may require returning Alaska, as it had been rented out… [Full interview here; HT Brittian Bullock]

What a fascinating psychographic, rooted in the unconcious minds of probably millions across the past several decades and now reaching a tipping point. My point is not to comment on the ultimate validity of such visions, but to say that we (I’m speaking to my tribe of foresight practicioners primarily and fellow USAmerican inhabitants secondarily) need to take these scenarios seriously, flesh them out vividly, explore their implications and then act, concsciously and creatively. And I hope that people of faith could embody life-giving practices in this coming shift, becoming leaves on the Tree of Life ‘for the healing of the nations.’

A Perfect World? What If?

My friend Kevin Beck, co-creative at eschatological thinktank/activist cell Presence International, has written a thought-provoking piece for the new year. I encourage you to read it in its entirety and comment below. With any luck, Mr. Beck himself will join us.

Happy New Year, and welcome to a perfect 2008! Perfect? How can anything be perfect? There is disease, sadness, and poverty. Political upheaval in Pakistan and Kenya threaten what little global stability there is. Maybe only a fool would try to suggest things are perfect. Just look out the window. At best we can only hope things might become perfect sometime down the line – and only if God miraculously intervenes and destroys a lot of people and establishes a top-down enlightened dictatorship forcing everyone into compliance with his wishes.That’s the story seeping out of popular religious and political circles. Just this past week, one well-known televangelist released the contents of his annual “message from God.” According to him, God has several disasters in store for us. How shocking! Not all religious voices make such exact predictions, and certainly not all agree on the specific solutions. One anticipates all “true believers” to be levitated off the planet, leaving all others behind to suffer intolerable disasters due to their hardened unbelief. A more “scholarly” approach dismisses rapturism, opting instead for God remake the space-time universe, thereby undoing all manner of distress.While these schools of thought are separated in the way they see the “solution,” they understand the “problem” exactly the same. According to that version of the story, humanity is corrupt to the core. We supposedly fell from a state of perfection, and we now wander in the wasteland of flaws, defects, and deficiencies. As wretchedly sinful creatures filled with rebellion against God and disdain for all things holy, we can only hope to escape this miserable existence.In this way of thinking, we end up living on a treadmill of what we sadly call hope. We hope for the God to make renovations to or destruction of the planet – as if that will “fix all of our problems.” I’ve always wondered: if humanity could mess up an ideal world in the first place, what would keep us from doing the same after God remade things? Meanwhile as the song says, we keep on waitin’, waitin’ on the world to change. Paradoxically, our “theology of hope” leaves the majority of humanity desperate, left on the outside, without God, and without hope in the world.

Perhaps, we’ve misplaced our hope and abdicated our role as divine partners in creating our world. The wisdom writer noted that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. After millennia of practicing deferred hope, religion has done a marvelous job of fostering sick hearts.

But what if there is a different way of telling the Biblical story? A fresh way of reading the Bible? A new way of understanding the work of God in the world? What if this way remained true to the scriptural witness? It didn’t gloss over, ignore, or dismiss the more disturbing sections, yet it didn’t descend into crass fundamentalism? What if this way accepted the integrity of Jesus and his initial followers who announced their expectation of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God in their day? What if this way of reading the Biblical story casts out all fear – not just some fear, but all of it? What if this way allowed you to see the end as just the beginning?

This is what we at Presence International are dedicated to helping people see and experience in their own lives. We call this approach Transmillennial because it cuts across the millennia, reaching back from Jesus’ day to translate his first-century message of world-transformation into meaningful life practice for our twenty-first century world.

We explore these dynamics in the 6-week Transformations course. [Note from Mike: this is an excellent course! I encourage anyone to take it] In this online class, we discuss the four quadrants of transformation: Covenantal, Personal, Organizational, and Societal. Each week takes a particular aspect of these quadrants and offers real-life instruction on understanding the process of creative transformation. The way in which Jesus envisioned and enacted covenantal transformation can change the way you live. It can revolutionize the way your family, faith community, and workplace functions. It can transfigure our society and your world.

One of the fist steps is simply becoming aware of what exactly Jesus was working toward. Jesus rejected the mainstream conformist way of his day. At the same time, he refused to get caught up in the blame game of political revolution. He found a third way, a creative path that transformed everything once for all.

Of course, it’s easy to become enamored with studying the past. We can talk forever about what Jesus did without ever comprehending its value and meaning for our lives and world. This is why we at Presence International are actively engaging people from all walks of life with this transformative message. If God transformed all things from death into life through self-emptying love, then we can begin to see that God truly has reconciled the world to himself. We can do more than criticize popular theologies that predict a catastrophic end. We can go beyond seeking political solutions for the world’s issues. Instead, we can love our neighbors as ourselves. We can love our enemies and in so doing be perfect as God is perfect.

See, while awareness is a necessary first step in transformation, it is not the last one. Awareness is followed by acceptance. Acceptance of what is. Acceptance of ourselves. Acceptance of others. Acceptance of God. Acceptance of the forgiveness that you have already been granted. Acceptance of God’s acceptance of you.

For generations, humanity has told itself that we are nothing but filthy, rotten sinners. We’ve believed that we are full of failure, weakness, and fault. We’ve been telling ourselves that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and that we are locked in spiritual battles with demonic forces, which – naturally – means that anyone who disagrees with “us” is in league with malevolent supernatural forces and must be dealt with decisively one way or another.

This takes us back to where we began. We’ve told ourselves that the only way out of this mess is for God to take all of the good people into heaven, destroy the earth, or magically start all over.

The Transmillennial approach offers an alternative to these doom and gloom outlooks. We at Presence believe that God has made all things new, and that we all have been given the divine gift of being able to shape our world. Again, the wisdom writer affirms that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Instead of speaking words of death as we have for so long, it is time to speak words of life. Words such as, “You are forgiven. You are loved. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. I and my Father are one. God’s mercies are new every morning. I am free. God is love. With God all things are possible.”

When we change our way of speaking and thinking, we will begin to see things anew. More than an optical illusion, all things will become new. We will forge new deep structures in our individual and collective psyches that will manifest themselves outwardly. At Presence, we call this Agapeology – loving God by loving others.

As you know, the Biblical story begins with two trees in a garden. One is the Tree of Life. The other is the Tree of the knowledge of God and Evil. As Doug King eloquently illustrates in his talks at Transmillennial 2007, the tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil is so deceptive because it promises what it can’t deliver. In the hope of knowing God by knowing what is good, that tree sows the seeds of judgment. In an amazing realization, Paul announces that he actually experienced “death through that which is good” (Romans 7:13). How astounding! Through the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Paul could not achieve what he sought.

However, Paul sees Christ delivering him and all humanity from the fruitless cycle of attempting to live according to the Knowledge of God and Evil. When we read John’s vision of the New Creation – the New Order – we find only one tree. There is simply the Tree of Life. It blossoms year round, providing healing fruit for all.

Today, we have the God-given gift of taking that fruit and eating it. But more than that, we have the blessing of planting the seeds of the fruit from the Tree of Life in our own gardens. We can tend and keep the garden that brings forth a harvest of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Kindness, Faith, Meekness, and Temperance.

As you plant and cultivate the seeds of the Tree of Life, you will find the fruit to heal. The more of us that plant, the more healing we will experience in our shared experience. Of course, this is a lifelong process, a spiritual practice that comes not through engaging in some esoteric rituals. Instead, it happens in the everyday relationships with ourselves and one another. Conscious, intentional, and deliberate thinking and living will bring about vibrant results – individually, locally, and globally.

This is why 2008 is perfect. It is already saturated with God’s presence, in fulfillment of his promises to create humanity in the divine likeness. Jesus does not have to physically return to earth on a cloud of water vapor to achieve that. Instead, Jesus was convinced that in recognizing God’s fellowship with us we would share his joy completely, perfectly (John 17:13).
The point of perfection, then, is not the cessation of what we normally call disasters. Even Jesus experienced loneliness, misunderstanding, hunger, sorrow, and death. Yet, through it all he remained confident that “as the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father.” More than that, he believed that we “may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Today, we participate in the joy of his fulfilled confidence knowing that because he has appeared we are like him; for we see him as he is. Face to face. Right where you are, now and forever more.

Enjoy a perfect 2008!

And so…I might as well come out and say, kicking off this new year, that I’m with Presence, and other voices of change like Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren–there are different, more hope-filled, and just as ‘biblical’ ways of mixing and framing the Christian story–ways that empower rather than sour, that give credible spiritual energies rather than fatalistic schemes. I have questions about semantics and application, but I am excited that the Spirit seems to be speaking in our midst, and leading the way forward.

What thinkest thou?

Dreams Deferred and Trees of Life

I’ve been revisiting Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes‘ brief-but-powerful poem “Dream Deferred.” It evokes so much for me in this season, from marriage to eschatology to relationships to community. I’ll let it speak to you:

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

Dreams need to be translated into fulfillment, into reality, before they simply die, or worse. Mr. Hughes echoes the proverbial wisdom “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but fulfilled longing is a tree of life.”

So to all my friends who are hurting and hoping: Here’s to sweet dreams, and the salty journeys that evoke our thirst for fulfillment–only in sugar and salt can we be parched enough to drink together of Life’s Common Tree!


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