We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Working

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

hell2Moving forward, slowly, with Jennie’s Dead. Exploring the religion of the ancient Egyptians, trying to avoid hackneyed themes, not easy with all the mummy movies, Scorpion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of cinema. Jennie’s Dead is not about Egypt, ancient or otherwise, but it plays an important role in the plot. Getting started is difficult, trying to sort out where the story wants to go, whether the main conflict is clear, to me and to the eventual reader.

Also moving forward, also slowly, with Reimagining. The pile of printed out posts has shrunk considerably, now filed. As I’ve gone through them, I read them a bit, for filing purposes. One notion that jumped out at me was my turn away from text-based religions, from the sort of quasi-scholastic reasoning that occurs.

image of godAs Emerson said, “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

I guess Emerson and I had the same quandary. We love the ancient texts, their poetry and philosophy, yet do not want to be bound by them. We want our poetry and revelation straight from the source, nature and the human experience of our own time. Yet, it seems to me, we’re both informed in our search for the poetry of existence by the way those seekers of the past found revelation in their time. Surely the logic of wanting our own revelation grounds itself in the stories of Genesis, the work of Moses, the resurrection story of Jesus, even the night flight of Muhammad and the whirling cosmic dance of Shiva.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThis means I’m in a curious position relevant to my own education in the Christian tradition and my new education, underway now, in the older faith tradition of Judaism. Both are normative, in their way, but not as holy writ. Rather, they are normative in a more fundamental sense, they reveal the way we humans can discover the sacred as it wends and winds its way not only through the universe, but through history.

We may not, in other words, be bound by their philosophy and insight, the history of their revelation, yet how the ancients made themselves open to the whispers and shouts of the sacred, how they received its insights and what use they made of it in their lives, those shape us because we are the same vessel, only thrown into a different time.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CTThis is a similar idea to that of the reconstructionists, but not the same. Reconstructionists want to work with a constantly evolving Jewish civilization, grounding themselves in Torah, mussar, kabbalah, shabbat, the old holidays, but emphasizing the work of building a Jewish culture in the current day, reconstructing it as Jews change and the world around them changes, too. I’m learning so much from this radical idea.

2695406589_2517d8b0f2What I want to do though, and it’s a similar challenge, is to reimagine, for our time and as a dynamic, the way we reach for the sacred, the way we write about our experience, the way we celebrate the insights and the poetry it inspires. In this Reconstructionist Judaism is a better home for me than Unitarian Universalism. UU’s may have the same goal, but their net is cast into the vague sea of the past, trying to catch a bit from here and a bit from there. It is untethered, floating with no anchor. Beth Evergreen affirms the past, the texts of their ancestors, their thousands of years of interpretation, the holidays and the personal, daily life of a person shaped by this tradition, but also recognizes the need to live those insights in an evolving world.

 

American Values

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

Indiana_Klan_percentageThe alt-right and Charlottesville, Virginia. Many said this violence doesn’t represent American values. Horsepuckey, as we used to say.

In Alexandria, Indiana, my hometown, we had full-sheeted KKK folk handing out membership applications near the Curve pizza place. In my era the John Birch society was big, its Get US out of the UN billboards in highly visible evidence. There were also the Minutemen, an early militia movement.

Just north of Alexandria about 20 miles is Marion, Indiana where my father worked for several years. A notorious lynching occurred there in 1930. Strangely, years later in St. Paul, Minnesota I made friends with Clarence Davis whose ancestor was one of those lynched.

I can extend this circle of hate to Elwood, Indiana, 7 miles to the west, which had, in my memory, signs that read, No Niggers In Town After Sundown, taken down only after the 1964 civil rights act.

What’s really unnerving is that this was a microcosm, I know these things because I grew up in this general area. Take other 20 mile diameter circles and lay them down over the rest of Indiana, of Illinois, of Iowa, certainly of the south. You could find similar histories, each with their own marks of this violent and oh so American overbelly.

 

 

Fire and Fury. Big, big trouble.

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

My family’s Asian pivot began decades ago when Mary went to an Indiana University campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She’s still in Asia, though now for a long time in Singapore, thirty years or so later. Brother Mark began teaching English as a second language and worked in Taiwan, then in Thailand and Cambodia. He was in Southeast Asia over twenty years and still considers Bangkok his refuge, if not his home. In 1981 Raeone and I welcomed a four-pound, four-ounce baby boy into our home from Calcutta, India. That boy turns 36 this fall. In 2016, after a year long deployment in Korea, Joseph married SeoAh, a native born Korean he met in a coffee shop in Seoul.

SeoAh’s family lives in the south of Korea near Gwangju. Better, I thought, than being in Seoul under the current circumstances, but Joseph says no. He knows far better than I do. This means that all the saber rattling going on between two tyrants with low impulse control is personal. We have family literally in the way of any outbreak of violence.

 

 

 

Less Angry

Midsommar                                                                 Kate’s Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Independence from DJT

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

trumpYesterday was the fourth of July. Our September 16th, viewed from Mexico. Our July 1st, from the northerly perspective of Canada. A day to launch an almost-ICBM from Pyongyang. A day not long after our President, OUR PRESIDENT, released on Twitter a video of himself wrestling, during a WWF event, another person whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. I can’t believe I just wrote that. I can’t believe I’ve seen the video. I can’t believe DJT is in the Whitehouse.

Sigh. Yes, I can. That’s worse, actually, than disbelief. Disbelief holds out hope that incredulity might synch up with reality. Belief, in fact not even belief, but empirical observation shows that DJT did in fact post such a video and I’ve seen it. He is, too, actually in the Whitehouse, in the Oval Office, behind the desk where President’s sit, his long red tie brushing the floor, his floppy comb over shedding wispy blond hair and flakes of orange self-tanning lotion falling with them. In our Whitehouse. In our Oval Office.

Declaration of Independance

Declaration of Independence

On our Independence Day. Question. How do we get independence from him? And his minions. I know how. Elections. But, can the Democratic party pull off a win in the 2018 elections? Hell, I don’t know. And, more importantly, the 2020 election. Don’t know.

Sitting here on Shadow Mountain, with a beautiful blue sky framing Black Mountain, I’m far away from Washington, D.C. in miles and in altitude. And attitude. A benefit of this distance is no Beltway Fever. I can still see the United States from here, looking toward the humid east, the cold north, the hot dry south and the intermountain West. The mountains defy politics. They stand tall against the arrogance of politics, a granite wall solid, lasting. The cold drifts down from the pole, cooling the overheated rhetoric. The West retains its contradictory spirit of liberty, wide-open spaces and corporate overlords. The south. Well. Perhaps Trump could go unprotected by sunscreen to Arizona.

20170701_094556We are more than our government. We are a nation of vast reaches, landscapes that fire imaginations around the world. We are a nation of immigrants, a nation to which immigrants from that same world still desire to come, even if the xenophobic, chauvinistic politicians infesting Washington try to make us undesirable. We are a nation of hopers and dreamers in spite of the dreamkillers on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yes, we can lose all this to demagogues and mean-spirited fundamentalist ideologues. But I don’t think we will. Perhaps that’s the nostalgia of an old man for the country of his youth. Perhaps. Except the country of his youth exuded sexual repression, feared communism, had sundown laws, treated women like chattel and children. This country, the one now dominated by fearful men who would like to return to just that time, has seen clear advances in the treatment of women, people of color, various sexual preferences. It is, too, a nation whose economy links it in trade to most nations of the world. So, change is not only possible, it has happened in my lifetime and will, I know, happen again in my lifetime.

Throw the bums out.

 

 

With the Wrong People In It

Midsommar                                                                       Most Heat Moon

imagesJuly is the hottest month, on average, on Shadow Mountain, hence the Most Heat Moon. Yet, this morning the temperature is 38 degrees. Admittedly we’re still in June, but June is hardly the heart of fall. I’m loving the cooler weather, but I feel for the folks experiencing record heat, especially those with inadequate cooling options.

Can you imagine being in a senior citizen high rise with a poorly functioning air conditioner? Or, in an apartment in L.A. or Chicago or New York or Dallas or Atlanta with only fans to keep you cool? In neighborhoods where crime makes you keep your windows closed for safety reasons. Now, take away health insurance, even inadequate health insurance. Hell is city living for the poor in Trump America, only with the wrong people in it.

 

 

Us, not them

Beltane                                                                            Moon of the Summer Solstice

Minnesota remains my home, even as I acclimate to a second home in the Rockies. I’ll always be proud and relieved that Minnesota political culture exists and includes this familiar strain, captured in a song about mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This was the culture I wish had been heard in the Castile trial.

Base Instincts

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

2000_Year_Temperature_ComparisonI wish I thought it was cynicism, the gratuitous act of a calculating politician, this latest, perhaps species’ ending decision. “I’m deciding for the citizens of Pittsburgh, not the citizens of Paris.” I wish I didn’t think it was a faulty mind at work, but I do. By faulty in this case I mean stupid. Trump may not be I.Q. stupid, though I don’t imagine he’s top of the class, but he’s unlearned, uninquisitive and lacks critical thinking skills. This is the functional equivalent of stupidity.

He seems to have base instincts (a political pun, intended) which he marries to advice from people who have ideological blinders he doesn’t understand. He clearly loves being the decider so he takes in certain streams of information, then chooses what he believes will Make America Great. What will put America First. In this case, as in so many others, he doesn’t seem to understand that the U.S.A. is no longer, if it ever was, separate from the world as a whole.

GOP-Oil-Above-AllClimate change does not care about boundaries. It does not care if you’re a resident of Paris, Pittsburgh, Timbuktu or Katmandu. The rain, as the proverb goes, falls on the just and the unjust. So with a ratcheting up of the earth’s temperature. Trump thinks he’s putting Pittsburgh ahead of Paris when what he’s really doing is pitting this generation against the next, saying that this one deserves more attention than the next. There is no hint, none at all, of seven generations thinking in his choices. Today is all that matters. Right here in the U.S.A. is all that matters. Right here in the U.S.A. all that matters is the effect on my base. (which he badly misreads, by the way)

He sees the fate of the white working class and the fate of America’s energy corporations tied together, a grim marriage and one doomed to fail and in its failure to scour humanity from the planet. So much for a sustainable future.

The Next World, Already Here

Beltane                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

I took this photograph on Sunday. These teenagers, probably seniors in high school or first year college students, were together, casually, their body language (unlike DJT’s) relaxed and there was no discernible cliquishness. They were white, African-American and Asian-American. What I like best about this is the ordinariness of it. This is the world I want my grandchildren to inhabit.

And, yes, multiculturalism and globalism are under attack right now by nativists, America Firsters and outright racists. They won’t win the war. This photograph is the world as it is now, not as it could be in a hoped for future.

Hate and chauvinism are reactionary forces, rising to prominence only when the next world imposes too strongly on this one. Trump and his kind are indicators that a world where this table will be common has already arrived. It’s just not dominant yet. But, it will be. And I thank whatever Gods’ may be for that unconquerable truth.

Denver Arts Festival, Stapleton Conservatory Green

Denver Arts Festival, Stapleton Conservatory Green

August 2017
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