We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

A Family of Introverts

Summer                                                                              Woolly Mammoth Moon

20170423_091304 (2)Took Gabe to see Avengers: The Infinity War. We both liked it a lot. At various times I have the aesthetics of a 10 year old, a 12 year old and a long time museum docent. Not sure why, but I’m enthralled by comic book storylines and computer graphics. Vermeer, too. Caravaggio. Tolstoy. Wolverine. Harry Potter. Wabi-sabi. Sci-fi in books and on television. Guess parts of me just never grew up.

Ruth said to me yesterday, “You’re random, too.” One of the better compliments I’ve received.

Black Mountain is putting on another show this morning. A fluffy cumulus cloud has wrapped itself over the peak with its ski run scars. I can tell from my weather station that it must be about 39 degrees up there since that’s the dewpoint where I am. It’s 45 here. The world of clouds is no longer thousands of feet above us, as it was in Minnesota almost all of the time. Here we live among the clouds.

20180624_063250Trump. So, George Will wrote a column in the Washington Post urging members of his former party, the GOP, to vote against it in the upcoming election. Somebody has to check the “Vesuvius of mendacities.” Great metaphor. Even better idea. Of course, he believes that a Democratic congress will be as pusillanimous as the current GOP one, but it will not buckle toward the president, but away from him. He’s not become a liberal, hardly, just a pragmatic conservative who finds Trump abhorrent from a different place on the political prism.

introverts-unite-226x300Gabe and Ruth have been here since Thursday night while Jon worked on his house. Somehow we’ve finally sorted out a way of being together that seems ok for everybody. Hallelujah and hosanna. Kate has calmed, I’m not sure how, but she has. Wonderful to see. Gabe’s more attentive, more fluid in his speech, if not more fluent. Ruth cooks, sews, goes to the planetarium, talks about matters both important and funny. We interact, but on our terms, all of us. A family of introverts (though Ruth sees herself as an extreme extrovert) takes a while to find an equilibrium. Especially post-divorce.

Gonna cut down another tree today, oh boy.

 

 

Book of Life, Black Holes

Summer                                                                    Woolly Mammoth Moon

20180622_193239Yesterday was a big day. Up early to write, workout. Lunch with Alan Rubin to start planning for the 6th and 7th grade religious school at Beth Evergreen. Home for a fitful nap. Left at 5:30 pm with Ruth for Boulder. We had a reservation at Japango on the Pearl Street Mall before seeing the Fiske Planetarium show on black holes. Driving home under the waxing gibbous moon with Jupiter below it, Mercury and Venus visible, too, as well as Mars and Saturn. A planetary moment. No twinkling please.

A highlight from the Alan Rubin meeting was deepening my relationship with him, learning more of his history, sharing some of my own. I agreed to take on the task of researching Jewish Liturgical history.

Rosh-HashanahWe want to reframe the high holidays, Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, in a reconstructionist way, then help the kids come to their own way of reframing. In the traditional understanding, taken here from the Chabad website, each year on Rosh Hashanah “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die … who shall be impoverished and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.” After ten days to seek repentance from those we have harmed in the previous year, God closes the Book of Life, sealing the fate of each worshiper.

book of lifeThe tradition implies a white bearded, Santa Claus like God who checks on the naughty and the nice. He takes out his celestial quill pen and starts scratching. He pauses, waiting to see what you have to say for yourself, then after a reasonable interval (the ten days), he writes fini.

How did these holidays come to be celebrated in the first place? Why? Who observed them and how? Have the observances and meanings of those observances changed over time? How? This is the exegetical move, gathering as much data as possible about the historical holidays. The hermeneutical move comes after it, asking what in our current circumstance, our present moment, if anything, corresponds to the original intentions. There is, too, a theological move here, asking if the metaphysics of the holiday can still be plausible. If not, that informs the reframing, too.

japangoIn my peculiar little world this is great fun. Looking forward to engaging similar research throughout the upcoming liturgical year.

Contrast this with my evening with Ruth. (Ironically, she is exactly the target audience for the above work, being a Jewish girl about to enter 7th grade.) We went to a sushi restaurant in Boulder where she had a sushi Tokyo plate. I had a sashimi plate, chef’s new choices. Green tea, too, for both of us. Ruth said, “You know me so well.”

black-holeAfter the dinner we drove back up Broadway to the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado, about 5 minutes. At the planetarium, where we’ve gone many times, we saw a presentation on black holes. It covered the usual topics of star death, neutron stars, supernovas and the formation of black holes with their extraordinarily deep gravity wells. It also covered recent observation of the long pursued gravity waves at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

From the book of life to the heat death of the universe in one Friday. Quite the journey.

 

 

 

Sweat, Black Holes and Sushi

Summer                                                                       Woolly Mammoth Moon

49 this morning.

HIITEasing back (if that’s the right phrase) into high intensity interval training (HIIT), up to 9 minutes of 30 second, 20 second, 10 second intervals, moderate for 30, higher speed for 20, as fast as possible for 10. Once I get back to 10 minutes, two 5 minute sessions in a row with a two minute break, I’ll start increasing the incline on the treadmill. I’m only at 2% right now and I’d like to get to 4%.

I can already tell an improvement in my breathing. This is cardio at its quickest and best. The whole workout takes 20 minutes, though because of my knee I add 15 minutes of icing. I’m now back to the five day pattern I want to retain. I used to go 6 days, but decided I need the two days off for psychic reasons.

pearl-street-then-and-now Photo from Silvia Pettem's book Positively Pearl Street. Historic photo from the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History. Current day photo taken by Casey A. Cass.

pearl-street-then-and-now Photo from Silvia Pettem’s book Positively Pearl Street. Historic photo from the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History. Current day photo taken by Casey A. Cass.

Ruth and I go to Boulder tonight, leaving around 5:30 pm. We’ll hit the 8 pm show at Fiske Planetarium, Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity. Before that I’m taking her to a sushi restaurant, Japango, that Mark Odegard and I found last week. It’s on the Pearl Street Mall, an urban spot among the best I’ve found in Colorado.

When Mark was here, I found an article from 2008 in the NYT that referred to Boulder as 25 square miles surrounded by reality. Here it’s known as the Republic of Boulder. We would have chosen to live there, but housing is very, very expensive, in the near million dollar range for an average purchase price. Too rich for us.

Even though we had over an inch of rain last week the fire danger signs here seem stuck on high. Not sure how they determine the fire risk ratings. Not even sure who determines them though the fire danger signs themselves are National Forest Service issue. A piece of information that remains in memory because they’re located frequently enough that every trip takes us past at least one. The point I suppose.

eudaimonia and makarismosJon’s working on his house, creating maps of wiring he intends to install and getting ready to rewire much of it. He’s got so many skills and he’s very bright. He seems to be gradually getting his balance though it’s been a tough slog. Ruth and Gabe both have become much less reactive. Neither of them will ever be normal kids, just fine with that.

Like most parent/grandparents we want to them to choose for themselves, live a life that makes them productive and fulfilled. Personally I think happiness overrated, preferring for them eudaimonia, flourishing, and resilience. Those are my goals, too.

makarismos=blessed, from Homer

 

Kate and radiation

Summer                                                                      Woolly Mammoth Moon

20180526_143004Kate’s had a big couple of days. Tuesday night was the Beth Evergreen board meeting. “I feel like I’m among my peers.” And yesterday was the Needleworkers here at our house. She presented food in abundance: cherries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberry muffins, angel food cake with orange icing, brie, cooked shrimp, crackers, coffee both caffeinated and pointless.

Mailed off the 90+ day radon test. The last one a few months ago was over the minimum radon level, but I discovered that the radon system fan had been inadvertently turned off. Decided to try again, but with a longer, more definitive test. If it comes back positive, I’ll have the radon folks out. Duck and cover is no good against radon.

42 this morning as the summer solstice rolled in. 4:07 a.m mst.

 

The True Yellow Peril

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20180610_061444

This morning

In January the solar panels often disappear under snow cover. In June they’re more likely to be covered in pine pollen. Both reduce their effectiveness. Snow, however, does not reduce my effectiveness while the true yellow peril does. Fuzzy, nose focused, weighed down not only by the pollen but by the helps (and thank god for them) for the symptoms. No good solutions here. Do what you can. Wait.

the orgy continues

the orgy continues

Two full days now, Friday and Saturday, given over to sneezing, lack of sleep (due to sneezing), consuming nasal steriods, second generation antihistamines (so called non-drowsy), and using saline sprays. Not to mention eliminating the current stash of kleenex we have. All this more for the record here than anything else.

Whinging stops.

 

 

WTFT

Beltane                                                              Sumi-e Moon

In the broad world of WTFT! That last T is for Trump.

twilight_trumpMeanwhile in the Trump dimension:  “Trump Orders a Lifeline for Struggling Coal and Nuclear Plants,”   NYT, June 1, 2018

Essay question for the day, compare and contrast these news articles. This one found in the MPR Updraft blog by friend Tom Crane.

“The rate CO2 is increasing in our atmosphere is accelerating. The average CO2 increase was 1.6 ppm per year in the 1980s. It’s now increasing at a rate of 2.2 ppm per year during the past decade.

co2 concentrationYale Environment 360 elaborates.

“Many of us had hoped to see the rise of CO2 slowing by now, but sadly that isn’t the case,” said Ralph Keeling, director of the University of California San Diego’s Scripps CO2 Program, which maintains the Mauna Loa record with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It could still happen in the next decade or so if renewables replace enough fossil fuels.”

“CO2 levels are continuing to grow at an all-time record rate because emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas are also at record high levels,” Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, said in a statement. “Today’s emissions will still be trapping heat in the atmosphere thousands of years from now.””


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.

 

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.

Hell Comes For a Visit

Beltane                                                                                    Sumi-e Moon

Kilaeurea May 25 An aerial view, looking west, of the two active ocean entries on Kīlauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone.

Kilaeurea May 25 An aerial view, looking west, of the two active ocean entries on Kīlauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone.

All Photos from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

Beltane                                                                         Sumi-e Moon

May 22. Imagine if you lived on the "island"

May 22. Imagine if you lived on the “island”

kileauea may 22

May 22

May 22

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