We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Remarkable

Spring                                                                               Passover Moon

Synodic-and-Sidereal-3The waning passover moon is behind a faint scrim of clouds giving it a moonlit halo. Each moon cycle repeats the past, yet is unique to itself. The slow orbit (relatively slow) of the moon around the earth produces the same phases each month and in that sense repeats. But the lunar month and the sidereal year do not quite match up*, as all cultures that depend on lunar months for their calendars have long known. Judaism is such a culture.

Each lunar month happens at a slightly different place in earth’s orbit due to this irregularity over the course of sidereal year. In addition, our whole solar system is not static, but moves through the universe at a speed of 12 miles per second toward the constellation Lambda Herculis.** At the same time our solar system is also spinning around the Milky Way and the Milky Way itself is speeding toward a collision with Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years.+

sun-movement-milky-way-101222-02When you consider the irregularities in the lunar position occasioned by the sidereal/synodic difference and the speed of our solar system both moving on its own toward Lambda Herculis and around the Milky Way and then throw in the speed of the Milky Way itself, it becomes clear that no one phase of the moon every occurs in even remotely the same location.

Why belabor this? Becauses it underscores the irreproducibility of much seemingly regular phenomena. Now think about the long span of evolution on this moving planet, within this speeding solar system. This means that no animal or plant species has occupied the same cosmic location for even a short span of its existence. So, in this sense alone, each animal or plant species is unique. But, each animal or plant itself is also unique because it comes into existence and dies, having occupied only one small niche in the larger web of life.

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis

Within this context regard human evolution. Australopithecus, considered the first instance of the Homo genus, has been dated to 2.8 million years ago. Since that time the genus went through many speciations until, about 200,000 years ago, our own species, Homo sapiens, emerges. So, for over 200,000 years individuals of our own specific branch of evolution have been born, lived and died. Each one of them are unique within just our species.

Each of us, then, from the moment of our birth and for the very brief span of our life (in cosmic terms), travels literally millions and millions of miles, speeding around the sun, the Milky Way, toward Lambda Herculis and as part of our galaxies own rush toward Virgo and Libra. In addition each of us represents a specific instance of an evolutionary branch with its own branch on the tree of life, a branch that split off on its own some 2.8 million years ago.

This means we are each unique in many different ways in addition to the obvious ones of parentage, genetics and personal development.

image of godFinally, the point. We are, each of us, unique and precious instances of over 2 billion years of evolution of life on Earth. We represent a moment in time, yet even our moment is not static. It finds us moving incredible distances.

A key insight of both Judaism and Christianity is the notion that we are all made in the image of God. This insight casts a bright light on both each person’s uniqueness while also revealing our oneness. This truth does not change no matter what content you put into the word God.

treeThink about it. Out of all the billions of years since the Big Bang, moving in all the various ways discussed above and at speeds that make Formula One look slothful in the extreme, you and I exist in this special time together. How remarkable! We are in fact made as the conscious image of this whole universe, with all its reckless momentum and we have been given the chance to know each other and through knowing each other to know the universe that gave birth to us.

Camus talked about the river of life that flows toward death, what I have called in recent posts the Gulf of All Souls. He suggested that it was our common responsibility  to make this journey as pleasant and peaceful for each other as possible. As Ram Dass says, we’re all just walking each other home.

 

 

*watch this short movie to understand the difference between the sidereal month, 27.322 days, and the synodic or lunar month of 29.531 days.

**solar system speed and the other measurements that complicate it

+This webpage shows the difficulties in measuring the speed of objects in the universe and gives a speed for the Milky Way as it moves in the universe–an amazing 1.3 million miles per hour!

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.

Passover

The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.

river-lb

The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.

State Sponsored Violence

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

This disturbing documentary from the New York Times made me remember a long ago lecture on violence by Bob Bryant, my professor of Constructive Theology and my friend.

The gist of the lecture was this, violence exists on a continuum. At one end is extreme trauma meted out by instruments of destruction like bombs and bullets. At the other end of the continuum is violence perpetrated by neglect, by public policy, by omission.

President Duterte of the Philippines bends the continuum into an Ouroboros-like circle where his policy results in extreme trauma. As “I’ll kill you.” gets carried out by police, military and vigilantes, the rule of law, the notion of a system that can make mistakes and must be checked by the courts, gradually dies, too.

It would seem that Duterte is an outlier in both his rhetoric and the results of his policy. Yet consider this. Estimates by policy wonks about the number of people who would die in the USA without Obamacare suggest that approximately 43,000 a year-a year-would die from lack of medical care if ACA had been repealed and replaced by the Republican “plan.”

What Bob Bryant taught me was that the violence continuum was only about means, about tactics. The results are the same. If you die from a vigilante’s bullet in the Philippines, you are no more dead than a young child in the US who dies because they can’t afford an inhaler for asthma.

This is important to understand. It means the healthcare debate, for example, is not only about medicine but also about state sponsored violence. Even the debate about Meals on Wheels and the school lunch program are also about state sponsored violence. Framed in this way the matter is not one for think tanks and ideological purity but one for those who believe compassion and care are marks of a decent society, who believe government exists to serve, not deprive.

Interesting Times

Imbolc                                                                     Valentine Moon

I’ve been reading a lot. Still. Always. A lot of my recent reading has focused on politics. Surprise! There is no simple analysis, but certain outlines have become clearer to me.

choiceFirst, the main struggle right now, in both Europe and here, is between globalists, people like me, and blood and soil nationalists, like Trump’s America First. It’s not an either/or, of course, but most of us tend to lean toward one end of a continuum, more concerned about home or more concerned about the world as a whole.

This split has a geographic manifestation. Globalists tend to live in highly populated metropolitan areas while nationalists tend to live in rural or small town settings. If you can recall the red and blue maps of the recent election, you saw this phenomena in color, lots and lots of red, not so much blue. But, if you put population numbers on the map, the blues exceed the red.

Second, this election and its current aftermath has laid bare a disturbing reality of contemporary America. There are former middle class and working class whites whose lives have been upended by globalization and automation and union busting. When today’s world is seen from within their perspective, it looks both bleak and punishing.

mindthegapThe bleakness is the lack of good-paying jobs for those with less education. The punishment comes from seeing others getting in line ahead of you for the American Dream. This line-jumping (Hochschild’s analysis), as it is perceived by white working class folks, has been created by the left’s very successful focus on identity politics: women’s rights, LGBT rights, civil rights. Put these two together, the bleakness and the punishment, and it’s no wonder we have a reactionary revolt underway, just look at your Facebook feed for proof.

Third, there is an abysmal chasm between the 1% and the 99% and the former methods for upward mobility, especially education, seem to be failing. I say this because much of the asset and income gap can be explained by examining the economic situations of those with college degrees and those without them. This education gap reinforces and sustains the growing imbalance in a world where 5 men have as much wealth as 50% of the world’s population.

white dreamFourth, after reading Hochschild’s book, I’m no longer convinced that a focus on economic policies will adequately address the working class movement toward nationalism. I say this because Strangers in Their Own Land opened my eyes to the cultural values of much of the working class and the huge barrier they present to any kind of political conciliation. The barrier is large enough that Marilyn Saltzman, of Beth Evergreen, and I, discussing the book, wondered if this might lead to civil war.

If you can see the interlocking dynamics among all these points, then you understand the depth of the problem we face as a nation. How will all this playout? I don’t know. In the immediate future, at least four years, much of the work will of necessity be tactical, resisting the most egregious moves of Trump and his gang of mediocres; but, it cannot be only that or the electoral political situation will remain the same or worsen.

Interesting times.

 

The Long View

Winter                                                                     Cold Moon

Jacob blessing the children of Joseph, Rembrandt

Jacob blessing the children of Joseph,
Rembrandt

It is, today, the Trump era. Last week at Beth Evergreen’s bagel table we discussed the Patriarch’s Blessing parsha, Genesis 47:28 to the end of the book. Sitting there at the plastic folding tables, on the soft blue cushion of a metal chair built for easy stacking, I realized the Jews around the table were listening to a genealogical story. Both Jacob/Israel and Joseph, who feature in this parsha, are relatives or at least members of the same clan as most of those gathered here in Beth Evergreen’s social hall.

As we ate bagels and drank coffee, the Torah helped me see a different perspective on Trump. He’s a blow-hard, a xenophobe, a proto-fascist and an all around dangerous guy. But Pharaoh was a dangerous guy, too. So was Aaron at the time of the golden calf. So was Solomon in his distrust of David. So was Nebuchadnezzar.

The long, long arc of Jewish history and mythology reminded me that a hundred years from now this next four years will be a blip in the history books. That long view helps me manage my anxiety about the near term future.

It does not, however, change the need for resistance to Trumpist moves on American power and on the sovereignty of the American people. But, it does suggest that Rabbi Tarfon should be our guide again:  “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

 

Wall of Meat

Winter                                                                            Cold Moon

bikers-for-trump-rally-575x575

Cox said that Bikers for Trump is a “patriotic” group ready to protect all Americans during inauguration weekend and that its roughly 200,000 members trust that law enforcement can do the job.

However, he told Fox News a day earlier: “In the event that we are needed, we will certainly form a wall of meat. We’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers. And we’ll be toe-to-toe with anyone who’s going to break through police barricades.”” FoxNews

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.    A Yale history professor’s powerful, 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency  Quartz, November 28, 2016

Trying to understand Trump’s mind is like trying to understand dark matter

Samain                                                                     Thanksgiving Moon

The Mind of Trump

The Mind of Trump

Went to Beth Evergreen last night for a presentation by Gary Grappo, a former ambassador to several postings in the Middle East. He’s now a professor at the University of Denver. He stood for an hour and a half, alone at a microphone, and delivered a great capsule of American foreign policy since Truman. He then focused on his specialty, the Middle East.

But first he made my current favorite quote about Donald Trump. When commenting on Trump’s foreign policy (a mostly blank slate), he said, “Trying to understand Trump’s mind is like trying to understand dark matter.”

Mark in Saudi Arabia

Mark in Saudi Arabia

My own family, at a very close in level, is deeply affected by U.S. Middle East policy. My brother Mark has taught in Saudi Arabia for the last five years (has it really been five years, Mark?) and is in Jubail, just a stretch of water from Iran, right now. Joseph, a captain and a weapons officer in the USAF, flys to Qatar for his third deployment in the Middle East on the 26th, two days after Thanksgiving.

Grappo’s analysis of the U.S. role in the Middle East made sense to me and buttressed the reasons for both Mark and Joseph’s presence there. Mark is teaching English as a second language to Saudi naval cadets. Saudi Arabia has felt the cold wind of peak oil blowing across the desert for some time and has begun to reposition their economy toward solar power, tourism and other non-oil based revenue sources. ESL is a component of that transition.

middle_east_pol_2008The U.S. and Saudi Arabia share interests, not values, Grappo said. The first interest is a stable world economy. The second is a stable Middle East. Since Roosevelt, we have collaborated with the Saud’s by protecting their oil reserves and oil production facilities. They in turn have mostly used their oil as a stabilizer for world markets.

A stable Middle East is in everyone’s best interest: the U.S., the Middle East and the world. Joseph’s presence there moves the fight against ISIS forward. I’ve never been a pacifist, even though I was anti-war during the Vietnam fiasco because the war made no sense. Putting out of business, permanently, a “caliphate” which murders non-believers and Muslim “heretics” (all Shia) alike is righteous work, in my opinion.

Ruth, (granddaughter Ruth), said, “I”m glad Uncle Joe’s in the Air Force, but I’m not glad he’s bombing people.” I told her she should tell him that. She wanted to know “…what they’d ever done to us.” A fair question, but an incomplete one. We’re not concerned about only us, but about other lives, too. Like the lives of the Yazidi girls Ruth’s age and a bit older used as sex toys by ISIS fighters. The reasoning behind this is so awful, so hate filled and objectifying that it calls into question the definition of religion, or confirms it, depending on your bias.

Anyhow. It was an illuminating evening, one I’m glad I attended.

 

It’s Trump or It’s the End of America. Not.

Samain                                                                   Thanksgiving Moon

conservativeWell. The countdown clock is at 0 days and 18 hours as I write this. No more nattering, punditing, analyzing, fearing or hoping. Now it’s time for the votes. For the breathless ring of “We’re calling this state for…” An article posted on Real Clear Politics has it exactly right: “Half of America is about to get gut punched.” If you want to see how the stakes look from the red side, read this short screed from Nevada: It’s Trump or It’s the End of America.

No, it’s not. Even Trump gets elected it’s not the end of America. But. No matter the victor the anguish driving guys who wear the inflammatory t-shirts at Trump rallies will not disappear. One of those t-shirts I saw read:  Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required. This is a level of uncivil discourse I would expect at a KKK rally. Oh, wait.

warrenRead a short line somewhere that said re-examination precedes renewal. My hope is that this election is a re-examination of the American political contract, of what it means to be a nation. I’m far away from my anarchist days when I wished for the Balkanization of the states, the U.S. divided into regional countries. We need each other, red and blue, white and black, brown and yellow. We need each other because ours is a country built on an idea, not a people. We become a people only when that idea ties us together.

That idea, flawed as its execution has often been, is that all peoples can come here and become part of us, can become equal to us, can become the future of our country. That all those people must consent to be governed. That that governance should and can be realized through open and free elections.

Foreigners come here not out of a love for America, but for a love of the cradle-to-grave welfare state that America has become. Eighty percent of them (or higher) will vote Democrat forever more to keep the welfare checks coming. That’s Hillary’s plan.” It’s Trump or it’s the end of America  This quote is a direct denial of the central idea behind our experiment. That this nativist idea or something similar seems to be driving the political push for Trump actually reveals the opposite of Mr. Root’s claim.

10382621_10152590956549090_5111343193235725029_nLove of America comes from all of us boat people, all those whose ancestors sailed here from Europe, even those brought here against their will, all those who walked across the border in search of a better life, all those who flew here from parts of the world in crisis or in economic disarray. That’s all of us with one notable exception: the native americans.

And look at the news as this election day looms ahead. It’s native americans who stand in defense of water and against another pipeline carrying the drug to which we are well and truly addicted: oil. In other words even the peoples who have suffered the most as this country grew use its political system, its history of protest and the power of individuals when collected together. This is the America I love. The one we need to protect with our votes and our continued alertness over the next four years.

 

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither can you desist from it.

Samain                                                                             Thanksgiving Moon

weeping-buddha-1He sits, early in the morning, while it is still dark outside, with his head in his hands. Orion, his longtime friend hangs in the sky visible to the southwest, Scorpio and Cassiopeia and the Drinking Gourd out there, too. A crescent Thanksgiving Moon, waxing toward its Super Moon event on November 25th, was visible last night.

If only the world could be quiet, serene, beautiful like the 5 am dark sky here on Shadow Mountain. No pussy grabbing. No complaints about raping 13 year old girls. No encouragement of political violence. No cynical comments about the validity of our electoral process.

Perhaps he could just slip away, go to some Trump Island in the the general area of Antarctica or maybe a luxury masted sailing ship forever circling the diminishing sea ice of the North Pole. Like Frankenstein’s creation. I would make a comparison between Trump and Frankenstein’s monster, but the monster was Frankenstein.

monsterIn this case Trumpism is the monster, a living candidacy patched together from a body of populist resentment, the brain of a nativist bigot, the nervous system of fearful white males and the legs of second-amendment worshipping other-phobic citizens. The arms, though, the arms are Trump’s, dangling like the tentacles of a squid, ready to grab, squeeze, embrace. Force. Trump is Frankenstein to this political moment in the Republican Party. The GOP provided the lightning that brought this monster to life and has paraded it with pride through this mockery of a campaign.

These are the most perilous political times in which I have lived. There are milita’s preparing an armed response to a potential Hillary gun-grabbing presidency. Our to this point normative peaceful transition of power after a Presidential election is under threat. This is a core feature of our democracy. The stakes on one issue, strangely absent from the campaign, are ultimate, the very survival of the human race may hang in the balance: climate change. The timer counting down the years in which we can still soften the blow of advancing global warming nears its alarm.

hamletRace relations are in a visibly violent phase. Police kill black folks with so steady a drumbeat that it has become like Trump’s long string of insults to America, dulling our capacity for outrage. Misogyny is at its peak in the Donald, powerful at the same time as our first serious female candidate.

The Forever War has captured our youth, our money, our tolerance. We bomb and shoot and strike with drones, again dulling our capacity for outrage by desensitization.

I am not a man given to despair. Hamlet, that most existential of Shakespeare’s plays, offers a choice in the often quoted to be or not to be soliloquy. Do we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them? I know my answer.

Rabbi Hillel

Rabbi Hillel

Rabbi Tarfon is credited with this quote: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it” (Avot 2:21). wiki This is a wonderful thought because it drives directly against despair, relieving us of the expectation of finishing our political work, yet not letting us set it aside either.

So, when confronted with the potential momentary success of hate-filled, other-despising politics, those of us committed to a diverse, egalitarian world must not pull back, must not flee to Canada, must not despair. We are not, as Rabbi Tarfon said, at liberty to desist.

 

 

 

 

The End Is Near

Samain                                                                     Thanksgiving Moon

Late night phone calls this time of year, every four years, are most likely poll takers. Got one last night. I take the time to answer them because I want my voice to matter statistically, perhaps have a slight reinforcing effect in the larger mess.

dome_shellIf the Donald wins, I’m not leaving for Canada. That would just leave the country to him and his kind. Not acceptable. But I will build a transparent dome around our house. The dome will have a semi-permeable membrane for its skin. Only healthy, clean, non-stupid ideas will be able to come onto our property whether delivered by newspaper, internet, or television. I haven’t figured out what to do when we leave our dome home, a work in progress.

In addition to being the most irritating, unenlightening, miserable f***ing presidential campaign of my entire life (probably of our entire history as a country), this election season has been notably short of ideas. No dearth of feelings, but few ideas. What major policy position, of either candidate, can you name other than Trump’s wall? I thought so.

I despair for our democracy, not just in light of this last year, but since 9/11. The Forever War has eroded and corrupted our Federal budget, our ethical sensibilities and killed thousands. To what end? I know the stock answer, to keep the terrorists at bay, away from the homeland. But is military force the only way to accomplish that goal?

nativistsSince 9/11 our politics have become polarized, mean, unbending. The Donald has only ridden that cresting wave; he did not create it. Like any demagogue he has an instinctive feel for the anguish of ordinary citizens and an ability to say things that seem to give it voice. As a representative democracy, we rely on politicians for taking the pulse of their constituents. Yes, that’s true.

But, we used to be able to rely on politicians to dull the uglier proclivities lying underneath. We have, of course, always had a George Wallace, a Pat Buchanan, a Father Coughlin, even our Andrew Johnson’s who instead of dulling the lesser demons of our nature, stoked them. They have, however, been marginal, except for that period in the 1920’s when the KKK rose to political prominence in many states.

Now Trump and his incoherent, id-based politics has given roots and wings to those who would push others down, rather than lift them up. He wants to pull up the drawbridges spanning the Atlantic and the Pacific, leaving us here to rejoice in our fastness. These are emotionally driven policy shapers, not policy themselves. They play to what is the cheapest and lowest among us. Not hard to understand, no. Impossible, however, to accept.

This fissure in our commonweal will not heal when the election is over. In fact, it may well grow broader and deeper. Though it’s a canard, I believe in this instance it is true. We are in a struggle for the soul of our nation.

 

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