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Monthly archives for June, 2017

“The greatest mitzvah (good deed) is to live in an abiding state of joy.” Rebbe Nachman

Midsommar                                                             Most Heat Moon

20170405_152848My biggest source of simcha right now is Kate’s ongoing recovery from this Sjogren’s flare. She’s smiling, eating much more, moving around with more energy. This is after seven months of more or less declining health. Now we have to bulk her up, get her back up over 100. Last night I made jucy lucy’s and served them with the leftover gazpacho from the havurah (fellowship) on Wednesday. If you’re familiar with Kate’s struggles with weight, this is soooo ironic.

Once a month I have kabbalah on Tuesday night, then the Wednesday night havurah, a monthly mussar potluck, and on Thursday afternoon the mussar class Kate and I have attended for over a year. It’s been a gradual process, integrating into the life of Beth Evergreen, but a very good one for both of us. Kate’s living out her forty year ago conversion in a Jewish community and I’ve made many friends, learned a lot about this ancient tradition.

Oddly, the Wednesday havurah focus on joy, simcha, has challenged me more than any other moment in that year. Even though I dove into my Celtic heritage after I left the Christian ministry, my personality was formed in a northern European, Teutonic, ethos. In this regard it’s no wonder I found the Scandinavian culture in Minnesota so easy to adopt. There is a broad sense of community in it, a sense that we’re all in this together, that translated into a political culture I found nourishing.

danceBut at an emotional level it has that northern European focus on hard work, duty, obligation. Also emotional reticence, a certain level of dourness. Joy was not a value. In fact it was, if anything, suspect as possibly leading one away from the serious pursuits of life. And it’s the serious pursuits that matter in this culture: family, career, ambition, political work. Sitting in the rocking chair, chugging down a PBR and watching the game, while allowable, was not something to be admired. At least in the version of this culture that was mine.

It’s also no wonder that I found the Calvinist thrust of Presbyterianism a good fit, too. It emphasized thinking, concluding a direction based on theological logic, then doing whatever was necessary to get to the goal. Since it reinforced the culture I found in Minnesota and my underlying Teutonic seriousness, being a political agent for the church fit me well. Until it didn’t.

American GothicI was good, am good, at challenging unjust social realities. I can put my head down and push forward against power. Likewise, I can choose priorities in family situations, put my head down and push forward against formidable obstacles. I can even identify what needs to change in my own life, put my head down and push forward against entrenched parts of my own personality. No, of course the results are not always one to one with my hope, but I can usually say that I gave whatever it was my best.

Rabbi Art Green, in his Judaism’s Ten Best Ideas, says: “A healthy religious life has to make you more free, lightening your burdens in life rather than adding to them. To begin by saying: “Judaism wants to help increase the joy in your life,” we’re setting the reader out on a course toward that healthy religion.” Say what?

Or, this from Rebbe Nachman: “The greatest mitzvah (good deed) is to live in an abiding state of joy.” Rebbe Nachman also said: “It’s a mitzvah to be happy.”

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetA religious culture focused on joy? That’s outside my experience. Even a focus on joy without a religious context is outside my experience. That’s not to say, please don’t misunderstand me, that I don’t experience joy. Joseph. My friendships in the Woolly Mammoths and among the docent corps at the MIA. Reading. Travel. Jazz and classical music, especially the Baroque era. Rock and roll. The mountains. Most of all my 28 year long love affair with Kate. All joyful. So, yes, I know joy and have it in my life. In fact, I would say that the last year or so has been the most quietly joyful period of my life.

But to put joy at the center of life, to find a way to live in an “abiding state of joy” would never have occurred to me. In my life joy is an occasional matter, not a focus. How could it be? Joy is not what’s important: justice, duty, commitment, loyalty, honesty, authenticity all come before it. If joy were never experienced, life could be full, well-lived. Hmm. Maybe not.

climbChochmat HaLev  says:  “Joy is the both the origin and outcome of our most sublime thoughts and deed. It enables us to reach beyond our small selves to connect with our innermost being and with other beings. While depression closes doors, joy opens all the gateways.”

“We cultivate this virtue by fostering an awareness of our deep interconnection with all Being.”

This is a challenge I want. One I’m going to embrace. But I’m going to have figure out how to use spiritual judo on my Teutonic soul. Living as if is the way in, I know. I’ve done it before and it works. So, for the next few months I’m going to learn how to live as if joy, living in an abiding state of joy, is central to my life. I’ll let you know it goes. Joyfully.




At the Everbean Coffee Shop in Evergreen

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon



Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

mazeltov3_0Danced the hora last night, mixing up my feet as I normally do while dancing, but enjoying myself anyway. Joy, it turns out, is a character trait in mussar. “It’s a mitzvah to be happy.” Rabbi Nachman. Judaism constantly challenges my Midwestern protestant ethos, not primarily intellectually, but emotionally. Last night was a good example.

I’d spent the day feeling punk, stomach a bit upset, tired, exercise was hard. Told Kate, “I feel like I can’t my motor started.” Didn’t really want to go to this once a month mussar havurah (fellowship), but I’d decided to make gazpacho for the meal and had finished it. So I went, pretty sure I’d feel better if I did. Which, if you think about it, is an interesting sign.

When we got to Beth Evergreen, it was a small group, seven. Becky was new and Lila, a friendly pug/boxer mix, Rabbi Jamie’s dog, strained at a yellow leash tied to a picnic table on the patio. Tara, the cantor/director of education, Rabbi Jamie, Judy, the social action chair, Mitch, a long haired man in his early 50s, Kate and me made up the rest.

20170531_161806We ate our meal together outside, all at one picnic table. Tara’s Hebrew school students had decorated it and it was colorful underneath our paper plates and plastic bowls. The evening was a perfect combination of cool warmth and low humidity. The grandmother ponderosa stood tall, lightning scarred against the blue black sky. Bergen mountain had already obscured the sun which still lit up the clouds from its hiding place.

While I ate my own soup, not feeling hungry since my dis-ease earlier, Rabbi Jamie got us started on the evening’s conversation, suggesting we focus on hope and joy in the present.

“When I read that tonight was about joy, I first thought about dogs. How unrestrained they are and how in the moment with their feelings.” Lila, I said, had greeted me fondly, showering me with kisses, a stranger. I like that about dogs.

100008 28 10_late summer 2010_0180We all laughed when Rabbi Jamie asked if I hoped (another middot, character trait, clustered with joy) to be able to greet strangers the same way. “Well, not by kissing them on the lips or licking them.” I was thinking, but yes, I hope I can add that level of uncalculated joy to my meetings with others.

Becky said she had problems with hope, naming the carelessness of humans and the destructive presence we are on the earth. “I think about how we might destroy ourselves, but after some time, the planet will be fine. That makes me feel better, oddly,” she said. Rabbi Jamie mentioned then something I’ve heard him voice before, a Talmudic argument over whether it would have been better if humans had not been created. Yes, the rabbis decided, it would have been better. But, since we are here, what will we do?

Judaism has that sort of no nonsense approach to heavy existential issues. Yes, we’ll die. So the question is, how will you live; not the understandable response, OMG, I’m gonna die!

In the remaining discussion it became clear to me that Judaism has joy at its core, an embrace of life even in the midst of struggles and despair, an embrace of life in community, with known others. Joy, one quote offered for the evening suggested, comes from deep connection.



This is so qualitatively different from Presbyterianism. When Rabbi Jamie led us in song, then got us up to dance, I tried to imagine the same thing happening during a Presbytery meeting. Nope. Wouldn’t happen. It’s a cultural difference of substantial proportion.

I want to like this, I may even need to like it, but it’s hard. Being hesitant, reserved, especially physically, came with my Midwest protestant raising, reinforced by my Germanic father and the often dysfunctional nature of my mother’s extended family.

Still don’t want to be a Jew, but these challenges, to experience deep joy and hope rooted in community, are good for me. Necessary, even. When we came home through the darkening June night, driving up Black Mountain Drive, I no longer felt dis-eased. An odd sense of hopefulness had crept in. Maybe a bit of joy.


A God in Exile, Needing Repair

Midsommar                                                              Most Heat Moon

ein sofKabbalah was a trip through contractions, shattering, shards and healing. In the cosmology of Isaac Luria the ohr, the divine energy that was once all there was, wanted an other, yet it was all that there was. The ohr contracted, leaving room for something else. It created a vessel for the other, then poured divine energy into it, but the vessel proved too weak and shattered, scattering shards with ohr, divine light, trapped within them. Those shards, each filled with ohr, are the elemental stuff of the universe, forming the stuff which we experience as reality.

The purpose of humanity is to serve as a bridge between matter and God. (I don’t quite understand this yet.) We find the divine light in the shards of the universe we encounter and help them (again, I don’t know how.) emerge from their hiddenness. This is known as tikkun olam, now often translated as repairing the world, but in Luria’s time it meant repairing God, that is, finding the pieces left over from cosmic beginnings and rejoining them with the ohr. I like this idea of repairing God. Hmm. Re-pairing the hidden ohr with its maker.

Camus one-cannot-be-happy-in-exile-or-in-oblivion-one-cannot-always-be-a-stranger-i-want-to-albert-camus-123-46-22Yet again, I didn’t follow this one completely, but the Lurianic God is a God in exile, separated from the shards. So when the Jews go into exile, they do so as one with their estranged God. The purpose of the Jews is to remind humanity of this estrangement and that we all have a role to play in overcoming it.

Kabbalah finds us wading into deep waters, shifting perceptions, changing minds. A worthwhile enterprise, especially at 70. Glad to be part of it.


Kate and a wandering Woolly

Midsommar                                                                        Most Heat Moon

Back ouching yesterday, still this morning. Annoying.

20170405_152848Drove the hour out to Denver International to get Kate. Found Scott Simpson with her at the arrival gate. He’s on his way to Carbondale to see his son. We took him to Union Station where he planned to board a Bustang for the rest of his trip. Scott’s reading Homo Deus right now and says it’s rocking his world. Good to see him.

Kate hopped up front after we dropped him off. Well, hopped might be a bit too spry. Moved up front. She looked great, the vacation agreed with her health. She’s a flatlander and a child of the humid east. Her dry mouth was much better in Minnesota and Iowa as was the O2 concentration.

She and Anne drove to Nevada, Iowa, both having reunions, 55th and 50th. They had a good time. On her return to Minneapolis Kate stayed with her long time friend Penny Bond and caught up with her lunch lady friends, Mary Thorpe and Jane West.

Good to have her home.



Krishna Janma

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

Krishnas-birth-in-prisonLooking for light in prison. An assignment for the kabbalah class tonight. Rabbi Jamie suggested watching a movie like Hurricane, about Rubin Carter. I thought of MLK and Letters from the Birmingham Jail and Nelson Mandela, too. Then I remembered a portion of the Mahabharata I’d watched. This DVD version, 94 episodes, aired in India in the late 1980’s. Bought it to watch while doing long sessions on the treadmill.

Krishna Janma was episode 11. A prophecy tells Kansa, a king, that his sister Devaki’s eighth son will kill him. At first he looks for the easiest solution. Kill Devaki. Vasudeva, her husband, pleads with Kansa not to kill his sister. “I will bring you each child to destroy.”

Kansa considers this and agrees with a condition. They have to live in chains in his dungeon. Six sons are born. Kansa comes in their cell after each birth, grabs the newborn and throws it against the wall. When the seventh son is born, a friend of Devaki’s visits her in the cell and takes her pregnancy as her own. This causes Kansa great consternation but he can’t do anything since the seventh pregnancy seems to have mysteriously ended.

krishnaFinally, nine years later, Devaki is pregnant again, this time with the eighth son Kansa dreaded. This son is Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu.

“Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil,
and for the establishment of righteousness,
I come into being age after age.”

— Bhagavad Gita 4.7–8


When Devaki gives birth to Krishna, a light shines in the cell and a voice, presumably Vishnu, tells Vasudeva to take baby Krishna out of the dungeon to another couple. Vasudeva wonders how he can accomplish this but the dungeon’s many barred doors swing open, the guards are put asleep and he walks out into a raging storm with his eighth son held over his head.

Krishna Janmashtami is a Hindu holiday that celebrates Krishna’s birth. It’s a lunar holiday so the date changes from year to year, but this year Janmashtami is on August 14th.

Flight for Life

Midsommar                                                                  Most Heat Moon

What looked like a nasty fire season in March and early April has become moderate, even subdued. First we had heavy late season snow, then rains and now cool weather. None of this rules out fire, but the fuel is moist and the temperatures are not exacerbating the low humidity. There are still emergency preparedness items to check off, however. Need to get that safety deposit box and figure out how to handle the times when one of us is away from the house with the car. A bit less urgency than we’d anticipated.

crowhillcafe01The go-go girls, Rigel and Gertie, joined me on a breakfast outing to Crow Hill Cafe. Crow Hill is the steep, 7% grade, that takes Hwy 285 down into Bailey. On the way there, from the western edge of Conifer, the continental divide defines the horizon, peaks until recently covered with snow. They allow us, who live in the mountains, to see the mountains in the same way folks in Denver can see the Front Range, as distant and majestic.

We experience the mountains daily, going up and down them, around their curvy two-lane roads, beside their creeks, outlets for snow melt, modulating our speed for the wildlife that refuses (thankfully) to acknowledge our presence as a limitation. This in the mountains travel finds our views obscured by the peaks that are close by and the valleys that we use to navigate through them.

French toast and crisp bacon, black coffee and the Denver Post, a window seat overlooking the slight rise beyond which Crow Hill plummets toward Bailey. I love eating breakfast out, don’t know why. Something about starting the day that way once in awhile. Rigel and Gertie got a saved piece of french toast each, happy dogs.

20170625_180842Back to Conifer and the King Sooper. King Sooper is a Kroger chain upscale store, one listed as a potentially threatened species by newspaper articles about Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods. With the rapid concentration of certain retail activities we may need an endangered business protection act. King Sooper does deliver though we’ve not made use of that service. Those of us on Shadow Mountain don’t expect to see drones with celery and milk anytime soon.

Although. We did have confirmation yesterday of a premium asset related to our location on Black Mountain Drive. Two Jefferson County sheriff black and white S.U.V.s followed an Elk Creek Fire and Rescue ambulance past us in the late afternoon yesterday. About 30 minutes later Kep recruited Rigel and Gertie to defend the house. When I went to check, there was a line-up of stopped vehicles stretching from the curve where Shadow Mountain Drive turns into Black Mountain Drive.

20170625_180848Neighbors and their dogs were on the sides of the road. Cell phones (pocket digital cameras) were out and aimed at the curve. The chop chop chop of helicopter rotors was evident, but the helicopter itself was not in sight. Then it was, slowly rising from the road, Flight for Life spelled out along the yellow stripe leading back to its stabilizers.

It’s very reassuring to know if Kate and I ever end up in a medical emergency we won’t have to rely on a 45 minute ambulance ride to the nearest E.R. The E.M.T.s  could just pop us on a gurney, wheel us down the road a bit and into the ‘copter. Then up, up and away.

Today is back to working out, more reimagining prep, this time including reordering my reimagining bookshelf, checking the old computer for reimagining files. I’ll also be studying for kabbalah tomorrow night and possibly taking a trip over to Sundance nursery in Evergreen looking for lilac bushes.



Reunion Weekend

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

20170423_090148We had a light frost the other night. The weather has been generally cool since Kate left which is ironic. Friday and yesterday were her 55th reunion, today she drives back to the Twin Cities to stay with longtime friend Penny Bond. Monday the ladies who lunch will gather to include her again while she’s in town.

Kate’s made contact with many Coloradans, at first with the Bailey Patchworkers, then with the Needleworkers and now with Beth Evergreen. During her recent Sjogren’s flare all of these groups expressed concern about her. She’s only been here a couple of years but she has integrated into the community. Good to see.

Jon and the grandkids have walked the Great Sand Dunes, driven to the ancient dwellings at Mesa Verde and will head north to the Dinosaur National Monument before coming home. Jon invited me to come to the Dinosaur National Monument and meet them there, but this is Kate’s reunion weekend and I’m the official dog guy. Otherwise, I’d have done it. It’s one of the many places in Colorado I want to see. It’s a bit unusual in that it is in Colorado and in Utah, following the course of the Green River.

20170618_082145I’ve been speculating about my knee, about how hard I can push it and not have to replace it too soon. Tough since I want to keep my cardio work up. My decision so far has been to privilege my heart over my knee, reasoning that heart health has longer term benefits, but I don’t want to be stupid about it either. Decided last night that I want to see my internist, Lisa Gidday and get some guidance.

Today is mundane: groceries, laundry, groom Kep. Work on reimagining. No workout today. Going back to Sunday as a rest day for now. I prefer to workout, but there’s that nagging thing about the knee. A bit of caution right now.

The Beat Goes On

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

20170426_163517The dogs keep the rhythm familiar here even with Kate gone. They get up at 4:45 to 5:00 a.m. and so do I. I feed them, leave them inside due to the possibility of mountain lion attack, then head up to the loft for work on ancientrails, reading the news, staying in touch with friends and family. Around 7 a.m. it’s breakfast time and I let them out. Around 10 a.m. the dogs get their second feeding, so that’s back downstairs for me. In the interval between breakfast and noon I work out, read, write.

The dogs get outside in this kind of weather and we leave a door open for them. They like that. This still seems weird to me, but there aren’t the bugs up here we had in the humid East.

We nap in the early afternoon, a longstanding habit picked up during my visit to Bogota in 1989.

The afternoon is more reading, catching up on chores, then supper. The dogs go to bed around 6:30, 7:00 p.m. with Gertie and Rigel in their crates in the garage. Kepler stays up until Kate and I go to bed around 8 p.m. A Benjamin Franklin day. And the dogs follow it, too.

With the Wrong People In It

Midsommar                                                                       Most Heat Moon

imagesJuly is the hottest month, on average, on Shadow Mountain, hence the Most Heat Moon. Yet, this morning the temperature is 38 degrees. Admittedly we’re still in June, but June is hardly the heart of fall. I’m loving the cooler weather, but I feel for the folks experiencing record heat, especially those with inadequate cooling options.

Can you imagine being in a senior citizen high rise with a poorly functioning air conditioner? Or, in an apartment in L.A. or Chicago or New York or Dallas or Atlanta with only fans to keep you cool? In neighborhoods where crime makes you keep your windows closed for safety reasons. Now, take away health insurance, even inadequate health insurance. Hell is city living for the poor in Trump America, only with the wrong people in it.