We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Monthly archives for May, 2017

The Next World, Already Here

Beltane                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

I took this photograph on Sunday. These teenagers, probably seniors in high school or first year college students, were together, casually, their body language (unlike DJT’s) relaxed and there was no discernible cliquishness. They were white, African-American and Asian-American. What I like best about this is the ordinariness of it. This is the world I want my grandchildren to inhabit.

And, yes, multiculturalism and globalism are under attack right now by nativists, America Firsters and outright racists. They won’t win the war. This photograph is the world as it is now, not as it could be in a hoped for future.

Hate and chauvinism are reactionary forces, rising to prominence only when the next world imposes too strongly on this one. Trump and his kind are indicators that a world where this table will be common has already arrived. It’s just not dominant yet. But, it will be. And I thank whatever Gods’ may be for that unconquerable truth.

Denver Arts Festival, Stapleton Conservatory Green

Denver Arts Festival, Stapleton Conservatory Green

The Ordinary Holy

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

stapleton art fair

Made chicken noodle soup yesterday morning. Worked out while the chicken boiled. When that was done, Jon, Ruth, Gabe and I took off for the Stapleton Art Fair. Stapleton was the Denver international airport before DIA. Its vast footprint is now new housing, a very successful example of new urbanism with what Jon thinks is about 14,000! new units. There are also many parks and small retail hubs. The art fair was in the Northfield section of Stapleton, spread out around the edges of its Central Park.

Ruth, 11

Ruth, 11

The fair had vendors with high production values, but usually not high aesthetic values. Not unusual for these things, but still disappointing. A good example was a woman who had obvious sculptural skill, but wasted it on kitschy 4 feet high hugging abstract forms. She could clearly do something much more interesting.

It was hot in the way of the arid west. Not oppressive, as in a Minnesota summer, but high UV, so standing or walking in the sun soon felt risky to this fair-skinned Celt. Ruth and I went to an Indian food vendor and got his last bit of food, vegetarian korma, on the house. I ate it with a fork, she used the knife. Skillfully.

Gabe, 9

Gabe, 9

We found some shade and watched kids wander through what was in effect in a big puddle, stone pavers slightly inclined away from a simple apparatus consisting of two seven foot high metal poles and a highly polished metal pipe running between them at the top. Holes spaced a couple of inches apart let a steady jets of water stream out. Lots of screaming as kids ran under the water curtain, then often lay on their stomachs on the wet stones. Meanwhile various musical acts played indie rock, then country western.

It was an ordinary outing, the kind of thing families do, but these ordinary things are what knit families together. Afterward, I made grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup and we ended the day with supper together.


“Do You Remember Your Childhood?”

Beltane                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

311 E. Monroe. We lived here until I was 12.

311 E. Monroe. We lived here until I was 12.

Took Ruth and Gabe to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Turns out I have a middle school aesthetic when it comes to certain sci fi flicks. We had a great time as Rocket Raccoon and Star Lord saved the Galaxy. Again. The best time though was afterward while we waited for Jon and Kate at Sushi Win in Evergreen.

Gabe looked at me, serious, “Do you remember your childhood?” I know, I thought. It was soooo long ago. Might have slipped away by now. “Yes. I do.” “Could you tell some stories?” OMG. The quintessential old man of the mountain moment. Speak to me of times long past.

milkmanSo I told them both about the horse drawn wagon that delivered our milk. “We had insulated boxes on the front porch and the milkman would run up with a wire carrier that held the milk, cream, butter, whatever. While he delivered to the house next door, the horse would pull the cart in front our house so he could be more efficient in his work. Horses are smart; trucks aren’t.” Of course, this last statement may not stand much longer, but that’s what happens when time passes. The expression on their faces was priceless.

What else, Grandpop?

Kick.the_.can_.cover_“Well, there were about 25 kids my age on my block and we played together almost every night, especially in the summer. We’d play kick the can, hide and seek.”

Ruth asked, “What’s kick the can? Is it like soccer?”

“No, more like hide and seek. You have two teams, one hides and the other guards the can. Then you run around and try to kick the can if you’re on the team that hides.”

“Oh,” she said, “That sounds like fun.”

And it was. “We also threw rocks up in the air and watched the bats follow them down.”

As I went to bed last night, I thought about other stuff. The hill. The field. Collecting pop bottles in a wagon and taking them downtown to Cox’s Supermarket for refunds. Yes, I remember my childhood.


Oh. Really?

Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryI guess it’s time to admit it. I’m a deeply religious guy, whatever that means. It means at least that I find religion and religions fascinating, personally transformative. I have approached religion since high school with a mixture of deep skepticism and a willingness, no, a need to rethink, refeel, reexperience what I’m told.

J. Harry Cotton, professor of philosophy at Wabash College, introduced the radical skepticism to my journey. In my senior year of high school I had grown dissatisfied with the Methodist version of Christianity, so I asked the local Roman Catholic priest to give me instructions in the Catholic faith. He introduced me to the traditional Aquinian arguments for the existence of God. Since I had not, at that time, fully recognized the relentlessly logical bent to my mind, I found these arguments profound and felt like the Methodists had hidden them from me.

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Then, that fall, J. Harry systematically dismantled each one of them. It’s not hard to do with the proper philosophical tools. Take God as the Aristotelian prime mover of the universe. God put the whole shebang in motion, otherwise how would things have gotten started? Well, like many similar arguments, this one suffers from the problem of infinite regression. So, if the universe required a prime mover, then who or what moved the prime mover?

When I left J. Harry’s class that afternoon, walking across the great lawn with brick academic buildings on every side, my world had been shaken at a foundational level. Out went the whole Christian project in my life, right then. Later, I would find Camus and his version of existentialism, which still informs me, but then, there was nothing.

downloadSince that day until now my ancientrail has always wound its circuitous path back to the big questions. I’ve explored Christianity, Islam, now Judaism, Taoism, existentialism, various spiritual disciplines like lectio divina, meditation, morning and evening prayers, contemplative prayer, even some modest peaks into Tibetan buddhism occasioned by my friendship with Gyatsho Tshering. Though I am now and have been for a while an idiosyncratic version of Taoist/pagan, I’m finding the Reconstructionist path in Judaism a surprisingly familiar one.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Reconstructionist thought, begun by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is radical. Very radical. He asserted that the Torah is not divinely inspired. He went on to say that God as a supernatural intervener makes no sense. He rewrote Jewish rituals and insisted on a reexamination of the whole tradition, reconstructing it where it made sense. I love a key line of his, “The past gets a voice, but not a veto.” Yes. Very Emersonian.

Maybe my reimagining faith project is not so far out as I have sometimes thought. Perhaps it’s the work I’ve been in training for most of my adult life. What if I knuckled down and got at it with a reconstructionist bent in mind? Might be interesting.


Outside in the Rockies

20170526_095523Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

Drove the fifteen or so minutes to Staunton State Park yesterday. Since we moved here I’ve wanted to include regular hiking as part of my fitness routine, but I let first one thing and then another get in the way. No longer. Bought an annual state park pass. “Sir, could I ask you if you are over 65?” Saved me ten bucks. Sure. Ask away.

Debbie, the personal trainer who put together my new workout plan has suggested I alternate cardio days with resistance work. Since I’m paying her for her expertise, I’m going to go follow her suggestion. She also said hiking would be good for abductor/adductor strengthening, uneven terrain. “The Davis Pond trail at Staunton would be a place to start.”

Here are a few pictures from that very trail. I used to exercise outside a lot: Crosby Park in St. Paul, Lake George Regional Park and Rum River Regional Park in Anoka County, but the ease of the treadmill and inertia moved me away from it. Glad to be getting back. And the scenery here is amazing.


Either Holy or Not-Yet-Holy

Beltane                                                                                     New Moon (Summer Solstice)



Yesterday was my first religious work since moving to Colorado. I felt a bit awkward, mildly anxious. The awkwardness and the anxiety came largely from the Jewish portion of the session since I don’t read Hebrew and have a very limited feel for the deep background. This primarily involved understanding words like hasidut, which I had mistakenly translated as loving deeds when it actually refers to a person engaging in them. Chesed, which is familiar to me from seminary as loving-kindness, was less problematic. Ma’asim, which I took as deeds of daily life, seemed to mean close to that.

chesed2This was important because the material I had prepared focused on deeds of loving kindness toward grandmother earth. Bonnie and Tara, both fluent in biblical Hebrew, gently put me back on course when I made a mistake. Their helpfulness made me realize, just now as I’m writing this, that there is a different way of being a presenter, one that relies on others as well as on preparation. I know, obvious right? Not to me because in the Christian religious culture and even in the UU culture the clergy presents and others react. The process can be dialogical, yes, but usually involves only reactions to the ideas of the presenter.

We did have a wonderful discussion about anthropocentrism and various religions’ implication in its effect on the environment. Mostly though we discussed ideas generated by several quotes I gathered. They ranged from a segment of Emerson’s introduction to his essay, Nature, to Henry Beston from the Outermost House, and also included several thoughts on the nature of holiness by Jewish theologians.

ichigo ichie2Here are a few of the latter that I found especially moving:

Martin Buber: Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognizes the divinity in each of us. The commentary adds, “As human beings we can be Godlike by exercising our powers to sanctify moments and objects in our lives.”*

“The modern distinction between “religious” and “secular” is unknown to the Torah. Everything we do has the potential of being holy.”*

ichigo ichieAgain, from Buber, “Judaism does not divide life into the holy and the profane, but into the holy and the not-yet holy.” Another scholar, a man named Finklestein, adds, “Judaism is a way of life that endeavors to transform virtually every human action into a means of communion with God.”*

This, too, is in the commentary: “…(find) ways of sanctifying every moment of your life. We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be.”*




Beltane                                                                    New Moon (Summer Solstice)


Lunch with Bonnie at the Everbean, a coffee shop overlooking Lake Evergreen. Bonnie is in a mentored adult education style path to becoming a rabbi in the Renewal Movement. I wanted to discuss my material for today’s mussar session. She was the mussar point person as Beth Evergreen managed a two-year grant awarded to them. The program focused on how to integrate mussar into synagogue institutional life. 22 congregations received a grant and coordinated their work with each other. (If you don’t recall what mussar is, here’s a reminder website.)

Bonnie encouraged me that my approach, focusing on the application of the ideas of hasidut (a person of loving deeds) and chesed (loving-kindness) toward grandmother earth was in bounds for a mussar dialogue. We’ll see how that works out later today. I’m excited.

In the evening Kate and I went to a havurah, a fellowship gathered for a specific purpose. This havurah is a once a month mussar session that features food and wine before exploration of a middot of the month. The Thursday afternoon mussar group studies a text and meets weekly.

Bonnie led a session on tikvah, hope. She took us into the idea by using the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

I found the melody haunting and the poem, written in 1877 or 1878, used for the lyrics, a profound expression of the yearning for a place to call home. Bonnie led us in a close reading of the poem’s stanzas used in the anthem, only two.

The lines that struck me most were these:  “Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years…” The two thousand years here references the destruction of the second temple in 70 a.d. It still amazes me to be in the midst of this group of Jews, members of the tribe, whose time horizon extends far back. This two-thousand year old hope marks a rebellion by the Jews against the Roman empire, a failed rebellion since it ended in the destruction of the temple built to replace the first constructed by King Solomon.

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: "The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple."

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: “The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple.”

What amazes me is the historical reach while genetic and genealogical descendants of that same history sit around the table as we discuss these things. My viewpoint toward religious matters is radical and skeptical, but I also have a conservative side that relishes history and personal connections to history. Judaism, like the Chinese civilization of the Han and Japanese civilization, all cultivated over several thousand years, appeals to me in part for this reason. These older, truly ancient trails offer a correction to the almost ahistorical sensibilities of American culture.


Elliptical Reasoning

Beltane                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

landiceI put myself in a corner with my workouts. In an effort to get to 10,000 steps a day I began to place more and more emphasis on cardio, increasing my time on the treadmill and on the elliptical for high intensity. Problem. I got too tired to do my resistance work. I prioritize cardio since a heart attack or stroke is a real risk for a white male in his 70’s and cardio can help lower the risk. Even so, balance and a certain amount of functional muscle strength is important to daily life so I don’t want to ignore those either.

Full recovery from the total knee replacement also requires resistance work, strengthening muscles that support the knee as it works. The good news is that the increased cardio does strengthen the quads, very important for the knee, but moving always in that straight line way does little for the abductors and adductors which stabilize the knee. What to do?

anatomy-of-the-knee-joint-33-638Hire a personal trainer. I went to a small fitness center situated next to Select Physical Therapy where I did my post-op p.t. Both are in store front settings in a small mall with a raised boardwalk and other businesses like a hairdresser and Altitude Martial Arts.

I met with Debbie yesterday for about an hour and a half. She’s good. She listened to what I’ve done in the past, what I’m doing now. She took my blood pressure and reviewed my medical history. After that we did some warm up and a few exercises, some new to me, some the ones I’ve carried over from the end of physical therapy.

staunton state park: elk falls

staunton state park: elk falls

Though she’s developing a complete body workout for me that I’ll learn on Thursday, she made two suggestions yesterday that I think will prove important over time. First, she noted that I had little in my routine to work the abductors and adductors. Exercising them will require working in different planes of motion than straight ahead. Second, hike outside. This one, while obvious to someone in the mountains, was important to me because I’ve allowed inertia to keep me at home. I needed a push to get out, to hike regularly and she gave it to me. Already worth the price of admission.


Word for the Day: Plutocracy

Beltane                                                                            Rushing Waters Moon

Buddy Bill Schmidt found this. It stands alone.


The Longest Day

Beltane                                                                             Rushing Waters Moon

These are the last two days of the Rushing Waters Moon but its namesake creeks will continue rushing for another week or two. Last week’s substantial snow has been followed by some rain and last night another inch or so of snow. More precipitation to come, too.

The Moon of the Summer Solstice is new on the 25th. If I had the cash, I’d go to Sweden.