We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

In My Dreams

Summer                                                                   Monsoon Moon

AbrahamSacrificesIsaacIcon_smThe strange things that come to me before I drop off to sleep. Thinking about Lycaon, the anti-hero protagonist of Superior Wolf. He sacrifices his own son, Nyctimus, at a once every four year festival, the Lykaia, to Zeus Lycaeus (Wolf Zeus). Stray thought then. Sounds like Abraham and Isaac. Oh. Wait. Abraham was a polytheist before his covenant with G-d.

moloch william blake

Moloch william blake

What if? What if the Abraham and Isaac story recorded a very different intention than the one we Westerners, long infected by the idea of monotheism, have imputed to it? What if the context was one of child sacrifice? In other words, the religions around Abraham, perhaps even his own previous to the covenant, might have required child sacrifices. I know about Moloch who certainly did.

In the context of gods requiring child sacrifice, the story would read more like this. This new God requires sacrifice, his beloved son Isaac. Nothing new there. Many gods require the sacrifice of children. Yes, it’s always fraught with heartache and pain, but that’s just what Gods do. What’s new here is that this God relents, aborts the sacrifice and accepts an animal in place of a human child.

In this reading then Abraham’s new God evolves from a ruthless eater of human flesh to one who says, no, we no longer do that. The story becomes one of triumph and joy, this new god is better, much better.

Choose Life

Summer                                                              Woolly Mammoth Moon

Installing solar panels, 2015

Installing solar panels, 2015

Here’s a surprisingly existential sentence from economic journalist, Annie Lowrey, “The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be,” she writes. Her new book, “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World” (Crown),is considered as part of a New Yorker article, “Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?”

UBI is an interesting idea, made more interesting by Nathan Heller who offers a good summary of its possibilities and pitfalls, and I recommend the read; but, I’m much more taken by that single sentence of Lowrey’s. Lowrey is, as Heller says, a policy person, so her comment in this instance refers to our economic reality. Our economic life is not a divine endowment from a class loving God, rather it is the sum of choices we make as a people, choices reflected in our laws, our deference to the wealthy, our moralizing (Calvinist driven in large part) of personal income and wealth (more, better person, less, worse person), even the choices we make as consumers. In sum we live in a created society, one that we can choose to recreate or even uncreate.

IMAG0912Why are we so reluctant to recognize that racism, sexism, homelessness, income inequality, white fear are the result of decisions we’ve made collectively and individually? I think the answer lies in ideas Arthur Brooks identifies as the bedrocks of conservative thought. Below is a portion of that article, Republican or Conservative: You Have to Choose.* NYT, June 25, 2018. Though it may surprise readers of this blog, I have considerable sympathy for these ideas.

They challenge the Lockean idea of a social contract among independent actors, a notion at best abstracted from common life. They challenge the fabric of a liberal political worldview. I agree that we are not wholly autonomous individuals. Heidegger’s notion of thrownness underlines this point by reminding us that our life begins in a particular time, in a particular place and in particular circumstances over which we had no choice whatsoever. Brooks says something similar, “…individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations.” To this point, I’m with him. There are unique realities that shape us.

IMAG0913But, to sacralize that unique reality, “…conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed.” says Brooks, serves to deny its perniciousness, its damning of so many to lives of desperation, marginalized from both economic and cultural blessings. Once we emerge in the era, the family, the town or neighborhood or rural place, the religious or areligious space gifted to us, the nation of our birth, once we are over being thrown into circumstances beyond our volition, we gain the power of choice.

It is decidedly not the case that though thrownness may come first, as Brooks says “The order comes first.” that “…individual freedom is an artifact of that order.” No. Order is neutral, neither a moral good, nor a moral constraint. If the order into which we are born nourishes lives, lifts people into their best possible existence, then, yes, let’s sustain it. If, however, the order into which we are born is itself pernicious, damning us to poor education, inadequate nutrition, a lifetime of social doubts about our worth, then we must recognize the truth of Lowrey’s wonderful encapsulation of the liberal perspective: “The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be.”

 

*”Conservatives said we…think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.
The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.
Membership in these institutions is not established by rational choice. We are born into them most of the time and are bonded to them by prerational cords of sympathy and affection. We gratefully inherit these institutions from our ancestors, we steward them and pass them along to our descendants.”

Woke

Beltane                                                                      Mountain Moon

classBack in the day, the now further and further away day, I always went to class. I might have missed a few, but it was rare. I enjoyed learning from lectures, getting in the mix of dialogue, thinking out loud. Last night I was the only student in the qabbalah class on Time.

Rabbi Jamie and I had a solid hour together talking about the nature of the sabbath, the notion of sacred time, and, hidden space-time. L’Olam va’ed, translated most often as forever and ever, has another translation, hidden time witnessed. The second translation, a qabbalist’s, points to the intersection of the three dimensions: space, time, and soul. Soul is consciousness in this frame. It is a nexus that is crucial to understanding existence per se. Without all three, space, time and consciousness, the fabric of the universe cannot exist, or, perhaps better, in my opinion, couldn’t be known as we humans know it.

The tao. The tao feels like the central idea that I have learned, even though it’s pretty damned slippery. Putting it into this qabbalistic paradigm, being one with tao is awareness of L’Olam va’ed. When our soul sees hidden time, we see reality as it is, a moving generative force and we can align ourselves with its flow, not impede it.

homosapienBeing human is a daunting task, steeped in misdirection, existential isolation, perception clouded by tradition, by language, even by our body. Qabbalists and taoists and ch’an buddhists have worked, hard, to peel the onion of our awareness. They are subtle, in their own way as subtle as particle physics or genetics or neuroscience, attempts to understand this task, the one none of us can jettison, save through suicide. They differentiate from the narrowing tendency of science by insisting on a full, a comprehensive positioning of this strange creature that we are in the wild.

Make no mistake, the universe is the true wilderness and we wander in it as innocents, thrown into it for what reason we do not know, headed toward a destination we do not understand and cursed or blessed with awareness, consciousness, soul as we travel.

girl-powerThought experiments like taoism, qabbala, ch’an or zen buddhism try to shock us out of our stupor, the life lived without seeing the wilderness for what it is, the life lived within the conventions of a particular time, a particular language, a particular place, a life lived without knowing what life is. Most people find little reason to peak behind the curtain of this emerald city that we think is what is. The apparent life, the one with family and money and the NFL and food and houses and sunlight and night, seems to be all that could be. We do not question, we try to paddle the little barque of our body on this river (life) often using only our hands over the edge of the boat.

wokeAnd yet there is more, not more in the sense of more layers or more depth, for those layers and depths, the wilderness, always surround us, are the water to which we are the fish, but more in terms of what we can know, what we can access, what we can use to help us become awake. Woke, in the current vernacular, not woke to racism and sexism and oppression in this instance, but woke to the true majesty and wonder of life itself, of this wilderness journey, this most ancient of ancientrails.

Do you want to wake up? Shake off the slumber of convention? Head out into the wilderness knowing it for what it is? If you do, there are paths to take, fellow pilgrims with whom to travel. I honestly don’t know whether it’s important or not to peel the onion, only that in doing so, I’ve become alive, able to see. And I prefer that consciousness, awareness to life as a long sleep.

 

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.

20180414_114019

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.

20180414_111529

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.

20180414_163314_001

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.

 

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