We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Way Back in the Promised Land

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

Into Denver yesterday, saw Jerusalem, the I-MAX 3-D show. (see below)

Qumran, Cave 4 By Effi Schweizer - Own work, Public Domain, https commons.wikimedia.org w index.php curid 3089552

Qumran, Cave 4 By Effi Schweizer – Own work,

When it finished, I left Kate on the museum’s third floor at the entrance to the Dead Sea Scrolls show and went down to find the other members of Beth Evergreen, 25 in all, who had signed up for this adult education event. Russ Arnold, Rabbi Jamie’s brother, came along and answered questions, offered commentary as we toured the exhibit.

The exhibit has actual physical artifacts from a tw0-thousand year span of time that includes Romans, very early Israelites, Christians and several other civilizations like Assyria, Persia, Tyre. In addition to scroll fragments and painstakingly reconstructed earthenware jars, among them actual jars in which scrolls were found, there were Roman mosaic floors, Tyreian silver coins, glass vessels, oil lamps, an altar fragment from an early Israeli home altar, and ossuary caskets like the one found a few years ago with the name Jesus written on it.

scroll exhibit case

scroll exhibit case

It was, unfortunately, a Sunday afternoon and the exhibit overflowed with visitors, making staying with any one object or group of objects a challenge. A very large circular case, maybe thirty feet across. housed the main attraction, the fragments themselves. All of these fragments were from Cave 4. They were tiny, some only a few square inches, and the Hebrew was also tiny. They must have used very small writing implements and had very good eye sight.

The fragmentary nature of these scrolls are the result, Russ said, of the lending library, circulating library purpose of Cave 4. The speculation is that these scrolls were on wooden shelving, there are brackets in the wall though the wood is long gone. When the wood decayed, the scrolls fell to the floor where they were covered in bat guano and layers of dust. Though this did serve to preserve them, it also meant they suffered from more decay and deterioration than the scrolls found in the earthenware jars.

Dead_Sea_Scrolls_013-1Some of the more complete scrolls may have been the equivalent of library reserve. They could also have been retired scrolls which, like Buddha statues in Southeast Asia, are never destroyed. This visit left me wanting to know more, to return to the show before it leaves during the week for a quieter and lengthier visit.

While we were there, Kate got a phone call from Hal Stein wondering if one or both of us would like to be put up for election as board members for upcoming terms. Since I’ve already agreed to develop a curriculum for the religious school, sixth and seventh graders, I told Kate I wasn’t interested, but I hoped she would be. “You’re smart, have management skills. You’d be perfect.” She called Hal later and told him to put her name in.

Afterward we picked up Ruth from her mother’s. She’s out of school now, two weeks ahead of Gabe and a week ahead of her mom and dad. On Wednesday she heads up to Estes Park for a YMCA camp.

A long but satisfying day.

 

Next Year

Beltane                                                                      Sumi-e Moon

Kate and I went in early to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science so we could see the IMAX 3-D show, Jerusalem. This is an astonishing piece of film-making, packing in lots of history, contemporary scenes and with an emotional charge gained by using three young women, a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim as narrators for much of the film. If it’s near you, I recommend it highly. Here’s the trailer.

Official Trailer – Jerusalem: Filmed for IMAX® and Giant Screen Theaters from JerusalemTheMovie on Vimeo.

This is powerful. Worth your attention.

Beltane                                                                               Mountain Moon

Up in Smoke

Spring                                                                Mountain Moon

A cloud crawls down Black Mountain,

Cotton embraces ski runs, blue above.

A light scrim of snow covers our solar panels,

The sky falls toward us, slowly.

 

four twentyToday is 4/20. In Colorado and elsewhere it’s a pot linked holiday and here’s a brief explanation of its strange origin.* A couple of years ago I was downtown Denver near the National Western Stockshow Grounds on April 20th. Driving to a small taqueria for lunch I passed hundreds of people walking along the road, smoking joints, smiling, lots of dreadlocks under Rastafarian knit saggy caps. Last year the 4/20 crowd made such a mess at a city park that Denver stopped the celebration for this year.

4/20 is also Adolph Hitler’s birthday, my brother Mark reminded me. Hitler is a figure in the childhood dark closet of most Baby Boomers whose parents, like mine, were veterans of WWII. My dad had a beaten up copy of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography. It always seemed strange to me as a boy; but, as an adult, I came to realize how large Hitler loomed over his life, occasioning several years in the military for both him and my mom.

Nazis+on+parade.Now Hitler is mostly a boogeyman, a perfect example of either evil or the potential power of white supremacy. His Nazi party serves a similar function, offered up in movies if an ultimate villain is needed. Just as the Vietnam War, which dominated my life in the late sixties and early seventies, has faded from the memory of millennials, so even the holocaust has begun to fade from memory. Yes, it’s dangerous to lose sight of this horror; but, it’s also human. As an event moves further away from us, it changes, transforms.

Most, all?, religions are an attempt to hold a historical moment close, to keep it vibrant, vital. Easter and Passover. Even these though show the great difficulty in maintaining the urgency of something that has been covered over by distance and lack of direct experience. Max Weber called this the rationalization of charisma. As the charismatic figure or moment recedes, institutions grow up to protect its memory, but that very fact, the institutionalization of a matter of the heart, encrusts the event and eventually depletes it of its power. It becomes covered over by dogma, by tradition, by the ridigities of too much thought.

Emerson'Emerson knew this. “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? 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?” From the introduction to his essay, Nature.

We need to discern not only, perhaps not even most importantly, the facts of the holocaust, though they are incalculably significant, but we need to look evil in the face in our time, confront it now, name it now. Stop it now. Evil, like good, does not stop in a historical moment, but gains new, contemporary expressions. If we keep looking for revelation about what it means to be human in sacred texts or historical tragedies, we can easily miss the revelation appearing in the neighborhoods and rural areas of our own country.

 

*In 1971, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich, five high school students[4] in San Rafael, California,[5][6] calling themselves the Waldos[7][8] because “their chosen hang-out spot was a wall outside the school”,[9] used the term in connection with a fall 1971 plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop that they had learned about,[7][10] based on a treasure map made by the grower. wiki

 

Yom ha-Sho’ah

Spring                                                                        Mountain Moon

Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds. NYT

Anti-Semitic Incidents Surged 57 Percent in 2017, Report Finds. NYT

20180415_155755Sho’ah is Hebrew for catastrophe and has come to refer explicitly to the catastrophe for Jews after slavery in Egypt, the Holocaust. On the 27th of Nisan, April 12th this year, Jews celebrate Yom ha-Sho’ah, or Holocaust Remembrance, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. This is a crucial twist to Holocaust remembrance because it frames the day with a symbol of Jewish resistance to the Nazi’s.

One thing I’ve been privileged to observe over our time so far at Beth Evergreen is the complicated relationship Jews have with the Holocaust. It is horror beyond imagining, yet there are photographs and family memories and its dispiriting constancy in everyday Jewish life. Rabbi Jamie tries, each time he refers to the Holocaust, to inoculate the congregation against an attitude of victimization. Victims have little agency and the worst sequelae of the Holocaust would be a self-enforced powerlessness.

20180415_155411It’s a tragedy so outsized, so without precedent as an act of calculated evil, that how to approach its remembrance, its historicity, is fraught. Words and analysis, though important in certain venues, cannot touch the emotional complex around its reality. Congregation Beth Evergreen, this Sunday, tried another approach. Dance and music.

Beth Evergreen commissioned The Thomas Dance Troupe, five members of the Colorado Ballet who work together outside of the Ballet, to come up with works that could serve as, well, I’d say, a cri de coeur. They performed with a select few members of the Evergreen Chorale, a pianist, and a violinist.

It was a powerful program, aimed straight at the heart and it arrived. Many of the most important truths which we humans can access are not communicable in words, in the language of reasoned discourse. Those we must find in art.

In the Veldt

Imbolc                                                                      Imbolc Moon

bush, South Africa

bush, South Africa

Brief continuation of the post below. Thinking about destinations and journeys some more. A thought triggered by a BF Skinner example of creativity, “A chicken is an egg’s way of making more eggs.” Perhaps destinations are our way of creating journeys. Perhaps destinations exist to insure that we travel, get out of our comfort zones and investigate ourselves on the road.

I don’t know whether it’s still au courant in physical anthropology but there was a theory that travel in the African bush was responsible for our increase in brain size as a species. When we crossed large open spaces while hunting and gathering, we were vulnerable, a predatory species without the usual predatory equipment of fangs, claws, rippling muscles.

The theory was that to stay alive we had to be very good at noticing movement, noticing danger and that that increased work for the brain. The humans or pre-humans who were best at that task survived and presumably selected for large brains. As a result, some have speculated that our brain works best when we’re in motion.

Just thinking out loud here.

Techno Fears

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

Tech vintageGot a TV for the kid’s room. A Hanukkah present. Maybe not the most mind nourishing gift, but one they’ll really like. I spent a couple of hours setting it up yesterday, which seems like a lot until you factor in the passwords and fiddling with other settings.

Televisions, computer screens, smart phones, laptops and pads will all be excoriated a lot over the next few weeks as mind wreckers, child numbers, relationship ending appliances. But, no. As the NRA might say, screens don’t numb minds, people do. It’s the choices we make that determine how technology effects us. Yes, the technologists and software developers can be tricky, using cognitive science for their own nefarious (read, greedy) ends, but the end user is no dummy either. As with cars, electricity, ovens, knives, guns, even books, we decide how to deploy them.

tech8Right now we’re in a major cultural transition, trying to learn how these tools can be most useful for human life. They will become integrated and less shiny, less compelling as we move on to the next transition, probably to a sustainable human presence on this planet. All civilizational artifacts have ripple effects, often of unsuspected power. Think of the plow. Language. Writing. The printing press. Governance. Bow and arrow. Ships and boats. Ceramics. All had their initial years of adoption, then a clumsy time when their utility seemed swamped by the problems they created. Finally, though, they became part of human life. How did we get across the lake before we invented the boat and paddles? Or the boat and a sail? Speaking our language means we can understand each other better, no more grunting and pointing. Books contain and retain ideas over time and space. How cool is that?

tech4Maybe I’m a starry eyed optimist, probably am, but I believe we can handle this transition and that it will not save us, nor will it enslave us. A hundred years from now, maybe two hundred, we’ll see the full arc of this change, in an undoubtedly hotter and stormier future. It will have become an ancientrail, one still affording advantage, but no longer scary, at least not in the way it seems to be now.

Anyhow. The TV is there. And will get used. And the grandkids will grow up anyhow.

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Yes or No

Fall                                                                       Joe and SeoAh Moon

fear2Fear. Been thinking about it. It explains a lot of the political abyss threatening to swallow our democracy. Friend Tom Crane sent me a collection of articles about the neuroscience of political orientation, material I’d read in different places, but neatly summarized. It got me going.

Fear on the part of the white middle and working classes, fear about their jobs, their children, masculinity, the other taking, taking, taking, terrorists sneaking into our country, the future found their perfect amplifier in Donald Trump and his populist message. But Trump is not the problem. He is a problem, I’ll grant you that, but not the problem. Fear is the problem.

Fear_is_enemy2Meanwhile, my side of the abyss has focused on fear of a changing climate, the oppression of minorities, lgbt folks, the poor. Since liberals are more highly educated and usually wealthier than the white middle and working classes, we are more able to take our eyes off survival and focus on larger, more abstract issues. This feels more righteous because it seems selfless, disinterested when compared to chauvinism and day-to-day economic fears.

In the moment, the one defined by the nature of your real life, however, concerns about shrinking viability as a “race” (yes, it’s a false signifier except for those in the grip of its occult power) and as an individual will always trump (pun intended) concerns that seem far away or downright evil. This is a political reality suggested by Maslow’s hierarchy.

Fear is the killer

Fear is the killer

I’m trying to grasp the fear, to feel it from both sides. Not easy. For either side. This exercise is made more difficult by the apparently different neurological realities of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives have a larger amygdala, making them more inclined to fearful responses, while liberals have more gray matter in the cerebral cortex, making us more able to cope with complexity.

This means, I think, that liberals fears are felt less intensely and drive our politics less powerfully than those of conservatives.  The larger context for those things we fear may be more apparent to us, more capable of diminishing how large they loom in our lives.

fearsWithout going into exactly how it stimulates this thought (too complicated for a blog post) kabbalah sees yes and no as two of three primary pillars of creation. It seems to me that liberals are the yes, we can do that for others, folks. Conservatives are the no, there are limits to what we can do, folks. Another way to name these pillars is possibility and limits. Liberals see possibilities; conservatives understand barriers. Neither, by itself, is adequate.

Yes needs limits. No needs the push of possibility. We need, again, a politics that recognizes the interlaced need for Yes and No. Somehow we have allowed the difference between Yes and No to become absolute. We have allowed difference to become not difference, but a yawning chasm, one crossed only by the flimsiest of bridges. We might fall! We need the dialectical tension of hope and practicality. In fact, kabbalah suggests that not only do we need it; we are it. We are neither yes nor no, but both. Not knowing this is a form of sin, I suppose. In our time it may be the original sin.

 

 

 

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