We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Less Angry

Midsommar                                                                 Kate’s Moon

johari windowOn the last night of kabbalah a classmate, Cece, chose for her presentation an exercise involving the Johari window. She had this model (illustration) with blank quadrants for each of us. We filled in 3-6 adjectives in the hidden self quadrant, then passed the paper to our left and others added adjectives in the open self quadrant.

It’s a powerful exercise when done in a safe setting. It was powerful here even though many of us had only the other 5 nights of our kabbalah class as baselines for our observations. The information other people give us about ourselves is key to life in groups, but most of the time the feedback involves glances, body language, or indirect observations. Getting direct information about how others see us can increase intimacy and trust. Not to mention that it’s just interesting.

PEACE DYERToo long introduction to the point. One of the others in the group wrote on my sheet, less angry. There were four people in the class who know me from the mussar class on Thursday afternoon and probably remember my agitation after the 2016 election. I was not and am not a happy U.S. citizen, but something has changed for me. I’m not sure what changed, but I am less angry, though I hadn’t realized it.

I did surprise myself a couple of weekends ago when we were in Glenwood Springs with Lonnie and Stefan. Over lunch they both expressed understandable and referented anger at Trump, at the decline of civility, at the danger facing our democracy. “He meets the definition of a fascist.” Stefan said.

“An election can fix most of what’s being done in Washington right now,” I replied. Stefan had quoted an Italian friend from Florence who said, “We had ours (Berlusconi) and know you have yours.” I agreed with that, going on, “Yes, the nativist and alt-right type movements are strong on the continent, but France just turned them back. And, Hillary won the popular vote here.”

peace“Well, what does that mean?” Lonnie asked, “The system elected Trump.” “The electoral college, yes.” I said, “But more people, some 3 million more, rejected him. He does not have a mandate.”

I think the gridlock and deadlock in D.C. right now reflects that rejection. We are a divided people, yes, but we’ve been divided before. We’re still the strongest economy in the world though by some measures China is catching up. Point is, I was voicing a don’t panic, don’t despair attitude toward our current political mess. I agree with the analysis that Trump is a disaster for our country. There’s no question that he and the Republicans are trying to take us to places as a people that are despicable and mean. True that.

But my anger at all of this has been tempered over the last couple of months. I’m just not as reactive. And I like feeling this way. My analysis has not changed, at least not much. I still view both parties as agents of a rapacious capitalism that creates false gods, false gods on whose altars their worshippers would sacrifice the very lives of our citizens. Just look at the idea of “reforming” Obamacare by gutting Medicaid.  With Medicaid expenditures out of the way, their plan goes, draconian tax cuts for the wealthy won’t break the Federal budget. Evil.

soul-mate-heartI still believe that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But for me, how to be part of the solution has changed, I think. Long, long ago I realized that my anger toward my father, whether justified or not, was hurting only me. Not him. I set it aside. Somehow the same realization occurred to me about politics and only recently. So, I set that anger aside, too.

Now the question for me is how to be part of the solution. I’ve always had a straight line approach to radical politics. Join up with others, focus on an issue at the root of a social ill and work until something good happens. It’s a strategy that has worked for me over and over since the mid-1960’s. I’m moving in a different direction now.

beautifulThis is in part a third phase change. The angry young radical has aged. I can see the finish line from here and want to make the time before my death as fruitful, loving and creative as I can. Anger interferes. I want to write, to spend time with Kate and Jon and Ruth and Gabe and Joe and Seoah, with friends at Beth Evergreen, friends from Minnesota, Mark and Mary. I want to study Latin, kabbalah, China, art. I want to hike in the mountains, travel this state, see the solar eclipse. Obsessing over the insults to our body politic just doesn’t seem useful to me right now.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityLiving well is a political statement I need to make. Politics, in other words, though crucial to our common life, is not the only component of a life well lived and should not be allowed to interfere with the very goal of politics itself: a decent life for all. In my case I’ve often allowed that interference and right now I’m saying enough. The priority for me, now, is this smaller life, the domestic and semi-public life of family and learning and creativity. Feels calmer, more livable, more age appropriate.

 

Family Celebration

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

Jon has made it through, all the way through, a year plus of divorce drama with court appearances, lawyers, contested final orders. Those final orders, written in November of 2016 and recorded then, have now been in place for over six months. The daily crisis mode has fallen away, replaced by the gradual establishing of new norms. Both Jon and Jen must find a new balance, as must Ruth and Gabe. When kids are involved, you’re not divorced from someone, you’re divorced to them.

To celebrate we all went to Domo. It’s a unique restaurant, one of my favorites in Denver, that focuses on serving dishes typical of rural Japan, especially its mountain prefectures. Below are some pictures.

Waiting for supper

Waiting for supper

20170729_190250

Inside

Inside

20170729_190758

Gematria

Beltane                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

gematria chart

Wandered into strange territory last night at Beth Evergreen. Gematria. Each Hebrew letter has a corresponding number. The chart shows the correspondences. Kabbalists, especially, use these numbers to determine the numerical value of words. After calculating a word’s value, it can be used to compare that word to another with the same value.  This comparison is another method of peeking under the garment of the torah.

An example comes from the story in the garden of Eden. The snake is the usual suspect in an ancient story of how humanity lost its way. But. In Hebrew the numerical value for the word snake and the word messiah are identical. Early Kabbalists used this correspondence to suggest that the meaning of eating from the tree of knowledge was very different from the usual interpretation, that in fact it was the first step in humanity’s liberation.

Rabbi Jamie had asked us to do some reading on gematria, discover some things on our own. When he asked us what we’d learned, I said, “This whole idea seems strained, strange.” Not being one to mince words, as some of you know. A history professor in the class agreed with me that her reading had produced the same thought. Others were intrigued.zodiac

Staying open, of course, is the only way new learning can occur, so I attended to the ideas in spite of my skepticism. As the evening progressed, I began to find the idea a bit less odd. The kabbalists use gematria as a tool, a tool similar to the Zen koan. At first its results may not make sense,; but, that’s the point, the frisson between the snake and the messiah which opens a new mode of thought about the story. It also undermines any tendency to take the torah literally, an essential first step toward searching for the primordial torah.

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

So although I find the method strained and strange, I still do, I believe I understand at least part of its purpose. That’s enough for now. I’ll learn more as we go forward.

Bound

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

Second hike at Staunton. Chose the Mason Creek Trail. It goes up, then up and finally it turns into switchbacks, going up. Huff and puff, not at Hogwarts but here in the Front Range. The Mason Creek Trail will provide a consistent challenge, plus it has meadows, waterfalls (see video) and large rock formations.

methodology-sight-size-827x399While hiking and thinking about Reimagining, I realized I’m taking an atelier approach to it. Ateliers train would be artists in the classical mode, using lots of drawing, life models and work with perspective. They’re considered conservative in today’s art world, a sort of throwback to the artist/apprentice studio that dominated art education for so many centuries.

In my case I studied Christianity and the Christian ministry in a seminary, United Theological Seminary, and earned the world’s most outrageous degree, Master of Divinity. In the late 1980’s I took a doctorate at McCormick Seminary in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The Presbyterian ministry occupied me for 15 years and afterward I dabbled in the Unitarian-Universalist ministry. Now I’m in my second year of Jewish immersion, not a convert, but a close student of this ancient tradition.

bound to the earthYet what I really want to do is rethink what faith is, why we go to the places that we go to for spiritual nourishment and whether there might be a real faith, an approach to the religious life, that emerges naturally from the world in which we live and carry on our daily lives. That is, one without a charismatic founder or an ethnic base, a faith which would help us see the holy ordinary, that would expose the ligatures that bind us to this planet, to the plants and animals and minerals and atmosphere, expose them and help us see them as the loving embrace that they are, not only as limits to our lives.

 

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.

 

Depth

Beltane                                                                    New Moon (Summer Solstice)

everbean_colorado

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.

 

The Light In Me Honors the Light In You

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Working on a presentation for our mussar class at Beth Evergreen. Want to include Berry’s idea of the great work for our generation: creating a sustainable human presence on earth.

Homo-sapien-citizensAlso want to include Aldo Leopold’s land ethic:

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

natureThe date of the presentation happens to be Emerson’s birthday. So, from Nature: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” introduction to his essay, Nature.

Linking up with the parsha* (Torah portion read in Shabbat services) I found Leviticus 25 filled with interesting ideas about the land. Here are a couple that fit well with these ideas.

Lev. 25:18 “…you shall live on the land securely.”

Lev. 25:23 “…the land shall not be sold permanently for the land belongs to Me, for you are all strangers and temporary residents with me.”

Of course, this is a mussar class so all of this has to connect with the Mesillat Yesharim, Path of the Upright, that we’re reading. To do that I think kedusha, holiness, hasidut, piety, and chesed, loving-kindness are key. These last two come from the same root.

kedushaHere are some ideas about holiness from the parsha of a couple of weeks ago, Kedoshim. Leviticus 19:2b: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In commentary on Kedoshim the Conservative text* that I have quotes many famous Jewish scholars.

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.” Namaste.

I can also link this idea to the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e, once in a lifetime, attitude gleaned from the work of Japanese tea masters, especially the renowned  Sen no Rikyū. He learned ichi-go ichi-e from his master, Takeno Jōō.  “Jōō believed that each meeting should be treasured because it can never be reproduced.” wikipedia

ichigo ichie

ichigo ichie

Another of my favorite Japanese ideas is shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing. Here’s a one-line summary from the website linked to here. “The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”

More from the commentary on Kedoshim: “The modern distinction between “religious” and “secular” is unknown to the Torah. Everything we do has the potential of being holy.”

Again, 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.” or, perhaps with a pagan sensibility, ichi-go ichi-e.

namasteI say perhaps intentionally because my reimagined faith could intersect with these ideas in a positive way, especially so if the locus of the divine is the individual soul, that part of us that connects with collective unconscious, Brahma, the three Sephirot: kether, the crown, chochmah, wisdom and binah, understanding, that part of the other to which we bow when we say Namaste. Or, as I quoted Buber earlier, “Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people…”

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.” again, the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e and shinrin-yoku.

I’m also trying to pick up some ideas about Hebrew roots but that, so far, has eluded me.

Somewhere in this stew is enough material for a session. Just gotta sort it out.

 

 

 

*Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. 2001. New York, N.Y. 10027

Outer, Inner

Beltane                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

rumiOur next Sierra Club meeting will be on June 19th, one day before the summer solstice. Sierra Club work is paganism stripped bare of its mythic content. There is passion for sure, but not the poetry, no ritual, no inner work. It’s all outer work: hike, lobby, analyze, network, persuade. We may, for example, show the next Al Gore movie, Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. See trailer below.*

The work is good, necessary. It is even, as Thomas Berry said, the great work of our generation, but it often feels mechanical to me. Pull this lever. Have this meeting. Create this sign. Monitor Polymet. Call the governor. Write your Senator. Hike this trail. In its mechanistic form this does not feel like my love for our home, this earth, this planet, third rock from the sun.

tree_of_lifeSomehow I need to find a way for my inner work to imbue my outer work. Todd, a long-time member of the Mt. Evan’s local group to which I belong, talked about a hike he took yesterday in Reynold’s Park. He named a particular orchid that he found and his face lit up. “A bullsnake, too.” It may be that these folks, tied to the very local region encompassed by our borders, find their inner work in being on the trail, hiking Mt. Bierstadt, taking the Mt. Evan’s road, helping clear trail.

The hike I took at Flying J Ranch (see posts below) was shinrin-yoku, forest bathing. Perhaps that’s a way to combine the inner work with the outer work. Or, perhaps I could follow the mussar notion of outer work affecting the inner work. Not sure. But, there is a need for me to more closely match my spiritual journey with this work. Maybe the mountain art notion will fit here, too. More to come.

 

 

*

Cultural Appropriation

Beltane                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Transformation Mask, Richard Hunt, 1993

Transformation Mask, Richard Hunt, 1993

Cultural appropriation. I’m not sure I understand this argument, but this wikipedia entry contains a long summary. I get it when the issue is the Redskins as a football team name or Indians as the basketball team name in Anderson, Indiana with its related arena named the Wigwam. I understand it when the issue is blackface, Aunt Jemima, the wearing of war bonnets as fashion statements. I fully understand and appreciate, for example, the Northwest Coast First Nation’s desire to own their artistic heritage, a good example of which is the Transformation mask at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The argument begins to fray for me when I see complaints about using traditional cloth in new and different ways or even when others choose to reinterpret traditional art. Or, particularly, when I read books that create characters from different cultural traditions, gender perspectives, or ethnicities. I don’t understand how the life of art can go forward without all kinds of cultural appropriation.

culturalIf, as a Western white male, a U.S. citizen of mostly European genetics, I cannot create characters in my novels that are outside that narrow slice of the world’s reality, my work is restricted in ways that make no sense to me. Would I always get it right? No, of course not. But how do we understand other’s understanding of their others unless we can see it or read it or watch it? And is not the fraught interaction between and among cultures important to understand from all perspectives?

Of course intentionally stereotypical representations are abhorrent, but should not the critique of them be left up to the reader or the viewer? At least in the way I write self-censorship is the ultimate enemy, a foe to be fought off. This notion seems to introduce so large an element of self-censorship that an artist could find themselves crippled. This does not create cross-cultural understanding, it undermines it.

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_editAs a former student of anthropology, I know that cultural diffusion is always happening. Look at pidgin languages. Look at the appreciation of art in the different departments of encyclopedic museums. Look at the cultural diversity within the fabric of our nation. Go to Singapore and see the merging of several South Asian cultures into one nation.

I’m interested in reactions to this piece since I’m sure I don’t have a complete understanding.

Wild, Wild Horses

Beltane                                                                                 Rushing Waters Moon

I belong to a facebook group called Front Range Wildlife Photographers. The following photographs are by Boulder resident Michelle Theall. I think they’re amazing.

Michelle Theall3Michelle Theall2Michelle Theall

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