We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

A leather jacket, leaning on the nose of the plane

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

09 11 10_Joseph_0256-1He wore a leather jacket, leaned on the nose of his liaison plane, a dashing aviator surely in his own mind. It was a pose redolent of the early days of World War II when young American men, he must have been 23 or 24 at the time, answered the call. This was the so-called Greatest Generation, looking for adventure after the downbeat thirties, soaked in the dustbowl and post-depression blues.

He told me stories of flying these little planes, sort of air taxis, close cousins to the Beechcraft single prop planes. One time, he said, he was in a huge thunderhead, his tiny plane ravaged by the winds, bucking, twisting, lightning strikes and rain all round. “Never,” he said,”did I want to parachute out of my plane, but this once. And I couldn’t do it.” The air pressure in the thunder head conspired to keep his cockpit door closed.

He told me too of flying under utility wires just for fun and dropping sacks of flour on troops training below to simulate bombs. Then there were the trips flying personnel of the Manhattan Project from place to place. A close brush with the greatest and deadliest secret of the war.

Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of Oklahoma State University, had, has a topflight journalism program and he had graduated from it before joining the then Army/Air Force. He dreamed, he told me once, of buying a boat and traveling the Gulf of Mexico, writing as he went. I wish he had.

counter intelligenceThere was, though, the story of counterintelligence work that soured me on him from a single digit age. As a recruit in this branch of military security, he spied on possible Reds who’d infiltrated the Army. “I made friends with them, then went through their lockers, that sort of thing. I reported back.” A man, I thought as a very young boy, who would make friends with someone in order to betray them is at least morally flawed, certainly not someone I’d look up to. And he was my father. Sure, it was war time. Sure, there were spies. And, sure, someone needed to find them. I just didn’t want one of those people to have been my father. But he was.

He was a distant man, plagued by migraines and allergies. Often we had to tiptoe around the house while he lay in living room in the dark, a cold cloth laid over his forehead. He sneezed. A lot. Used the cache of my brother’s no longer needed baby diapers as soft handkerchiefs.

BiloxiOne year we drove all the way to Biloxi, Mississippi from Alexandria, quite a journey. We rented a room in a motel by the beach while Dad went to an allergy clinic. When he came home from one visit to the clinic, his back looked like hamburger, having been pricked, in orderly rows and columns, with possible allergens. Oddly, I don’t remember, perhaps I wasn’t told, the results of any of these tests.

Meanwhile, we had the beach and that same Gulf of Mexico. I made a point of getting out there.  Even then strange places, different from home, drew me like magnets. I met a boy at the beach. We both had trucks and cars that we drove on roadways we made in the sand.

It was not long after a fireworks celebration had been held beach side and unexploded or partially exploded fireworks lay everywhere. We were boys. An opportunity offered itself. Soon we were opening small firecrackers, bottle rockets, fountains and scraping out the black powder.

fireworksWe made a little pit and filled it with black powder, then placed a plastic dump truck over it. We’d both seen movies where the fuse was a line of gunpowder so we made a small crevice in the pits side and dribbled black powder in a thin line away to what we calculated was a safe distance. Lit it.

Nothing happened. I imagine the sand was damp, dampening the powder, but that didn’t occur to us at the time. He, I don’t remember his name, offered to put a match to the powder under the truck. We really wanted to see that truck go up. He did. It worked, blowing up the small truck in spectacular, wonderful fashion. His thumb, too.

We went home and Biloxi was a bizarre memory, my Dad’s hamburger back and my friend’s thumb gone. When Katrina took out the Biloxi waterfront, I thought about that week.

Dad made me shine his high topped shoes every Sunday morning, a task I hated. He gave me a quarter for it, later thirty-five cents. I mowed the lawn, too, with a cranky push mower. He never did it himself. Paint the fence. Salt the weeds in the interstices of the bricks in our sidewalk. Carry buckets of water up from the basement that flooded predictably. He made me do these things, never explained them, never did them himself, save for the carrying of the buckets and then only with me. I know, hardly child abuse. I’m pointing here to the underlying, assumed authority of father that rested in his heart.

father2I have no warm memories of him. No moment of, God, I’m glad this guy is my Dad. Mostly my memories are blank, him lying on the floor, watching television, eating. Memories devoid of emotional valence.

When I began to do well in school, well enough that I would become my class’s valedictorian, he told me, “Grades aren’t everything. It’s how you get along with people that counts.” Not that it wasn’t true. It is. The lack of validation was what left a hole.

Even then I pushed back against authority, his, scout leaders, the school system. He wasn’t able to distinguish critical thinking and willingness to challenge authority from a defective personality. He didn’t see that I was tight with my peers, that they constantly chose me for leadership roles precisely because I was willing to say and do the things they only thought about.

Later, he bailed me out of a drinking related expulsion from campus when I was a junior. He bought me a car, a Volkswagen Beetle, so I could commute to school which was 20 miles away in Muncie. I moved back into my old room, ashamed. Even in this incident, my fault, I don’t recall warmth, only fulfillment of duty on his part.

father estrangementIt led to the rupture that mattered the most. I was at home, my hair was long, early Beatle’s long, which was not very, even for the day. He asked me one day, “Charlie, are you a homosexual?” Long haired musicians were often considered gay in those days. I laughed.

“No.”

“Well, then, cut your hair or get of my house.” That was the last time I was in Alexandria, or talked to him for over ten years. Sure, I was misguided, abrupt, overreacting. Yes. But, and this was the lesson I took from this incident, I was the child. He was the parent. It was his responsibility to find a way over the gap, a gap he had created out of his Roosevelt Democrat, communist hating paranoia. He never did.

He was not an absent father in the sense of not coming home at night, of always being unavailable due to hobbies or travel. He was an absent father in his heart, walled in, tucked away behind the moat of his early childhood, his own father’s abandonment. From the vantage point now, years long past look different of course. I can see the roots of his difficulty, even be moved by them. But their work was done a long time ago, long before I knew I could rewrite my narratives.

father driftMaybe it could have gone differently. Maybe. But it didn’t. With Mom dead young and Dad unable to cope I felt, though only in retrospect, like a rudderless boat. Navigating that craft through the astonishing turmoil and wonder of the sixties was difficult. In a real sense I failed.

It took into my thirties, with treatment for alcoholism and long term Jungian analysis, to regain the helm. This was not Dad’s fault. I’ve come to believe that no matter what the circumstances of our childhood, when we’re least able to shape our own lives, we alone are responsible for our adult lives. It’s our task to find, in whatever way we can, the tools necessary to give us a life of our own making.

This is the essence of reconstruction. We cannot wish away or abandon our past; it will be and is what it was. Yet the interpretation, the hermeneutics of that past is ours. Would that Dad had had the chance to reconstruct his own story, to dig out the bravery it took to live a life in spite of Elmo’s sudden disappearance, to join the military, to raise a child with polio. These are not trivial accomplishments, but somehow they did not shape him. I don’t know why.

 

 

 

 

Reconstruct. Remember.

Beltane                                                                    Sumi-e Moon

UNESCO and European Union undertake to reconstruct the cultural heritage of Timbuktu

UNESCO and European Union undertake to reconstruct the cultural heritage of Timbuktu

Had an insight the other day about Beth Evergreen. The reason I like it there, feel comfortable there, is that I’m a reconstructionist at heart. Not a Jew, but a reconstructionist.

If I’d known about the concept when I started my reimagining project, I’d have called it reconstructing faith. Now, I do and I think of it that way. Reimagining and reenchanting are still part of this journey for me, but reconstructionist thought captures me in a particular way.

reconstruct scrollHere’s the key idea, from Mordecai Kaplan: the past gets a vote, but not a veto. That is, when considering tradition, in Kaplan’s case of course Jewish tradition, the tradition itself informs the present, but we are not required to obey it. Instead we can change it, or negate it, or choose to accept, for now, its lesson.

This is a powerful idea, especially when considering religious thought, which too often wants us to turn our backs on the present, get out a prayer rug, put our butt in the air toward the future and stretch out our hands in submission to the past.

LiveWhich brings me to another realization I had this week. Just like environmental action is not about saving the planet, the planet will be fine, it’s about saving humanity’s spot on the planet; the idea of living in the moment is not about living in the moment, it’s about remembering we can do no other thing than live in the moment.

In other words, this moment is all we have and all we will ever have. There is no way to be in the past or in the future, not even for a bit. We only live in the present. Living in the moment is not a choice, it’s a necessity by the laws of physics. What is important is realizing that, remembering it. Which goes back, come to think of it, to sharpening doubt.

ichigo-ichie_6The past is gone, the future is not yet. Always. We can be sure, confident, only of this instance, for the next may not come. To be aware of the moment is to be aware of both the tenuousness of life, and its vitality, which also occurs only in the moment. To know this, really know it in our bones, means we must have faith that the next moment will arrive, because it is not given. Not only is it not given, it will, someday, not arrive for us. That’s where faith comes in, living in spite of that knowledge, living as if the next moment is on its way.

 

Waiting for the darkness

Beltane                                                                             Sumi-e Moon

Got an e-mail from Mario Odegard. “…over Loveland pass to Dillon, WOWww mind blowing.” The mountains have that way about them. He was on his way to visit a friend in Frisco.

Summer2Probably not many folks count down to the Summer Solstice, but I do. It marks my favorite turning point in the year, the point when the dark begins to overtake the light. Yes, it’s the day of maximum daylight, but that’s just the point, maximum. After the summer solstice, nighttime begins a slow, gradual increase until my favorite holiday of the year, the Winter Solstice.

This may sound sinister, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I’ve long been struck by the fecundity of darkness: the top six inches of the soil, the womb, dreams, the silence. In my world darkness is a place of growth and inspiration, a place where insistent vision can rest while other senses, some of them unknown, can take over the load.

winter solstice4Summer and the light has its charms and its importance, too, of course. A warm summer evening. The growing season. The ability to see with clarity. The sun is a true god without whose beneficence we would all die. Worthy of our devotion. And, btw, our faith. So I get it, you sun worshipers. My inner compass swings in a different, an obverse direction.

 

Remember the Shark

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

  • I know how well you have succeeded in making your earthly life so rich and varied, that you no longer stand in need of an eternity. Having made a universe for yourselves, you are above the need of thinking of the universe that made you.
  • On every subject, however small and unimportant, you would most willingly be taught by those who have devoted to it their lives and their powers. … How then does it come about that, in matters of religion alone, you hold every thing the more dubious when it comes from those who are experts?
    • Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, 1799

AbrahamSacrificesIsaacIcon_smFaith. The middah of the month for Beth Evergreen. Emunah. Last night at MVP, the mussar vaad practice group, we talked about emunah. Rabbi Jamie and Marilyn said that in the early days of mussar classes at Beth Evergreen, some time ago, the middah that caused the most consternation was this one.

I can see why. Faith is a word often used, but little understood. Faith is also a word often abused both by religion’s adherents and by religion’s cultured despisers. (Friedrich Schleiermacher) Faith is a sine qua non inside any mega-church in America. Either you have faith or you don’t. Black and white. It was true for me as a clergyman in the Presbyterian church. When I could no longer claim with authenticity that I had faith in God (whatever conception of God I was using at the time), I could no longer serve in that role.

Religion’s cultured despisers, a term coined by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1799 in his book of the same name, often use faith as a straw concept with which to flog the irrational religious. Faith makes people blind. Faith makes people malleable to cult leaders. Faith makes people believe in a magical world. Faith blots out a person’s capacity to see the world as it is.

universe has your backOne of us in the group last night said, “The universe is for me.” I have other friends who believe the universe is a place of abundance, or, as author Gabrielle Bernstein titled her book, “The Universe has my back.” I don’t buy it. This abundant universe will kill you. It will kill you. This is not a matter of faith, but of oft repeated experience. The universe offers up all we need to live, then takes it all away.

I don’t believe the universe gives a damn. The problem for me is placing a value judgment on the actions of this vast context into which, thank you Heidegger, we were thrown. I don’t believe the universe is out to get me; nor do I believe it has my back. I’m a part of that universe and I can choose to live into my part, follow the tao as it manifests in my life, or I can resist it and struggle, but in either case the universe will keep on evolving and changing. Maybe what I’m saying here is that I’m not willing to shift the religious notion of God’s agency to the universe, no matter how construed.

If the universe is, as I believe it is, neutral to us and our lives, or, said another way, if we are no more privileged than any other part of the world, the cosmos, then what can faith mean? What is there in which to have faith?

nightdiving_titleTurns out quite a lot. Another of us last night told a story of night diving. A favorite activity of hers. She said she turns off her diving light and floats in the night dark ocean. While she’s in the dark, she imagines a shark behind her. The shark may kill her in the next moment, but until that moment she is keenly alive. This is, for me, a perfect metaphor for faith. Each day the shark is behind us. A car accident. A heart attack. A lightening bolt. A terminal diagnosis. Yet each day we float in the dark, suspended between this moment in which we live and the next one in which we are dead. And we rejoice in that moment. There is faith.

SharkThis is the existentialist abyss of which Nietzsche famously said, “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Living on in spite of its direct glare, that’s faith. This sort of faith requires no confidence in the good or ill will of the universe, it requires what Paul Tillich called the courage to be. I would challenge that formulation a bit by altering it to the courage to become, but the point is the same.

Here’s the interesting twist. Doubt and faith are partners. As a quote Rabbi Jamie offered last night says, they live in the same apartment building. Here’s the big learning I got last night. Doubt is the true sine qua non for faith. And to the extent that we have doubt, I would identify doubt with awareness of the shark, we have faith. There is, and this is the aha for me, a frisson between doubt and faith that makes life vital.

sacred tensionSo. My practice for this month involves, in Rabbi Jamie’s phrase, sharpening my doubt. I will remember the shark as often as I can. I will recognize the contingent nature of every action I take, of every aspect of my life. And live into those contingencies, act as if the shark will let me be right now. As if the uncertainty of driving, of interacting with others, of our dog’s lives will not manifest right now. That’s faith. Action in the face of contingency. Action in the face of uncertainty. Action in the face of doubt.

I want to sharpen doubt because I want to taste what it feels like to live into doubt, to choose life over death, to have the courage to become. If I only use the automatic responses, make money, achieve fame, watch television, play with my phone, immerse myself in the needs of another, or several others, then I blunt the bravery, the courage it takes to live. I do not want a life that’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. I do not want a life that is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5)

I want a life that flourishes not in spite of the uncertainties, the contingencies that are all to real, but because of them.

 

One meeting, one moment

Beltane                                                                                    Sumi-e Moon

ichigo-ichie_6

enso-zen-circleMy presentation on time falls under the sumi-e moon and I plan to use sumi-e. I’m taking my brushes, ink, ink stones, red ink pad, Kraft paper, and rice paper. As well as my hourglasses. I will do Shakespeare’s soliloquy from Macbeth as a counter point. Each person will first practice an enso on the Kraft paper, then do one on rice paper.

icho.go.ichi.e3What is an enso? The word means circle in Japanese. In Zen it has a much more expansive meaning.* Zen is, of course, Chan Buddhism, a curious blend of Taoism and Buddhism created in China. Monks from Japan went to China to learn about Chan and brought it back to Japan. They also brought back the practice of drinking tea, which initially was a stimulant to help with long meditation sessions. It later transmogrified into the Japanese tea ceremony with its beautiful idea of ichi go ichi e, or once in a lifetime.

*”In the sixth century a text named the Shinhinmei refers to the way of Zen as a circle of vast space, lacking nothing and holding nothing in excess. At first glance the ancient ensō symbol appears to be nothing more than a miss-shaped circle but its symbolism refers to the beginning and end of all things, the circle of life and the connectedness of existence. It can symbolize emptiness or fullness, presence or absence. All things might be contained within, or, conversely, excluded by its boundaries. It can symbolize infinity, the “no-thing”, the perfect meditative state, and Satori or enlightenment.  It can even symbolize the moon, which is itself a symbol of enlightenment—as in the Zen saying, “Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.” In other words, do not mistake doctrines, teachings or explanations, which are intended to guide one toward enlightenment, for enlightenment itself. Ensō can also represent the moon’s reflection on water, thereby symbolizing the futility of searching for enlightenment outside oneself.”  Modern Zen

On Time

Beltane                                                                      Sumi-e Moon

out-out-brief-candle“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”  Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5

 

And, then, time. Last qabbalah class on time yesterday evening. Next week presentations. I have to come up with something and I got nothin’. Might go with an hourglass. It’s a nice physical symbol since in it time seems to run out, then be restored with an easy flip. Hourglasses, on their sides, are also shaped like the infinity image. So, there’s measured time, yet measured time that can be reversed, and eternal time, running on past the end of earthly time. Might go with Shakespeare.

time-managementWe’ve been pulling at the strands of various ideas about time, from measured time to eternal time to shabbat moments and the radical obvious, time is only ever the present. The past and the future have no reality, no agency, save in the present.

Rabbi Jamie asked an interesting question last night. Why do any of this? What’s the point? He leans toward the practical, unwilling to dwell only in the abstract. Learning has to count. As readers of this blog know by now, I’m more on the dwelling in the abstract end of the pool, so I appreciate his pulling me back into this life with questions like this.

Look insideThe answer he gave to his own question, with which I agree, was this. I’m not quoting. We do it to hold our notion of self more lightly, to give the ego a rest from its orientation to survival, to making it in the world. At the soul level, the most basic level of our human existence, we all connect. Think the collective unconscious, the divine spark, in the image of the sacred. In effect qabbalah posits an Oversoul, or better, an under or inner soul, the quality of which is the same for all humans.

I mentioned the irony that we spend our time developing a firm sense of self, striving for authenticity and compassion, only, at the end of life to give it up. Yes, we all agreed, that’s a good reason for holding the self lightly. We have to let it go. The soul, if there is such a thing, and I’m not ready to say there isn’t, that links us all to all, does not need the self.

The image, from Rabbi Rami Shapiro, that makes this clearest for me was that of waves on the ocean. Our life is a wave on the ocean. It rises out of the ocean, exists and moves on its own, and at its end, sinks back into the ocean. Never was it anything other than ocean.

A Revelation. Say what?

Beltane                                                                                       Sumi-e Moon

AbrahamSacrificesIsaacIcon_smBeen thinking about revelation. In a way I’m not sure is new, but I don’t recall seeing it anywhere. So, we have all these sacred scriptures. What makes them sacred? The claim is their autographic nature, written in some mysterious way by the hand of a god or gods. I’m going to bracket the claim of divine authorship and ask not about the content of the tales, at least not the content usually involved in exegesis and hermeneutics, but about the way revelation shows up in them.

I came to this idea at a mussar class last week when we were discussing Abraham (Avram) as an example of emunah, or grace/faith. Emerson came to mind, his words about having a revelation to us and not the dry bones of theirs. We were discussing Abraham as a model of emunah. What we’re trying to do, I said, is learn from Abraham’s story why he trusted God. We’re trying to learn through the veil of thousands of years and through the words written about Avram. Words, for most of us, in translation. Words we know passed through many different redactors. We want to know how Avram experienced revelation otherwise why would we find the stories sacred?

Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels Rembrandt_

Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels Rembrandt_

God appears to Abram. God comes to him in a vision. God speaks to him. God comes to Abram in sleep, in darkness and dread: “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram…”  Gen. 15:12-13a, RSV Abram asks God how he will know that what he says is true.

It came to me then that the fundamental question of Biblical, Vedic, or Koranic texts is an epistemological one, not first a metaphysical one or a hermeneutical one. That is, how does revelation show up? How do we know it when we see it? How might we realize Emerson’s plea for a revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs? What is the nature of revelation? How can we experience it now, not rely on an ancient game of telephone?

Well, one way might be to use the sacred texts not as either mythology or divine communication through their content, but as clues to the nature of revelation itself. How, in other words, did the sacred texts represent the experience of revelation? What was it like? How did it become confirmed as revelation? At least to those reported to have experienced it directly?

Please note that I’m not making an assumption here about the source of revelation or its truth claims as evidence of divine communication. I’m asking the question, what has revelation looked like? How has the experience of revelation been identified? What are its marks? Can we seek it? Might we find it if we did?

Abraham's Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Abraham’s Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Going back to Abram. Let’s use him not as an example of faith or of covenant or of divine nation-building, but as an example of one who experiences direct revelation. What is it like? How does he know (the epistemological question) that he has experienced revelation? The writers of the story, or the editors of the oral tradition when it was written down, or the embellishers and editors of the story as it passed both through oral transmission and different textual editions, use particular verbs: Avram heard, saw (a vision, an appearance), dreamed, felt (darkness and dread), was delivered (defeat of enemies).

Following Avram’s story we might say that revelation comes through language, through emotions, through dreams, through particular actions to him. Not very distinctive in its medium, then, at least not distinctive from usual human experience. So what is it about a communication or an interpretation of an action that identifies it as special, different, sacred?

rev.4-blankMy first suspicion is that it is much like the nativity story, and perhaps the crucifixion and resurrection narratives, too, ex post facto events created to explain the origins and influence of remarkable individuals. Who would receive communications from beyond this reality? Individuals who’ve already been established as significant, powerful, influential. Like that guy Abraham, warlord, father of many children, father of our nation. How did he get where he is? He heard the still small voice. He understood things others of us missed. He was in touch with, what? Something many of us ignored, perhaps.

But, let’s say for the sake of this investigation that it’s not only this reading backwards into an important person’s life, well after the fact; but, that revelation is just that. Revelatory. Forget of what for now. Why are some dreams revelatory? Why are some appearances revelatory? Why are some inner voices revelatory?

Full title: The Agony in the Garden Artist: Andrea Mantegna Date made: about 1458-60 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

Full title: The Agony in the Garden
Artist: Andrea Mantegna
Date made: about 1458-60
Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/
Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk
Copyright © The National Gallery, London

I’m not sure we can penetrate this. We have the after story. After the garden. After the promise to Avram. After Sarah’s miraculous births. After the Garden of Gethsemane. After the journey by night to the Temple Mount. After the birth of Krishna. Yet how can we know the inner experience of personages from thousands of years in the past? We barely understand our own inner experience. And if we can’t answer the epistemological question, how did Avram know what he claimed to know about God, then we can’t decide the value of his claims. Aside from their value as myth and legend.

Perhaps then Emerson’s quest for a religion of revelation to us rather than the dry bones of theirs is fruitless. Perhaps. I would say and will stop here for now, that the only way we can understand the nature of revelation is to search for its marks in our own lives. We will not find answers in ancient texts because the layers, the barriers to knowing the mind of another becomes insurmountable in them. What has been revealed to you? What was its source? How do you know?

 

How I Got Here

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

(for Tara)

Rev. John Ackerman, my spiritual advisor in the mid-1980s, now dead, said to me during a session with him, “Charlie, I think you’re a druid.” This was while I was still an Associate Executive for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, responsible for urban mission and congregational development. That made me pause.

I had just started a Doctor of Ministry Program that I had organized and brought to the Twin Cities, one taught by professors from McCormick Seminary of Hyde Park, Chicago. The full program was largely unremarkable; but when it came time, three years later, to write my doctoral thesis, one documenting the decline of Presbyterian membership over the century, I sat down one day and came up a week or so later with 40,000 words of my first novel, Even the Gods Must Die. That surprised me.

Raising Joseph, born in Calcutta, was also challenging my theology. I was always suspicious of monotheism, if there are more than one one God, doesn’t that negate the whole idea, but with Joseph my suspicion had an existential bite. If Joseph had been raised in the rural village of Bengal from which he came, he would likely have been Hindu. And outside the pale of salvation. I loved him and would have loved him as a Hindu, too. If Christianity would not have allowed someone I loved into eternal peace, then Christianity was wrong.

All this was problematic for continuing to work as a clergyman. In Christianity, unlike Judaism, belief in God is a job requirement. Otherwise we’re in Grand Inquisitor territory. Kate (not fate) intervened. I was already on my way out of the Christian ministry, but I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I was 41, mid-career, and leaving the only long term job I’d ever had, while being responsible for raising Joseph, seemed impossible.

Kate allowed me, in a move that was typically generous of her, to resign from the Presbytery and take up writing. Those novels had me pretty excited. I left the Presbytery on good terms. I’d moved away from Christianity, but I didn’t bear the church any animus. I had, I guess you could say, fallen out of love, but I remained friends with my ex-faith.

Later, when I had trouble selling my writing, I regressed and transferred my credentials to the Unitarian-Universalist Association, thinking I could pick up work familiar to me in a context friendly to my changing, evolving theology. In 1996, in Phoenix, I became a fellowshipped clergy in the UUA. I say regressed because I was done with church leadership, but wasn’t ready to admit it. I preached on occasion for a small UU congregation, Groveland, sometimes frequently, and I enjoyed that opportunity to write about my religious thinking.

When we moved to Colorado in 2014, I delivered a final sermon at Groveland, in my mind ending my ministerial career at last. That was 44 years after I entered seminary.

Influenced by the feminist reimagining movement in Christianity from the 1980’s, I decided to reimagine the idea of faith itself, a project I’ve worked on in spurts for 15 years. At first I thought I would create a new theology, something I called for a while, Ge-ology. My idea was to find a way to express in a coherent system the kind of sentiment underlying Thomas Berry’s Great Work.

Berry was a Passionist monk, a deep ecologist and author of a little book called, The Great Work. In it he proposes that the great work of our time and, in specific, the great work of our Western civilization, as creating a sustainable human presence on this planet. It’s important to note that this is not about saving the planet. The planet will be fine. The question was, and is, can we humans devise a way of living here that does not destroy our species.

What, I wondered, would faith look like if we could focus it on that which sustains us. What sustains us? The sun. The sun and plants. The sun, plants, and the soil. The sun, plants and the atmosphere they supply with oxygen. All these and the animals which nourish us, but are themselves also nourished by the plants. Yes, we humans have a rich inner life, one that allows us to imagine gods and heavens, but as animals, we can only have that rich inner life if we live. And living requires these complex interrelationships we call the web of life.

Over the years I’ve generated bits and pieces of a reimagined faith and added to reimaging, reconstructing and reenchanting. Reenchanting means becoming aware and responsive to the forces and powers that sustain us, but as beings in and of themselves. When the residents of the Big Island refer to the new Kilauea eruptions as the work of Pele, the Hawai’ian goddess of volcanoes, they have been enchanted; and for many, haoles (non-native Hawai’ans, often white people) and native Hawai’ians, reenchanted.

Another example of reenchantment was the visit I had from three mule deer bucks in October of 2014. I had come here for the closing on our purchase of the house on Black Mountain Drive. I went out in the yet unfenced back yard and encountered the three bucks about a hundred feet from the house. They stood there. I stood there. We looked at each other and I felt a distinct connection with them. The connection felt reciprocated. After a while, they left and I went back to the mechanics of taking possession of the house and property.

On reflection I felt I had been visited by the spirit of the mountain, that I had been given permission to live here among the forests and wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. The mule deer were the messengers, the angels, of this new world into which we were moving.

Or, bee-keeping. I kept bees for six years in Minnesota. It was early in the process that I felt a partnership with the bees. The colonies themselves and the surplus honey they produced that Kate and I could harvest was a collaboration. We were working together toward a common end. The closer I got to the bees, the more I understood the mystical nature of the hive, a super-organism created from apparently individual bees engaged in the world as one entity.

The final R of my new 3 R’s, reimagining, reenchanting and reconstructing, I have borrowed from Congregation Beth Evergreen. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, said, “The past gets a vote, but not a veto.” In the Jewish ambit within which he remained though a convinced non-supernaturalist that meant taking the tradition and reconstructing it for contemporary life.

Reconstructing faith is, in my current understanding, a similar work. The traditional religious faiths get a vote, but not a veto. We can pick up strands from various traditions and rebuild them into a new faith, what I call an ur-faith, one we can all embrace, not as a replacement for our tradition if we don’t want that, but one expressing a new/old faith, one that trusts in the sun, in plants, in photosynthesis, in the sustaining powers of the soil.

Or, without visiting the old religions, we can create this new faith inductively from our lived experience. The miracle of new plants each spring. The wonder of soil complexity and its role in sustaining that miracle. The snow and the rain that bring fresh water to us, to replenish our rivers and aquifer. Consider the tomato on your table or the steak on the grill. They both store the energy of the sun and pass it on to us through the true transubstantiation as food becomes our body. The close, intimate bond between humans and animals that live with us like dogs and cats.

Stand outside at night. Look up. Stars and galaxies and planets. All there. So far away. Yet we are a part of them and they are a part of us. We need no other mystery, no other miracles, no other metaphysics.

Projects, More Projects and Lost Gold

Beltane                                                                             Sumi-e Moon

Ted of All Trades came by yesterday. We want to add a screen door on the front so we can keep the front door open during the summer. Screen not for bugs, in this case, but dogs. He offered a couple of suggestions, one we’re considering. Maybe have it open left instead of right. Why? Chinooks and other high winds, often well 0ver 60 mph, can catch, in our situation, a right hand swinging door and wham it against the house.

The Gap

The Gap

There’s a gap between our composite deck at the east facing door and the garage. For younger folks, not a big deal, but for Kate, with neuropathy in both feet, the jagged surface created after several snows becomes treacherous. We had a work around the last two years with rubber mats I threw over the snow once I shoveled it, but that’s an imperfect solution. The advantage of the composite decking is that I can use a plastic snow shovel and just shove the snow off. A back preserving snow removal method and one I can then extend all the way to the garage. Ted proposed a floating deck extension. Sounds fine.

Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad2In other trade folk news I had Will out on Tuesday to talk about stump grinding. Two years ago I cut down about 60 trees for fire mitigation. I can do it, but I can’t leave stumps cut very close to the ground, too hard for me to hold the saw steady far below my waist. Lots of centrifugal force on a chainsaw blade and I tip it into the ground. Instant dull blade. With 60 I’m not going to do it. He’s not gotten back to me with a bid because he usually bids stump removal by the inch diameter and I think he’s shocked at the potential cost.

Anyhow he knew a lot of cool stories about our area. Two for instances. Back when Denver was being built, end of the 19th century, there was a mining railroad that ran from Denver all the way to Fairplay, about 60 miles. It ran along the present route of Hwy. 285, our main thoroughfare east and west now. Ore on the train, into the Denver. Smelting.

But. Some smart guy realized that the train also ran through the mountains. Which had lots and lots of old growth Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine. Never been forested. Wait. So much building in Denver, all this wood. Aha. The lumberjacks left the forested east face of the Front Range untouched, a first acknowledgment of a view shed, I suppose, but between there and Fairplay they clear cut everything! Made sense back then. Just trees. Far away from civilization. Free. Today though the small, evenly aged forests that we have, that create much of the fire danger for us are a direct result of this work. Young forests, never thinned, and now with a century + of fire suppression. A combination of the worst possible forest management techniques.

A building left in Webster, now a ghost town

A building left in Webster, now a ghost town

Second story. The Reynolds Gang gold. This was one’s good if you’re a little short on retirement funds. Back in the same time period there was a rip-roaring, bar and brothel filled town called Webster beyond Guanella Pass but before Kenosha Pass. There’s no visible evidence of Webster from 285 today, but then it was a place where miners and lumberjacks came to relax. Or, their equivalent of that idea. Not the sabbath, for sure.

Lots of gold and silver. The Reynolds Gang, twice, robbed Webster, getting away with a substantial horde. A railroad guy asked then governor of Coloradao, John Evans, (a main Denver thoroughfare is named after him), for help. “Sure,” he said. He sent out the Colorado Militia, a group of state paid thugs who had recently mustered out of the civil war. They knew killing.

Reynold's Gang robbingOne night they found the gang around a camp fire somewhere still in the Webster area. The Militia, which I think was modeled after the Texas Rangers, did not what any upstanding law enforcers would do. They went in with guns hot, lighting up the night with muzzle flashes. All dead, except a small group, maybe 2 or 3, who escaped with the loot. No one saw them leave and they ran in the dark so they didn’t pay attention to where they ran.

Reynold's gang lootYes. They dug a hole or found a small cave or animal den, stashed the loot and ran on to escape the militia. They lived long enough to mention to somebody that they’d stuck a knife in a tree to mark the sport. But the militia caught up with them later. Dead. So somewhere in the mountains around the former townsite of Webster is a tree with the tang of a knife protruding, probably about 20 feet up now, allowing for the growth of the tree.

And, no. No one’s ever found it. Get out the metal detector. Or, Kate suggested, power up your drone. We could live large in the third phase on Reynold’s gang gold.

Aickman

Beltane                                                                              Sumi-e Moon

AickmanTrying my hand at a short story in the style of Robert Aickman. If you appreciate strange fiction with a literary style, then you’ll love Aickman. His work is as distinctive as Kafka and some use the term Aikmanesque to reference it, as the word Kafkaesque references Kafka’s unique style. Aickman uses dense description of place and characters to lull the reader into a sense of the narrative, but he subtly tweaks certain aspects that color a character’s mood or personality and the apparently normal world in which they live. At some point in the story, a line gets crossed between this world and a surreal one that you then notice lurked behind even the first few paragraphs.

June 2018
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