We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Destined for War

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

masthead800

“The City of Nevada offers the best in small town living to all who treasure its “hometown” charm.” says its own website

Kate’s driving down to Iowa today with her sister, Anne. Back to Nevada, that’s with a long first a. High school reunions are odd affairs. If you attended one, you know. Funny how the social cues of 50 years ago resurface. I didn’t think she’d be able to travel last weekend, but her recovery from the thrush infection has made a huge difference. Her affect is back to normal, her diet improving. I imagine many who attend their 55th reunions face some health challenge or another before they go. Have a great trip back in time, Kate. And Anne, too.

Severe-hotweather3-MEM-170619_4x3_992The dew point and the temperature are close this morning on Shadow Mountain. We’re in a cloud with moisture leaking out of it. Black Mountain is invisible, covered by a gray, wet mass. 47 degrees. The same cannot be said of Arizona or California.

It’s strange being in the house without Kate, Jon, or the kids. An unusual confluence has left me the sole Homo sap on the premises. Three canids do a good job of keeping me company however.

I began reading Destined for War on Monday. It’s one of two recent books I purchased that look at the China/U.S. superpower relationship. While Destined for War tries to place this fraught dynamic in a western diplomatic history frame, Everything Under Heaven by former NYT Asia correspondent, Howard French, goes deep into Chinese history for its frame.

Songtan, near Osan AFB where Joseph deployed

Songtan, near Osan AFB where Joseph deployed

Not sure how it happened for me, but as I’ve said before my life took an Asian pivot at some point. One starting point was adopting Joseph, of course, but there’s been more than that: Asian design and aesthetics, especially Japanese, Asian art, Japanese and Chinese in particular, Mary in Singapore and Mark so long in Bangkok, tea, Asian cinema, Asia literary classics like the Tale of Genji, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Monkey’s Journey to the West, Dream of the Red Chamber, contemporary Asian authors. Then SeoAh and the wedding trip to Korea. A lot of my thinking and reading tilted that way and I spent several years at the MIA immersing myself in the Asian art collection there.

Now, in a peculiar manner, adopting Joseph has ultimately reinforced this pivot. My grandchild(ren) from Joseph and SeoAh will be 100% Asian, as will be then, my branch of the Ellis family name. Too, South Korea, where Joseph spent a year deployment and where he would like to return someday, is in a continuing dangerous pickle with its evil twin, North Korea.

So I like to stay informed about what’s going on over there. I can recommend Destined for War, but I haven’t started Everything Under Heaven.

 

 

As the World Burns

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (2)While the world burns, at least the Trump world, kabbalah suggests a bigger world, more worlds, right next to this one. There is, as Rabbi Jamie said, a bigger picture. I learned a similar lesson from Deer Creek Canyon during my cancer season two years ago. These Rocky Mountains, still toddlers as mountains go, were and will be present when we are not. In their lifetime humanity will likely have come and gone.

It’s tempting to use this perspective-and I believe it’s real, I want to emphasize that-to diminish the swirl of issues like climate change, decent health insurance, jobs that no longer pay a living wage. In time they will be finished, one way or another. We were neither present during the Rockies orogeny, nor will we be present when they become as smooth as the Appalachians. Just so, you may say.

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42Yet. We do not live either in the deep geological past nor in the distant geological future, we live now. Our lives, our mayfly lives from the vantage point of geological time, come into existence and blink out, so we necessarily look at the moment, the brief seventy to one hundred year moment into which, as Heidegger said, we are thrown.

This is all we know of life, this moment. In it our whole awareness comes into existence, matures, then winks out. From that mayfly perspective then climate change, decent health insurance and a living wage are not insignificant. Albert Camus spoke of the great river which carries us toward the ocean of all souls. Ram Dass reminds us we’re all just walking each other home. And Lord Keynes famously said in the long run we’ll all be dead.

Time_Clock-620x587Somehow we have to realize that though our lives are small compared to the immensity of the universe and the imponderable nature of time, they are everything while we have them. As for me, I find all this comforting. Putting my efforts in the larger perspective gives me peace, putting them in the immediacy of my life gives me energy. We will not complete the task, no, we will not. But we are not free to give it up either.

 

 

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

Depth

Beltane                                                                    New Moon (Summer Solstice)

everbean_colorado

Lunch with Bonnie at the Everbean, a coffee shop overlooking Lake Evergreen. Bonnie is in a mentored adult education style path to becoming a rabbi in the Renewal Movement. I wanted to discuss my material for today’s mussar session. She was the mussar point person as Beth Evergreen managed a two-year grant awarded to them. The program focused on how to integrate mussar into synagogue institutional life. 22 congregations received a grant and coordinated their work with each other. (If you don’t recall what mussar is, here’s a reminder website.)

Bonnie encouraged me that my approach, focusing on the application of the ideas of hasidut (a person of loving deeds) and chesed (loving-kindness) toward grandmother earth was in bounds for a mussar dialogue. We’ll see how that works out later today. I’m excited.

In the evening Kate and I went to a havurah, a fellowship gathered for a specific purpose. This havurah is a once a month mussar session that features food and wine before exploration of a middot of the month. The Thursday afternoon mussar group studies a text and meets weekly.

Bonnie led a session on tikvah, hope. She took us into the idea by using the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

I found the melody haunting and the poem, written in 1877 or 1878, used for the lyrics, a profound expression of the yearning for a place to call home. Bonnie led us in a close reading of the poem’s stanzas used in the anthem, only two.

The lines that struck me most were these:  “Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years…” The two thousand years here references the destruction of the second temple in 70 a.d. It still amazes me to be in the midst of this group of Jews, members of the tribe, whose time horizon extends far back. This two-thousand year old hope marks a rebellion by the Jews against the Roman empire, a failed rebellion since it ended in the destruction of the temple built to replace the first constructed by King Solomon.

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: "The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple."

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: “The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple.”

What amazes me is the historical reach while genetic and genealogical descendants of that same history sit around the table as we discuss these things. My viewpoint toward religious matters is radical and skeptical, but I also have a conservative side that relishes history and personal connections to history. Judaism, like the Chinese civilization of the Han and Japanese civilization, all cultivated over several thousand years, appeals to me in part for this reason. These older, truly ancient trails offer a correction to the almost ahistorical sensibilities of American culture.

 

Word for the Day: Plutocracy

Beltane                                                                            Rushing Waters Moon

Buddy Bill Schmidt found this. It stands alone.

truth2

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.

 

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