We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mall, Art and one emoji balloon

Spring                                                                              Mountain (New) Moon

Went to the Aurora Town Center mall on Saturday to see son Jon’s student’s art. He teaches art at Montview Elementary in Aurora. Over 17 years now.

This first shot is Dillard’s. I realized malls and especially the anchor department stores had design features like old world palaces. It’s just us nobles shopping here, selecting luxury goods for our many roomed homes. Even so, the mall felt dead as an institution, a thing of the last century. Don’t know about you but I haven’t been in a mall in a years.

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This fish, by one of Jon’s fifth grade students, took first place out of all the Aurora elementary schools. I can see why. It’s original, muted colors, sharp definition, suggests dinosaurs and armored fish.

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However, I preferred this one, also from one of Jon’s students. I love the color field artists and this one moves pretty far in that direction. Not bad for an elementary kid. Jon wants his kid’s art to be expressive, not perfect. “I feel bad for those people who want to be artists, but can’t get the emotional expression they want in what they do,” he said. He’s actually teaching art making.

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Aurora has a large Latino population. This store sold kid’s clothes, cowboy boots, hats, leather vests and belts, but all in a Mexican idiom, rather than Western.

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Just loved these overdone baseball caps.

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Finally, this from Gabe’s room. A helium filled poop emoji. Gotta admit I don’t get this one.

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A Clashing of Spiritual Longings

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

St. LaurenceIrv Saltzman invited us to a performance by his singing group, the Renaissance Singers. It was held in a wooden Episcopal Church, St. Laurence’s, which is near our home. Directed by a Chinese national, Hannah Woo, who is finishing her Ph.D. in musicology, they were 8, four men and four women. As a group, they matched each other well. April, a soprano, had a lovely clear voice and a large range. Irv, formerly a tenor, has now transitioned into a bass/baritone role. Their performance was wonderful. At a meal afterwards we discovered April is our neighbor.

musicRenaissance choral music and instrumental renaissance music has always captivated me. It’s easy to see courtiers in colorful costumes listening to this music in a palace, brown robed and cowled monks hearing it in a morning prayer service, or small groups performing at home for their own amusement. It’s also the music most often heard at Renaissance festivals. Sorta makes sense, eh?

The sanctuary had a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and two large, clear windows that looked out to the east, toward Shadow, Evergreen and Bear mountains. It rained while we were there and the mountains were in mist, the windows covered with raindrops slowly moving from top to bottom. There were individual chairs, padded with kneelers, arranged in a three sided configuration, making the sanctuary a sort of thrust proscenium stage, an ideal arrangement for a small group of singers.

A church artist had painted the stations of the cross and they were around the sanctuary, set off by bent sheet metal frames. A copper baptistry, large, sat over a cinerarium where the congregation deposits cremation remains and memorializes the dead with small plaques.

Edited+Holy+Week+2017-21Between the two windows hung a large crucifix, a cross made of bare, light wood and a bronze Jesus hung by two nails. I had an odd sensation while listening to this music I’ve often heard in monastic settings on retreat. It carried me back into the spiritual space of an ascetic Christianity that often comforted me. This time though I came into the space as a peri-Jew, identifying more with Marilyn and Irv and Kate, with the still new to me spiritual space of Beth Evergreen, than the theological world represented by this spare, but beautiful sanctuary.

The crucifix stimulated the strongest, strangest and most unexpected feeling. I saw, instead of the Jesus of Christianity, a hung Jew, a member of the tribe. More than that, I felt the vast apparatus and historical punch created by his followers, followers of  a man who shared much of the new faith world in which I now find myself. It was an odd feeling, as if this whole religion was an offshoot, a historical by-blow that somehow got way out of hand.

These feelings signaled to me how far I’d moved into the cultural world of reconstructionist Judaism. I see now with eyes and a heart shaped by the Torah and mussar and interaction with a rabbi and the congregants of Beth Evergreen.

pagan humanismThis was an afternoon filled with the metaphysical whiplash I’ve experienced often over the last year, a clashing of deep thought currents, spiritual longings. This process is a challenge to my more recent flat-earth humanism, a pagan faith grounded not in the next world, but in this one. Literally grounded.

What’s pushing me now is not a desire to change religious traditions, but to again look toward the unseen, the powerful forces just outside of the electromagnetic spectrum and incorporate them again into my ancientrail of faith. This makes me feel odd, as if I’m abandoning convictions hard won, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. There is now an opening to press further into my paganism, to probe further into the mystery of life, of our place in the unfoldingness of the universe, to feel and know what lies beyond reason and the senses.

An Endangered Species

Imbolc                                                                               Valentine Moon

Let’s call alt-facts what they are: propaganda. Psychological warfare against our own citizens. Though specific attacks on the environment, refugees, people of color and regulations keeping rapacious financiers at bay are horrible, an assault on the nature of truth is deadly.

How can we keep a political dialogue going if facts are subject to derision and distortion and obfuscation? The tobacco/cancer link deniers, the pesticide purveyors, the climate change deniers, the colorful and varied tweets of our Twitler, his outright lies about his inauguration crowd and the massive voter fraud and his distance from his businesses are all instances of outright deception, propaganda presented as fact.

Facts are, of course, subject to interpretation and reasonable people can disagree about their implications. That’s not the issue here. The issue here is changing the facts, ignoring them, hiding them (see the Whitehouse website, for example). Our democracy cannot survive a buffet attitude toward the truth.

I’m not sure that the Trump folks even know the difference between facts and lies. Their ideology or their venal natures may allow them to see only what they want to see. Whatever it is, I hope we can work as a nation to protect truth-sayers, fact-gatherers, lie confounders. Science is a conspiracy, yes, a conspiracy to understand the nature of reality.

So, hard as it is for many to fathom, are the humanities. In studying literature, philosophy, theater, language, cinema we gain the tools to separate fact from fiction. Critical thinking may be the most powerful tool we have in fighting the rise of a nationalist fascism. Critical thinking is taught in the humanities. In them we also learn the value of fiction, when it can enlighten us, when it can deceive us.

Right now facts and the truth they undergird need protection under the Endangered Species act.

The War on Truth

Winter                                                                Cold Moon

facts

OK, Woollies. I Finally Did My Assignment.

Winter                                                                 Cold Moon

For this meeting, please bring a magazine, journal, newspaper article, book, or something written, that you have read within the last month and that brought a great deal of passion, inspiration, focus, energy, or meaning for you personally.” Scott Simpson, for the Woolly meeting a week ago today

I’ve read three books recently that have stayed with me: Zero K by Don Delillo, Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and The Nix by Nathan Hill. These are all fiction, all by contemporary authors.

zero kZero K examines, in a minimalist world, our obsessions with death, immortality and technology while recounting a strained father-son relationship. It’s stark and strange, featuring, for example, a compound somewhere in the ‘stans. At this compound, mostly underground, is the center for a cryogenics movement funded by wealthy folk hoping to live forever, or at least until there’s a cure for whatever they have right now.

Underground RailroadUnderground Railroad imagines a real railroad, with tunnels and station masters, which carries escaped slaves. It is not so much the railroad though that commends this novel, but the story of the slaves who escape. This novel puts you inside the minds of slaves on the plantation and as they decide to flee and the ambiguous world that faces them even in relative freedom. Claustrophobic, scary, uncertain life on the run sometimes contrasted favorably with enslavement, sometimes furnished prisons and punishments that did not. I appreciated the chance to live in this world for the time it took to read this novel.

nixThe Nix uses massive online video gaming, the Chicago protests of 1968, and the life of a disappointed assistant professor of English and his estranged mother to reflect on what it means to be human.

The nix is a Norwegian legend, according to the characters in the book, which involves a horse. The horse finds children, plays with them, then invites them, by lowering his head, to climb aboard. At first, the children are delighted. They love the horse. Then, the horse begins to gallop, faster and faster. The child becomes frightened. Finally the horse wades into a lake, throw off the child and kills them. The theme of the Nix is just this: that the thing you love can kill you.

Well worth the read.

Racism. Long. Hard.

Fall                                                                               Hunter Moon

540546_405303126228787_1694483271_nRacism. Is complicated. Very complicated. And, yes, I believe all white Americans are part of its grip on our culture. I’m going to try to boil down a very thorny subject into a few words, see if I can convince you that you are part of the problem if you’re white and live in the U.S.

Power. Racism is not about prejudice, it is about power. An analogy is rape. Rape is not about sex, it’s about power. So, just as rape is about power, not sex, racism is about power not race. Race, a spurious concept in the first place, not supported by DNA evidence, is a cultural idea, not a biological one.

At the beginning of our country, as the founders drafted the much admired and revered U.S. Constitution, a beacon of liberty and freedom for all nations, there was conflict between southern slave holding states and northern states. It concerned how to count slaves for the purposes of determining a state’s population. In our system of government the number of representatives a state gets in the House of Representatives follows from the state’s population. More population=more representation.

antislavery_medallion_largeSlaves did not vote, but if counted as full persons for population purposes they would have given slave states and the whites who did vote greater representation in the U.S. House. This would have unbalanced power between the North and the South.

The three-fifth’s compromise was the result, stating, in our founding document, that slaves were only three-fifths a person for census purposes. From the start both North and South willingly manipulated the fate of the enslaved for their own purposes. Not only did the north instigate the three-fifth’s compromise, they did it to retain slavery in the U.S. Slavery was then a powerful economic engine that underwrote a large amount of the total U.S. economy.

This legal idea of a slave as a three-fifths a person contributed to the general devaluation of the enslaved. And who benefitted? Every citizen of the new country who benefitted from the slave economy. Everyone did. Thus whites in the U.S. had from this early date in our history an unearned advantage, an unearned economic advantage over persons of African descent.

build-a-tableThey also had an unearned advantage in their social status as at least higher than that of the slave, the three-fifths of a person enslaved. This unearned social status gave low income whites, often share-croppers, a psychological and social boost which had nothing to do with their personal merit. They were better, at least, than those who toiled without compensation and freedom. That unearned and undeserved lift in personal status persists in the minds and hearts of all white Americans.

The advantage in economic circumstances held by whites in the aggregate over the descendants of the enslaved has its roots in this wholly unequal economic baseline. Our wealth, as whites, depends in part on the advantage we had as a segment of the U.S. population, a segment that received the economic benefit of goods and agricultural products made cheap by the unpaid labor of the enslaved.

chomskyThe civil war, you might say, shows the inherent goodness of the north and the hostile debasement of southerners. You might say that if you don’t factor in the unearned economic and social advantages even northerners gained from the enslaved. You might say that if the wreck of reconstruction hadn’t resulted in Jim Crow laws throughout the south. You might say that if you hadn’t grown up near Elwood, Indiana which had a sign at its city limits, No Niggers In Town After Sundown. This was taken down only after the civil rights act in 1964.

You might say that if the disparity in white/black economic fortunes hadn’t persisted to this very day. You might say that if prisons were not filled disproportionately with persons of color, especially African Americans. You might say that if systematic attempts to prevent African-Americans from voting weren’t front and center in this very election-all those cries against non-existent voter fraud and for voter i.d. laws that would make it difficult for the poor to vote at all.

i-am-not-a-racist-i-am-against-every-form-of-racism-and-seggrationHow have all these terrible realities managed to remain in place? Because those with power rarely give it up willingly. We white Americans, through our avoidance of these issues, have capitulated to the structures already in place. Why? Because those structures: biased employment choices, biased voting requirements, lack of affordable housing, lack of available health care, still unequal education, are on the fringe of our lives, happening to someone else, some other African-American self. And to fix them would cost us in taxes, in our unearned advantage in employment, in our ability to control local and state and national elections.

Are these conscious decisions for most of us? No. But they do not have to be. It is our assumption that the way our culture organizes itself is just and fair that makes us all complicit. This is institutional and institutionalized racism. It is the result of either our conscious decisions or our unconscious capitulation to things as they are. We, we white Americans, are all part of this, and, in this very real and potent sense, racist.

Living Consciously

Lugnasa                                                                              Harvest Moon

Two great quotes yesterday. One from our mussar group: I never saw a U-Haul trailer behind a hearse. The second from a comment on a NYT article on the meaning of life: You say No Matter, I say Never Mind.

Mussar. It’s September, the days are cooling down and years of Septembers have me getting ready to accelerate my study. This year a focus will be mussar.

mussar-path-of-w-logo1Mussar is defined here by Rabbi Ira Stone, of the Mussar Leadership Program: “The most accurate translation of the word mussar into English is “discipline,” defined in all three ways we use the word in English. Mussar defines a discrete area of study, like the discipline of physics. It describes a practice, as in “it takes discipline to practice piano every day.” It also describes the act of correcting behavior, as in “you must discipline the child.””

In our study of the Way of the Just, begun yesterday at Congregation Beth Evergreen (CBE) and led by Rabbi Jamie Arnold, we talked about the purpose of life. Rabbi Jamie offered what he said was a traditional Jewish perspective: Experience happiness fully. Experience sadness fully. And in the times between be content. Works for me.

It feels good to have some anchors in Evergreen now. Our work with Bear Creek Design will introduce us to the contractors who do work for them. Kate’s study of Hebrew and our mutual study of mussar has begun to open up relationships at CBE for CBE. This means Evergreen is no longer a destination only for restaurants and shopping, but also for community.

 

Into This World We’re Thrown

Lugnasa                                                                        Superior Wolf Moon

mattisPolitical correctness. What a genius it was who invented that phrase. An oxymoron that sounds like a platitude while really functioning as a self-imposed conservative censor. Let’s be clear, there is no such as the politically correct. There are only those cultural observations and changing traditions that reflect a certain political perspective. So, in that sense, I agree with the conservatives.

(The danger in not knowing yourself and being willing to impose your perceptions. Taken to the extreme here.)

When I react negatively to a woman being called a girl, to a black man being called colored or nigger, to a lesbian or gay being called queer (although that community has embraced this epithet), it is precisely my point that the world has moved on. Find people who aren’t like your idea of normal as people nonetheless. Am I right, or correct, in this perspective. I certainly think so. Do you think so? Maybe not. If not, I’m interested in your rationale for your language.

Now, having said that, I find the University of Chicago letter to its incoming students both unobjectionable and positive. Trigger warnings, intellectual safe places and sanctioning speakers on campus are the precise opposite of what colleges and universities are about. If you go to college and don’t find yourself challenged, embarrassed, overwhelmed, exhilarated and scared, you’re not only not getting your money’s worth, you’re being actively cheated.

atlantic-baby-2No matter where you come from you arrive at the beginning of a college education with a set of biases and conceptual short cuts framed by the world into which, as Heidegger put it, you were thrown. This is neither a negative or a positive, it just is. A university education is about pulling those blinders off so you can see the whole street. This is the moment when we learn that our way is not the only way, that our understanding about religion or agriculture or class or gender or race is not shared by 100% of earth’s population. In fact, it’s shared by only a tiny percentage of the seven billion or so alive right now. Again, that’s neither negative or positive, it just is.

We also learn that the perspectives and biases of everyone alive right now are not the end of it. Over time, that is both historically and pre-historically, humanity has entertained a plethora of forms of government, religious practice, kinship patterns, artistic conventions, military custom and all other forms of human activity that can be imagined.

The only way to enter the human experience fully is to learn a reflexive humility when confronted with difference. The only way to gain that humility is to learn yourself inside and out, to know why you view the world the way you do. And the only path to self-knowledge is a gauntlet of hits to your self-complacency.

Zhzi44College is the safe space. It’s not safe in terms of no discomfort. It’s not safe in terms of reinforcement of your cherished beliefs. It’s safe in terms of its recognition that we all need to learn who and what we are within the context of the great body of human knowledge and within the vast sea of living humans. It’s safe in that it provides a place where that is the purpose of daily life.

This is, btw, the soundest argument I can make for the humanities. While science may challenge your understanding of the physical and natural world, it will not, except in rare instances, challenge your mores, your prejudices. It will also not train you in the vast number of options of how to be human, or the vast number of options of how we can be human together. No, for those learnings you need art, literature, philosophy, music, history, political history. Where do you find those? Yes, in a college space.

 

 

Indolence in Horse Country

Summer                                                               Park County Fair Moon

An indolent day yesterday. Kate, Jon and the grandkids left for Fairplay, about an hour west of here in South Park, headed to the Park County Fair. Neither Jon nor us has a vehicle that comfortably seats 5, so somebody had to stay behind. Me.

Did a little binge watching, read the Sport of Kings. This book, Sport of Kings, is a major American novel. It catches American aristocracy (that strange self-inflected club), slavery, westward expansion, effectively compares the breeding of blue-blood humans and blue-blood horses-thoroughbreds, the respective dynamics of working class, upper class and poor black families, all seen through the prism of Kentucky bluegrass horse culture. It’s one I may read twice.

Jon’s into Denver today to work on his and Jen’s house, getting it ready for sale in the red-hot Denver market. I’m following in just a bit to pick up some portion of his stuff: tools, clothes, walnut boards for the loft, machines for ski-making. This whole process has been icky so far, but I’m entertaining a hope (maybe, really, a fantasy) that this week marks a modest turning point in the acrimony.

Ladders rattle over the roof of the garage as the final masking is underway. The staining will commence on the whole very soon, perhaps today. The preparation for a good painting/staining job is painstaking, time-consuming.

Law

Summer                                                                 Park County Fair Moon

enver Court House Lobby

Denver Courthouse Lobby

All day yesterday two young men from Timberline Custom Painting power washed our two decks, the shed and the garage. They now look clean and bare, ready for the clear stain. The low humidity up here dries wood out, can crack and split it, so wood siding demands care just like a painted surface.

We got the bid back for the bathroom. Ouch. Need to get other bids, other ideas because the one we talked about with Bear Creek Design is more than it makes sense to spend. Part of the process.

The divorce and legal matters continue to roil up family life. Lawyers and courts and judges, decrees and orders. External power, again the state’s coercive authority, enters intimate areas, areas usually outside the pale of government interference. The capacity of the law to circumscribe behavior is chilling, inexorable when it comes down on you or ones you love. Yet, necessary. Common life, especially in a democracy, occurs among individuals with widely varying goals, ethical assumptions and moral positions. Conflict is inevitable and at times the conflict demands mediation, even arrest and imprisonment.

The law, made in assemblies of elected officials, too often reflects the biases and values of a majority, giving bare attention or actual suppression to those less well represented. Think sodomy laws, restrictive abortion regulations, voting measures like reading tests and i.d.’s, Native American reservations. The law is about power and like all things related to power subject to corruption.

 

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