We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Out. Now. On `Oumuamua

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This photograph is not genuine and has been rather clumsily altered from the original, in which all three of them are wearing perfectly normal (and color-coördinated) clothing without a hint of Klan insignia.  Snopes. But…underneath the fake news? Truth.

Stormy Daniels. This is a man ruled by his appetites. Shithole countries. This is a man ruled by his prejudices. Grab’em by the pussy. I moved on her like a bitch. Winning. You’re gonna get so tired of winning. I would be embarrassed to have this guy as a neighbor, horrified to have him living in my community. Can you imagine how I feel about having him as President of the country in which I was born?

When you give cover to white supremacists, encourage violence against American citizens, mock the disabled, you should be driving a beatup Ford pickup truck flying that yellow rattlesnake flag, not catching rides in Marine 1 and Air Force 1. You should be hanging out with your fellow klansmen, kicking back brews and burning crosses, not watching Tivo of Fox News in the Oval Office.

gadsdenThere. Is. No. Excuse. For all of us. Not him. He’s the same man he always said he was. He’s his father’s son. His son’s father. We are blameworthy now because we haven’t eliminated this sad, disgusting man from holding office. Hell, from holding any office. Unless he might replace that county clerk in Kentucky. Remember her?

Any one. Any one who supports this maggot on the rotted corpse of the Republican party should suffer banishment. Where to? How about Elba? Or, the Rub’ al Kali? No. I know. `Oumuamua, the first interstellar asteroid. It would take all of them right on out of our immediate cosmic vicinity. With no oxygen. Perfect.

Now let me tell what I really think…


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shitholeShithole countries. Oh, my. The racist-in-chief wants nice white folks from non-shithole places like Norway. Now, some of my best friends are Norwegian, in fact, I married a Norwegian so I don’t have anything against the Norse, but really? Are they the only acceptable gene pool for future immigrants? I hope not, because no sane Norwegian still resident in the homeland would give up their frigid utopia for the seething id of Trump’s version of America.

Can one word push a very stable genius who’s “like, really smart” out of office and back to the locked ward from whence he came? Hope so.


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Alan James Garner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https commons.wikimedia.org

Alan James Garner  Own work, CC BY SA 3.0, https commons wikimedia org

Last night, third night in a row at Beth Evergreen, was the MVP, the mussar vaad practice group. Tuesday was the unveiling of the third stained glass window. Wednesday was the first class of the third in the first year kabbalah curriculum, the Mystical Hebrew Letters. On a personal, physical level this many evening sessions, which extend well beyond my usual 8 p.m. bedtime and then require a half hour ride home afterward, exhaust me. But on a psycho-spiritual level the nourishment I receive more than compensates.

As I wrote this last sentence, I looked up at Black Mountain and noticed a pink glow, a penumbra at its peak. A good symbol for the new understanding that is beginning to dawn on me.

In the mid-day mussar class, where we are near the end of the Messilat Yesharim, the path of the upright, by the 18th century kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Luzzato, Jamie commented, “Remember, these are kabbalists. They include proof texts as an invitation to rethink them as metaphor, not to accept their literal meaning.” Jamie has said this before, in the kabbalist classes especially. “The Torah is a metaphor, not history.”

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

A bit later, he asked, “What is Torah study?” This was a topic we covered over a year ago when beginning Luzzato’s work. Torah study is not about content. It is not, in other words, limited to scholarship about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Torah study is a method and it involves paying close attention to the person next to you, to the sunrise over Black Mountain, to the cry of a sparrow, to the way a lodgepole pine sloughs off snow, to the needs of the dog sleeping beside your chair. to the nature of fire crackling in the fireplace. Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives.

And, again, aha! The sun, the sacred sun with its life-giving light, just lit up Black Mountain and showed me a sign, a way of illustrating a literally dawning awareness. The wind, the finger of the sacred blows as the ruach, the breath of spirit, the breath of life and moves the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The pines themselves erupt out of the stony Shadow Mountain ground, able to express life in a soil mostly barren of the rich nutrients available in the farmlands of the American Midwest.

Marily, Tara, the Burning Bush

Marilyn, Tara, the Burning Bush

I find this means I can read the word God in a new way. Shortly after Jamie commented on Torah study, we read a sentence in Messilat Yesharim that included the English word omnipresence, as in God’s omnipresence. I asked Jamie what Hebrew lay behind this translation. He looked it up, “Hmm. Something like, permeated knowledge.”

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

hist_univNo. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.

Our deeds are, of course, written in the very real book of our life, so they have consequences, not only on our life as whole, but as they impact others and that same world which we all inhabit. You could also see God’s judgment as the manifestation of those consequences, in their positive and negative natures, not as a divine finger shaking or outright punishing, but as ripples from one instance of the sacred to the another.


In the Beginning

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AlKabbalah last night. The first session of Mystical Hebrew Letters. Rabbi Jamie began teaching kabbalah at the Kabbalah Experience with this class several years ago. It moves from the broader conceptual fields of Soul and Space, the first two classes this year, to the particular examination of the Hebrew alphabet.

As with all the kabbalistic material, the subject matter gets complicated fast. We began with an overview of this ancient language. According to recent scholarship Rabbi Jamie says, it is the oldest alphabet in the world. Like most early languages, Chinese for example, it began as pictographs.

alephAleph, the first letter, was an ox-head. The word aleph means ox-head, or head of ox, also learning and chieftain. Prior to the use of Arabic numerals each Hebrew letter stood in for numbers with the letter aleph as number one. The word aleph means 1,000. Thus, aleph symbolizes the philosophical notion of the one and the many.

It is silent. Not sure why, but aleph and ayin, though used in the written language, are always silent. As silent and first in the alphabet, it also symbolizes the silence out of which came everything.

(next day) Stopped writing this yesterday when my need for sleep overcame my ability to write a coherent sentence.

The big idea I took away from this class involved aleph and my reimagining/reconstructing emphasis on incarnation rather than transcendence. Jamie introduced the notion of the alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet, as a funnel flowing from aleph in the ein sof (unlimitedness), its silence standing for the space created when the ein sof contracted, the tzimtzum, and filled with ohr, the first light of creation which fractures and travels down through the tree of life with its 22 channels (connecting lines) to the tenth sephirot, or malchut/shekinah, which is this world. Its letter is tav, the 22nd and last letter.

At first I thought, oh this emphasizes transcendence, the physical world developing in a top down fashion from a realm unconnected to it save by the thinnest of conceptual threads. Then Jamie began to introduce the location of the letters on the tree of life and aleph did not appear above the keter (the crown at the top of the tree of life), but on the parallel line of connection between chesed and gevurah, essentially the middle of the tree of life. Huh? How could this be?

These two images represent the two different ways of understanding this idea:


This one shows the first representation of the funnel idea that came to me. It does in fact emphasize transcendence. But, when we remember (difficult to do when material is presented on paper) that the tree of life is three-dimensional and can be seen as a sphere, another possible image presents itself.


As the rabbi likes to say, Aha! The nub of creation, the contraction of the unlimited ein sof, the movement from the quantum world to the Einstenian/Newtonian this world, the shattering of the ur-ohr, the first light of creation, happens in the center of the sphere and radiates outward. Yes. The divine moves from within all to create, in an outward push, the shekinah, the divine manifested in created matter. This is big-bangy. The tzimtzum just proceeds the big bang which radiated outward from an unfathomably concentrated spot in the beforeness of whatever it was, the ein sof, to create literally everything we know.

This puts the sacred neither above nor below but within. In order to access sacred nature we do not need to cast a prayer upward toward the heavens or outward to a religious institution, but inward to the aleph in our own soul, to that silent spot in ourselves where resides our shard of the ohr, the first light.

Here is an image of the tree of life that shows the location of aleph between chesed and gevurah. Remember that the tree is three dimensional like the DNA helix.






Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

As she wanes, the moon of the long nights has gone sliver, showing herself this morning covered in a gauze of clouds over Conifer Mountain, just above the tops of the lodgepole pines. Soon she will fade away and the night sky will be black, the best stargazing.

The language of Judaism. Expressed yesterday evening in stained glass. Rich Levine has been teaching in the religious school at Beth Evergreen for several years. He’s connected with a stained glass artist named Linda Elliot. His students and Linda have collaborated to design and then create three works for the congregation.

stained glassThe first is a star of David made of 108 triangles. This familiar symbol of Judaism has six points creating a triangle pointing up toward the source of all things and another pointing down toward this world, the ancientrails of human and sacred movement. This piece was made with 3rd and 4th graders who wrapped each triangle in copper foil and placed them.

The next window, made with another religious school class, presents Joseph’s second dream. In this dream there are eleven stars, the sun and moon and the eleven stars bow down to Joseph. This dream triggers the theft of his coat of many colors and finds him left for dead in a pit. Since this is the means by which Joseph ends up in Egypt, where his entire family eventually joins him during a famine predicted in his first dream, it is also the start of the Egyptian bondage.

Linda Elliot and Joseph's Dream

Linda Elliot and Joseph’s Dream

This image incorporates the rainbow, the sign of the universal covenant between God and all peoples, all the descendants of Noah. It has eleven stars, more abstract than the star of David, with the moon in the lower right hand corner. The sun joins the image when it rises each day.

The third window, seen veiled in the right of this photograph, created this last year by yet another class of religious school students, focused on abstraction, the expression in form and color of love. To my eye it’s abstract in a manner similar to Joseph’s Dream though Joseph’s Dream focuses on a particular narrative.

In the new work the twelve tribes  emerge from the base line and push up toward the burning bush, spreading their message out, out, out in rays away from the bush.

Linda explained that the glass in this piece was made in Oregon. “They have a recipe, like Betty Crocker, which they use to create predictable colors.” But on Saturdays, she said, the same workers go into the glass making shop and tweak the recipes, creating what this company calls Saturday glass. This piece is made of Saturday glass and is, as a result, unique in its most basic material.





The burning bush itself has two layers of glass, one more orange tinted that faces in to the social hall and another, red, that faces the outside. When the sun shines directly through the burning bush, the red will appear like flames. This red is one of the finest reds she’s ever seen in glass according to Linda. I’ll take a picture of this panel on Thursday when the sun’s out and add it back into this post.

In the new work I see a beating heart, the pulsing center of generations spreading out into the whole world from the twelve tribes.

These three works, Rich’s work with religious school students and Linda’s help in their realization illustrates my point from a post below about religions as a language of the soul. In them Congregation Beth Evergreen finds particular references to the ancient tradition, yet they also convey the universal power of symbols, the revelatory nature of dreams and the outward extension of a small nation made of twelve tribes, history made by the human family.




Very. Stable. Genius. Yeah.

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bone brothBone broth still gently boiling on the stove. Its been there since yesterday afternoon at 5 pm. First time I’ve made this. At 8 or so this morning I’m going to start a beef stew in the slow cooker.  Beer is one ingredient so Kate bought a six pack of Dos Equis. Sacrificing for the cause.

Our very stable genius has just cavalierly unmoored the lives of 200,000 Salvadorans. That’s a small city of immigrants. Lack of empathy is a hallmark of this administration, necessary for gutting the future with one trillion dollars plus in tax cuts, pretending that climate change is a liberal conspiracy, trying to dump transgender military personnel over supposed medical costs, and elevating pedophiles and other sexual predators.

trump3In the debate over his mental illness I’m agnostic, agreeing with those who say he’s obviously dysfunctional, yet unwilling to ascribe his character flaws to a particular diagnosis. It does a disservice to all people with mental illness when such a man, a man whose moral compass has been rendered useless by the powerful magnets of fame and money, is seen to act as he does because of possible narcissism or whatever else others find in his public persona. They may play a role, yes, but there are still underlying values toward which this particular man gravitates, values inculcated by a racist father and a distant mother, values embraced by a hollow man needing to fill a vast internal vacuum.

Nixon and Trump, cancers of the U.S. political system.

Sad about Rigel. A sort of dark blanket over our lives right now. There’s a bit of hope that we’ll find something other than cancer, but it seems slim. We want to know her prognosis, how best to care for her right now. She’s a sweet, sweet dog.


This. That.

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The elliptical is gone. Sold back to Colorado Fitness. Two guys came in a Pence rental truck, picked it up and carried it down the stairs. Heavy, man. Its footprint is still here, outlined in dust.

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

Rigel’s liver values have continued to deteriorate. We’re taking her to a specialty diagnostic center for a liver biopsy. Possible liver cancer. She’s 8 going on 9, old in our family for a dog of her size. Makes me want to spend as much time as possible with her now. She’s still alert and responsive, the same dog, really, except for the recent habit of chewing up shoes, paper, boxes, hats. Might be something else. We’ll find out.

We’ve taken a cash infusion from last year, paid off our credit cards, plumped up by lots of Jon and grandkid related expenses, and transferred some more money into our savings. Feels good to start the new year debt free. We’re going back to the usual pattern of paying off the credit cards on the month. We strayed from this last year. Just too much going on and we let our attention wander.

inner childI’m still wrestling with schedules, Hebrew, novels, not in a groove and I don’t like that. Except. I read for much of Sunday, The Fifth Season, a fantasy series, very good. While I did that, my sensibility about what I might be doing began to shift. Not sure how, but I have an internal compass that eventually swings back to my true North whenever I get lost. That’s happening right now, though I don’t know where its headed quite yet.

Meanwhile we’re starved for snow and hoping some comes, a lot. We need it for moist forests with trees not dry like fatwood. Not much in the near term forecasts either. This is the arid West. And remains so.

A busy week ahead at Beth Evergreen. A presentation of stained glass art, the third kabbalah class, and another meeting of the MVP, mussar vaad practice group. Bagel table, too, on Saturday morning. More cooking.

Pay Attention

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Raris avis, a Thanksgiving capon

Raris avis, a Thanksgiving capon

When Kate and I were first married, back in the early 1990’s, we lived on Edgcumbe Road in St. Paul. The house had a wonderful kitchen including an indoor grill with a rotisserie. I shopped at the Lund’s on Ford Parkway and cooked every afternoon, often watching Oprah as I did. I came to enjoy the regular work involved with making meals.

Cooking has a necessary mindful quality since temperatures, ingredients, points of adding this or that require attention. Knowing when a dish has finished cooking does, too. Over the last few weeks I’ve gone back to this daily, or almost daily, cooking and find I’m enjoying it even more. There’s a calm that settles over me when I start cooking. It’s familiar, creative.

I’ve begun experimenting in an odd way, for me. I follow recipes. Not always, but more than I used to. Thinking up ways to change a dish, to pair odd foods is fun, but right now I’m choosing to learn a wider variety of cooking techniques and that means following recipes. So, if it’s 4:30 p.m. MST, you can imagine me in the kitchen here on Shadow Mountain, a recipe propped against the wall, rattling pots and pans and wondering why I chose this recipe when I didn’t have any onions.

BTW: stopped watching Oprah a long, long time ago.

Seek? Yes. Claim to have found? No.

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It is not the seeking after God that divides but the claim to have found God and to have discovered the only proper way of obeying God and communing with God. M.M.K., Reconstructionist Prayer Book, page 125

each birth, always

each birth, always

Been thinking about religion. Again. Still. Always. Considering it from a different perspective this last week. I’ve said other times that I believe religion is the philosophy and poetry of the common person, a way to understand deep questions like: Why are we here? What is our purpose? What’s good behavior? Bad? Who am I? Who are we?

Religions are a language a group of people can use to have conversations about these questions, a set of ideas and concepts, history and tradition which give weight to possible answers. We are here to repair the world, to bear the burden of the other. A Jewish response to some of the questions. We are here to love one another as we love ourselves. One Christian answer. We are here to detach ourselves from the world, to float free of attachment and eventually find nirvana. One Buddhist answer. We are here to submit to the will of Allah. We are here as part of the natural world and best served when we align ourselves with it. We will head toward heaven or bardo or the endless wheel of reincarnation or the return of our elements from whence they came.

winter solstice4Inside the particular Jewish or Presbyterian or Unitarian or New Thought or Tibetan Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim community to which we belong we use this language and create a sense of belonging. As we use the language, part of which is ritual and dress, part of which is expected behaviors, we create a semi-permeable membrane, often not very permeable at all, for outsiders. To cross into our community they have to penetrate the language, learn the customs, adjust themselves to the patterns. The membrane works both ways, obscuring our vision as we look out from within our particular tradition. We see a world shaped by and often determined by the assumptions of ours.

This membrane tends to make dialogue across it difficult, sometimes impossible. My point here is that in the world there are many, many of these membrane covered communities. The very thing which makes them rich and wonderful to their participants makes them difficult to understand for outsiders. And, they can’t all have all the answers. Common sense says so.

Birth of Lord Krishna

Birth of Lord Krishna

Many of the new atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens) have taken these sort of observations and come out with ideological guns blazing, considering themselves in a High Noon battle with the forces of ignorance. I disagree.

Last night at Beth Evergreen, during the Shabbat service, I read through various pieces of commentary in the Reconstructionist Prayer Book. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist Movement and a religious humanist, appears as M.M.K. In a derash, or homiletical interpretation of the Aleynu, the closing prayers for a service, Kaplan’s initials appear below this quote:

It is not the seeking after God that divides but the claim to have found God and to have discovered the only proper way of obeying God and communing with God. M.M.K., Reconstructionist Prayer Book, page 125

I think MMK and I could have been buddies.

Discussion at the Synagogue Tonight

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Reconstructionist Statement on Trump Announcement Recognizing Jerusalem as Capital



The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association are concerned over the possible impacts of the timing and the unilateral manner of President Trump’s decision for the U.S. to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital outside the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In our movement we have long understood Jerusalem to be the capital of modern Israel, just as we have long understood the need for careful and constructive diplomacy by the U.S. when dealing with a place as utterly unique as Jerusalem, where deep religious, historical, and national claims overlap. For many years now we have also advocated for the day when a negotiated peace agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would lead to the formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, not only by the U.S., but by nations all over the world. Many of us have envisioned that day as one in which the international community would even be celebrating the establishment of two capitals in different parts of the Holy City — one of Israel and one of Palestine — ushering in a new era of coexistence and mutual recognition. Our concern is that this abrupt disruption of the diplomatic status quo by the U.S. on this unusually sensitive and explosive issue may lead to dangerous unintended consequences, including renewed escalations of violence and terrorism.

Israelis are politically savvy and have long understood that the need for skillful diplomacy, and not the denial of the centrality of Jerusalem to Israelis, has been the rationale for the U.S.’s decades-long holding pattern on this particularly charged issue. We hope that today’s announcement will not ignite new rounds of violence or damage the ability of the U.S. to use its influence to support the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian and regional peace negotiations. In his remarks today, President Trump pledged to do everything in his power to pursue those goals, and we hope he will follow through vigorously and constructively.

As Jews, we are tied to Jerusalem historically, spiritually, and emotionally. Jerusalem is in our prayers and represents our people’s deepest yearnings for peace and redemption for all of humanity. We call on the president and American political leaders who care about the wellbeing of Israelis and Palestinians alike to focus their efforts on rebuilding trust, dialogue, and negotiations so that we can more speedily arrive at a time when Jerusalem will truly be a place of peace, reconciliation, and coexistence.

January 2018
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