Keep the Sabbath

Written By: Charles - Dec• 03•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Sunday gratefuls: A full sabbath observance. Finishing another novel. Reading this week’s parsha. Starting Zornberg. Breakfast with Ginny and Janice. The service on Friday night. Joan and Rich. Did not do a havdalah service, but went through that time with my observance. Still much to learn about the sabbath. On a ritual and on a how do I make it work for me basis. Holimonth in full. Lights on many trees and houses along Black Mountain Drive/Brook Forest.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Christmas Lights

One brief shining: Looked up at the blackboard at Aspen Perks and saw breakfast quesadilla, ordered it, it delighted me when it came since it had crispy bacon bits in addition to the sausage and cheese, an oh my cardiologist would not approve breakfast though to be fair Dr. Rubenstein did say keep doing what you’re doing, so.


You might think observing the sabbath is only related to my joining the tribe, but that’s not true. Like the South American siesta which I also observed up until recently, at least the nap part, I always thought a day of rest, a day to enter sacred time, was a great way to push back against consumerist/careerist American culture. Just never quite got over the hump of a regular ritual, maybe I had too little information, maybe I was stuck in our gotta work, gotta get something done milieu.

That mikvah water though. Getting serious about Judaism. The push I needed. I plan to be like Tom’s former corporate lawyer, available 24/6. Well, maybe 12/6. Oh, it doesn’t matter. I’m not on anybody’s clock anymore. Always admired Sandy Koufax who refused to pitch in a World Series game that fell on Yom Kippur. Not so much about rule following as about serious intent to me.

Joan said on Friday that the sabbath is addictive. I know what she means. I looked forward to it this week. Starting Friday night when Veronica lit the sabbath candles. Continuing into Saturday until 5:28 pm. Had breakfast with Ginny and Janice, deciding that time with friends will be part of my sabbath. Still figuring out what will constitute the sabbath for me. Study. Reading fiction. Nice meals. Friends. Painting. Writing poetry. It will take its own shape over time.


Had an odd realization when I read this week’s Torah portion. Included Joseph’s coat of many colors, his enslavement through the action of his own brothers, jail time, dream interpretation.

When I chose the name Israel, I hadn’t thought about Jacob as Joseph’s father. I chose the name Joseph based on this story, a foreigner who went to a distant land and did well. When I picked my Hebrew name, I chose the name of Joseph’s father.

Might reflect the miracle of the mikvah that Rabbi Jamie told me about. Once going through the immersions, you have always been a Jew. This was always coming, this choice. I was a Jew at birth in Duncan, Oklahoma. As I grew and had various moments when Jewish life intersected my own. More on this at a later time.



Matters of the Heart

Written By: Charles - Dec• 02•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Sabbath gratefuls: A good heart. Dr. Rubenstein. Denver. The Brown Palace. Driving down the hill. Parsha. Jacob at the Jabbok Ford. Dvar Torah. Reading a psalm. Holding the Torah scroll. Leading the shema. Lighting the shabbat candles. Mindy’s flour-less chocolate cake. Joan and Rich. Marilyn and Irv. Tara. Alan in Cuba. Ron and Iris. Luke and Leo. Rabbi Jamie. My home, CBE. The oneg.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Holding the Torah scroll

One brief shining: Wearing my kippah in the synagogue now I went up to the ark and Rabbi Jamie took our two Torah scrolls out, handed one to me, one to Veronica, heavier than I had expected, while we held them I lead a spoken shema then Jamie and Veronica, who has a beautiful singing voice, lead a sung shema we returned the scrolls to Jamie who replaced them in the ark.


Yesterday was a heart day all the way. Left home at 7:45 to drive into and through downtown Denver to the offices of the SCL heart and vascular institute to see Dr. Rubenstein. My first visit to a cardiologist. That enlarged aorta discovered by the family practice doc in Korea. Emmie put the leads on me expertly, a baseline ekg. Took my blood pressure. Discussed my meds and my medical history. A bit later the now de rigueur knock on the door and Dr. Rubenstein entered.

That grade 1 mitral valve dysfunction? Everybody over 60 has it. The enlarged aorta. Mild. Nothing to worry about. Another echo in a year just to see if it’s expanding. If not. Probably forget about it. Keep doing what you’re doing. Your heart is fine. What I thought.

I had a question for him though. Did he ever consider the heart in the context of the Hebrew word lev? It stopped him. Not sure what you’re asking, he said. Well, we’re dealing here with the heart as an organ, but do you ever consider it as part of the heart-mind. You mean all this? He swept his hands up and down over his body. Yes.

Not in here. Here I’m focused on the organ, how it’s working. Outside of here, then I take into account the spiritual. But not here.


Then. Breakfast at Aspen Perks. Marilyn and Tara were just leaving as I was coming in. Talked to them for a bit and Marilyn offered to sit with me while I ate. We had a good conversation. Went home and finished the book God is Here. Turns out the author is into process theology. Whitehead. I mentioned this to Marilyn and she told me the story of Whitehead hall at her alma mater. 5 stories with no elevator. When she and Irv were dating, he wouldn’t follow her up to her classes on the fifth floor. Love dies on the fifth floor of Whitehead was a saying for them ever after.


That evening. A potluck, the shabbat service, the oneg. Got there a bit early to talk to Jamie. Make sure I was not included in any singing. Of which there is a lot in a Jewish service. No, I wasn’t. He had a color coded order of service that showed when Veronica and I were supposed to come up. Which he didn’t follow as it turns out.

I read his translation of a psalm, participated in lighting the shabbat candles, and held a Torah scroll as did Veronica. After the scrolls were put away and we finished leading the congregation in the shema, Jamie looked at us, indicated the congregation, and said, “Look out on your home.”

Veronica and I both did the d’var Torah, a talk or an essay based on the Torah portion for the week. Veronica talked about the conversion process while I focused on Jacob at the Jabbok Ford.

I’ll post mine when I finish writing it for Joan. She couldn’t hear all of mine. I did it extemporaneously, so I’m going to try to recover roughly what I said.

The oneg afterward included a flour-less chocolate cake Mindy offered to make for me. She’s a master baker and it was wonderful.

A lot of pats on the back, congratulatory comments. Dan Herman, past congregation president, gave me a gift of carrots pulled from his garden last week and a large prescription bottle filled with marijuana buds also from his garden. Gotta love that.

So now the conversion process itself has ended. The mikvah and the naming ceremony finished this week and an appearance as a new Jew (thanks, Alan) in a service. But. I have eight more sessions with Jamie on various aspects of Jewish life. The next one, this month, is on Jewish identity.


Revelation Real Talk

Written By: Charles - Dec• 01•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Friday gratefuls: Cardiology. 1818 Ogden Street. Enlarged Aorta. A trip down the hill. Potluck tonight. Participating in the service. The oneg. Mindy’s chocolate treat. Leo coming on Sunday. Luke to Florida. His mom. Veronica. Rabbi Steve. Rabbi Jamie. Joan. Cooking. Classes. Reading about Jewish Identity. Preparing a session on emunah, faith, with clouds as the metaphor. The kippah. Israel. Having a new name.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: The Lev, the heart-mind

One brief shining: Revelation, revealing, stripping, strip clubs are religions really strip clubs for the sacred and the holy I ask this only because I wonder what neon sign synagogues and mosques and churches might put out front to advertise themselves maybe a cloud fading away, returning, or maybe a rock solid boulder with a small halo, or perhaps a great waterfall, sure you could go with the usual the cross, the crescent, the star of David, but how yesterday let’s catch up with the times, eh?


Revelation. Simple, really. Reveals. Reveals what? Ah, there’s the rub. If it reveals, and here’s a very serious question, why were these matters covered up in the first place? Occulted. Hidden. Obscured. And, if they are so powerful, so important, so necessary why go to the trouble to make them difficult to locate or understand? I mean, come on.

Take Mohammed, his name be blessed, in the cave. God downloaded the Quran from the cloud through him. Holy Dropbox! Or, Moses authoring the Torah. Or, the moving finger guiding Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Not to mention all of us who subsequently made a living helping people understand all this revelation. All the ink spilled since on the meaning of jihad, salvation, Abraham. Not to mention too, all the blood spilled. Institutions, buildings, gathered wealth and power. Moving far away, as Emile Durkheim predicted, from the charisma, tending toward the bureaucratic.

Was this the point of all those who wrote and who later claimed or had claimed for them, divine inspiration? Doubt it. But we are human, all too human, bound to want to hoard wisdom, fence off knowledge, keep others a safe distance from our stash.

So revelation has this unintended consequence of creating religions, never the point. But if not what was the point and why did the revelations stop coming? Did the God referred to in these Abrahamic religions stop talking? Did the still small voice become so still and small as to be inaudible?

Real talk. We’ve blocked our ears. Shut our eyes. Swathed our hands. Stopped up our nose. Closed our mouth. Revelation never stopped. How could it? The sacred reality of our daily life screams to be heard. To be seen. To be felt. Smelled, tasted. Taken into our bodies, realized too, from our inner world, the still small voice of the sacred? No. It shouts to you from your inner cathedral (Ira Progoff). You are made in the image of Mother Earth! You are part of this vast throbbing, buzzing universe perhaps its consciousness, its opportunity to perceive itself and you spend your time worried? No. It has all been provided for you. Just look around. And you’ll know.

Sacred. So Sacred.

Written By: Charles - Nov• 30•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Choice made and sealed. Gas. Retro, good ol’ gas for Ruby’s engine. Tinned fish. Morning darkness. Holimonth. Now, for me, November 28th. Choice Day. Part of my holimonth. Jacob at the Jabbok Ford. Wrestling with a man, an angel, God, himself. 311 E. Monroe, its kitchen. Mom. That Garden Spider. Finding the sacred at the breakfast table. Immersing in the holy Waters of the Mikvah of East Denver. Being with my sacred community tomorrow night.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Water

One brief shining: Each morning I crank shut the window, stop my alarm, pick up my blinking save my life please pendant, turn off the oxygen concentrator, and wander out onto the oriental carpet Kate bought for her long ago condo, lie down, do my back exercises, pick up my hearing aid, oh more sound, then make my way to the kitchen for a can of cold water and a cup of cold coffee, climb the seven stairs to my office, sit down and start to write as I’m doing right now.


A word about ritual.* If you read the short piece about ritual below, you will notice that it confidently ascribes the term sacred to the transcendent realm. If I have an original contribution to make to this millennia long conversation, it is this. No to transcendence. I know this would shatter my former UU heroes of the American Renaissance like Emerson, Thoreau, perhaps Emily Dickinson, but I find the idea of transcendence a fallacy of misplaced concreteness as Whitehead would have said. The very notion of a sacred realm beyond our experience, especially one transcending the universe or material existence, drains the magic from the world around us. The sacred is not here with us, it’s in that other place, far away or almost impossible to reach.

No. I do not believe that. Might there be a realm beyond this one, different in nature and purpose? Of course. May there be one and may I have the good fortune to visit it some fine day after this life finishes with me. But it is not the location of the sacred. Or, at the very least, not the only home of the sacred. Not the home of God or the Gods or the spirits or the daemons. No. That home exists here with us, within our reach and accessible to our senses.

Place your hand over your heart. The pulse of sacred life beats beneath your palm. Take the hand of a friend, a beloved and feel their warmth, both physical and emotional. The spiritual reality of the sacred exists next to you and within you. The Cat that walks across your lap, perhaps deigning to stay. The Dog, eager and loving, tail wagging. Greeting you when you come home. The Tree in your favorite park or along your route to work. The Lodgepole out my window. Sacred. And witnesses to the sacred for those who can see what they’re looking at.

Transcendence carries with it a host of problems not the least of which is a hierarchical view of the universe. Think the old three-story universe. Hell below. Earth. Heaven above. No. The Sky above, the liquid center of this Planet below, and our surface world on Land, not even the dominant form of matter on the surface. That would be Water. We inhabit a sacred realm, right here, right now.

Plant a Seed. Watch Birth. Experience an orgasm. Feel the warmth of Great Sol on your face. Embrace this sacred world for what it is, not for what it is in the reflection of a separate reality. We so need to do this. Right now.

Well, got away from ritual. Another time.



“Ritual behaviour, established or fixed by traditional rules, has been observed the world over and throughout history. In the study of this behaviour, the terms sacred (the transcendent realm) and profane (the realm of time, space, and cause and effect) have remained useful in distinguishing ritual behaviour from other types of action.” Britannica entry

Still buzzing

Written By: Charles - Nov• 29•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: An added identity. A son of Abraham and Sarah. Still buzzing from yesterday. That full Choice Moon visible on the way to Evergreen yesterday morning. Great Sol painting the Lodgepoles with energy. A blue white Sky. A great sleep. Witnesses. Ritual. Blessings. Joan. Wild Neighbors. The Arapaho National Forest. Shadow Mountain. The Mikvah. Its Water.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Israel

One brief shining: Exhale, Rabbi Jamie said, after in my first immersion I bobbed back to the surface and hit my head on the beautiful tiles that make up the mikvah-gently, oh I said, so the next time I did exhale, the second immersion, and I sank to the bottom proving why a good Jew should trust his Rabbi.


May it last. This feeling of inner peace. I slept soundly. Woke up with no hurry, no rush to accomplish anything. To get anything going for the day. Felt good in my own skin. Not that I don’t usually, but this feels pervasive. And, a result of the ritual yesterday. Yes, I had already chosen. Yes, for me it was a confirmation of that choice. Yet the attentiveness, the kavanah, the intention of all parties involved, including those who raised the money for the mikvah, designed and built it. Yes. The drop of blood. Yes. The beit din. Yes. The Waters of the mikvah. Yes. Immersion. Yes. The new name. Yes. Changed.

Joan said during my beit din that before WWII converts used to be looked down on in Judaism in America. Second class Jews. After the holocaust. Things changed. These were people who will stand with the other members of the tribe. By choice. The potential consequences of that choice driving the change.

Rabbi Steve warned me with a story. A man he married had converted. Shortly after his conversion he was in an airport and talking with his sister, a Lutheran minister, about it. Loudly. His sister asked him where he was. He told her. She said stop this conversation right now and we’ll discuss why when you get home. This was shortly after October 7th. You’ve had, he said, until now, the cover of white male privilege. Your new identity comes with dangers.

Yes, I said, I may be stupid about that. But I’m not going to give into those forces. Screw’em. I fight. I fight for those I love. But he’s right. There are real this world consequences to being Jewish. Perhaps perversely but probably not surprisingly to those who know me well, I embrace them.

After the ritual, we all had lunch at a Middle Eastern place. Good gyros, generous portions. Alan came and celebrated with us. It was a nice and gentle way to end the morning.

Joan invited me in for coffee when we made the long trek up her narrow driveway to take her home. I agreed. Rabbi Jamie said he’d be back for me after his staff meeting. Joan and I talked for two plus hours, ranging wide. She’s only participated in two other beit dins, long ago, and both for women. A real honor to have her there. She’s a friend.






A Post by Israel ben Avraham v’Sarah

Written By: Charles - Nov• 28•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Late Tuesday gratefuls: Alan. Laura. Liz. Joshua. Steve. Joan. Veronica. Jenny. Gary. Martin. The Mikvah of East Denver. Hatafat dam brit. Ritual extraction of a drop of blood. By Rabbi Joshua. The Beit Din: Rabbi Jamie, Rabbi Steve, Joan Greenberg, and Cantor Liz Sacks. The Mikvah. Warm Water. Immersions three. Naked. With feet off the floor of the mikvah so all body parts touched Water. Prayers in Hebrew. A naming ceremony. Israel ben Avraham v’Sarah. Israel son of Abraham and Sarah.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Ritual transformation

One brief shining: Took out my penis for the Rabbi in the pink shirt with Superman cuff links, swabbed it with alcohol, he removed a plastic lancet (yikes!), pierced just behind the head, I felt nothing, he gave me a piece of gauze, I put in on the spot where the lancet went in, turned it over with a drop of blood, he said good, and threw the gauze away. Oh.


Yes, I write to you now with an additional name, Israel, and several certificates proving I’m a Jew whose name is Israel. The conversion is over; I felt energized and excited both during and after.

We got to the mikvah about 9 am, maybe 50 minutes from Evergreen. Rabbi Jamie and I drove to Joan’s and picked her up. Then on to the heavily Jewish section of Denver north and east of Cherry Hill. Many of the houses there are a boxy modern style which the mikvah quotes in its structure.

Rabbi Joshua met us at the door. He was the guy in the pink shirt. One of two Rabbi’s in the Denver metro who perform the hatafat dam brit. He had to leave early so that was the first thing done. Technically it should come after the beit din, the court of judgment, has decided whether to admit you or not. But apparently the word of the sponsor, Rabbi Jamie in both mine and Veronica’s case, seals the judgment. So not much of a risk.

Once we were there and the process got started I became very comfortable.

After the drawing of my blood, I had to wait while Veronica had her beit din, then her mikvah. Some of the folks who were part of her beit din had to leave early. I read the Iliad while I waited. Not exactly devotional material.

My beit din was fun. Meaningful. We talked about my spiritual journey, about Kate and how she guided me to this point just by living her life, about my life long wrestling match with the ideas of the sacred and the holy, also how they prompted me to choose Israel, which means struggles with God, as my Hebrew name.

After the beit din, I went in the preparation room, undressed, put on the white rob and slippers, went out and walked about 15 feet to the mikvah, took off the robe and slippers and walked down the steps into the ritual bath. The Water was so warm. So comfortable. The first immersion was being born anew as a Jew. The second immersion was the first time I spoke as a Jew, and the third and final time I said the shema. Rabbi Jamie and Rabbi Steve witnessed my immersion and helped with the prayers.

They left, I dried off, dressed, and went back out where the group there greeted me with smiles and applause. Rabbi Jamie then did a naming ritual which included introducing me as Israel ben Avraham v’Sarah.

According to the Rabbis, the miracle of the mikvah is that once you come out of it you have always been a Jew. I do feel changed, fully Jewish. Didn’t expect to but there you are. I think it was the ritual aspect of all this. Other people caring about me. My blood being drawn. And immersion. Community and body, both involved and important.



A Shortie

Written By: Charles - Nov• 28•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Tuesday grateful: Choice day. Immersion. The prayer on the third immersion: Shema Yisrael. Adonai Elohenu. Adonai Echad. A drop of blood. Some conversation. Then, lunch at Yahya’s on E. Colfax. Kate, my guide on this journey, the one who went before me. A bit, a tiny bit, of anxiety. The unknown. A bit, a larger bit of excitement. The unknown. A day of inner change. Ritual. Thousands of years I will be part of. All my friends here and out there.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Choice

One brief shining: Heard the alarm, snuggled back into my warm blankets thinking oh today, said the Shema, stayed in bed a little longer, groaned a bit as I do in the mornings, old man noises I call them, rolled out of bed, picked up my phone and my life alert pendant, ready to change my life.


Short one. I went to Seven Stones cemetery yesterday, looking at possible memorials for Kate and me. A pleasant visit. Met a woman who had been an officer at Hickam 1995-1996. Saw all the options. A beautiful location, one I would choose if it didn’t cost so damned much. On considering the likelihood of any one visiting the site the money doesn’t make sense. We’re talking minimum ten thousand dollars. Going up as far as you want. Including a $2500 opening and closing fee for putting an urn in the ground! I mean, come on. All of our dogs are there except Rigel and Kep. That’s why I thought about it in the first place.


A good workout yesterday, too. My back remains calmer. Not absent, but much less intrusive.


I plan to write a second entry today when I get back, so this will be it for now. Got to get dressed for the mikvah. Then, undressed.

How to Become a Pagan and a Jew

Written By: Charles - Nov• 27•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Monday gratefuls: The Ancient Brothers on gratitude. Snow melted off the Lodgepoles. Great Sol working magic. Black Mountain green again. Seven Stones cemetery. Israel. Becoming a Jew. Sleeping in. Tinned fish. Rice. Cosmic Apples. Holimonth. Advent. Hanukah. Winter Solstice. Christmas. Posada. New Years. Rituals and holidays. Celebrations of deep moments. Christmas lights up along Black Mountain Drive. Gifts, giving and receiving. Those folks who paid for my Thanksgiving meal.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Rituals and holidays

One brief shining: Books have invaded my house, creeping downstairs from my library a few at a time, insinuating themselves on chairs, coffee tables, anywhere a flat surface offers them purchase, oh and I should say, they also come to the front door in boxes, mailing bags of paper and plastic, insisting on being brought inside out of the cold, warmed up before they get read.


“And when I die / and when I’m gone / there’ll be one child born, in this world / to carry on / to carry on.” And When I Die, Laura Nyro

This song has been ear worm the last couple of days. Blood, Sweat, and Tears is the version I remember. I like the message. And, I believe Max was that child for Kate.


Tomorrow at my beit din, court of judgment, Rabbi Jamie, Joan Greenberg, and Cantor Liz Sacks will convene. Here is Rabbi Jamie’s heads up:

“For the beit din, you will be asked to reflect upon your journey, why you are taking this step at this time, and other open ended questions (to which there are no ‘right’ answers). Your essays have been shared with the other members of the beit din. Let honesty and a playful humility be your guides and you’ll be just fine.”

Here is my “essay:”


How to Become a Pagan and a Jew


Start religious life on a hard wooden pew under a stained-glass window of Jesus praying at Gethsemane. You know, father if you’d just as well, I’d prefer to pass on the whole crucifixion thing. Years and years of sermons, Christmas eve services, Easter services. Enough to create a solid if unremarkable Christian theology. Small town religion in the 1950’s Midwest. What else were you gonna be?


As your brain develops and your education expands, you might find yourself beginning to ask questions. Resurrection? Really. How does that work? Methodist. Nazarene. Missouri Synod Lutheran. Synod? Roman Catholic. Bible Church. So many brands. Why is that? Couldn’t they just agree?

How about that Reverend Steele who ran off to California with the organist?

We haven’t even hit 1965 yet. Maybe in a search for more information you go to the Roman Catholic priest in town and ask for instructions in how to become a Catholic. If he’s smart (yes, he, always he. I mean, Jesus was a guy, right?), and noticing the kind of questions you’ve come with he might introduce you to some proofs for the existence of god.

Like that one where this thing causes that thing and we spend a lot of time going backwards, if this thing caused this then what caused this? Until we reach the universe itself. Bingo! Has to be god, right? Who or what else has the metaphysical moxie to be the cause behind the whole universe. The Prime Mover. Or that other one for example by that guy Anselm: God is that which there is nothing greater than can be conceived. Sort of obvious that one.

Maybe college comes next and you choose to enroll in Philosophy 101. The professor smokes a pipe with tobacco pre-rolled in paper covered plugs. Wears tweed. Quotes whole passages from Plato. In Greek no less. None of those high school teachers held even a small votive candle to this guy.

And he demolishes Anselm and the Prime Mover. Who wants to worship a first cause? I mean, come on. So what if there is something greater than anything else that can be conceived? What does that prove? It’s just an exercise in fuzzy thinking.

Oh. You say. Well. I see. And wander off to Albert Camus who’s much more appealing than Jean-Paul Sartre. Camus later will remind you of Ram Dass who said we’re all just walking each other home. Sorry. A digression there.

After a while the whole Christian story doesn’t add up. Too many contradictions. Too much bloodshed. Too much bigotry. And it gets shoved off to the side while other matters, more immediately germane, take precedent.

Like the Vietnam War. Or feminism. Or Anthropology. Or dope. Or alcohol. Or contract Bridge.

Wait though. Kierkegaard. He was an existentialist, right? Like Camus. Interesting. Well, maybe you decide, I’ll give it a look after all this college stuff finishes up.

Later, say a year or so out of college, drifting from a department store job to selling life insurance to cutting up underwear in a papermill to make rag bond paper, Kierkegaard comes back. Leap of faith, wasn’t it?

Yes. Instead of figuring faith out, act like you have it. See what happens. Before your 7 am shift starts at Fox River Paper, you take to reading the Bible. Writing verses down on notecards and sticking them in your shirt pocket to be read over a baloney sandwich at lunch.

Then this minister. United Church of Christ. Didn’t have that one back home. Turns out he’s opposed to the war, too. That’s a head twister. Not your small-town religion anymore.

You’re really, really bored. Cutting up underwear was not your dream job. OK, maybe you didn’t have a dream job, but that wasn’t it for sure. That wife you married in a rush on that Indian Mound turns out to be sleeping with other guys.

Ooff. You need to get out of this small conservative slice of Wisconsin. Joe McCarthy’s buried in a nearby cemetery.

That minister says. Try seminary. Nah. Why would I do that? Cutting rags no. But minister. Not a chance. Do you even know me? Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Why not? If you don’t like it, quit. But at least you’ll be somewhere else.

Well, maybe. The application comes in the mail. They offer you housing and food and tuition for the first year. Huh. That wife gets the Volkswagen van. You sell the house, make a little bit. You get some cash and off you go to Minnesota.

Five years later you’re working as a Presbyterian minister. Building affordable housing. Supporting labor unions and immigrants in search of green cards. Challenging standard philanthropy practices. Taking food out to Wounded Knee. Organizing the unemployed to create new jobs, legislation.

Not bad. Making money, hardly anything, but doing things you find important, worthwhile. Significant, in a small way.

Decide to get an advanced degree. A Doctorate. While writing your thesis discover you’ve written one hundred and twenty pages of a novel instead. Even the Gods Must Die. Oh. A clue there.

Your spiritual director, a fussy little guy, but insightful says during one session, “You’re a Druid!” You’ve been reading Celtic mythology, remembering that professor with the pipe. Slipping away from the fold.

One morning you wake up and realize you really don’t buy it anymore. Probably hadn’t bought it for a while. The political work was too good, too solid, too in synch with your heart. You stuffed the doubts and the fact that you represented this religion.

Skip forward a few years. A new wife. Flower gardens. Vegetable gardens. An orchard. Bees. A woods. Wolfhounds and whippets. No longer a minister.

Thinking about a tactile spirituality. A spirituality that goes in and down rather than up and out. You realize the life you nurture in the gardens, the dogs, your small family. That’s real. No fancy philosophy required. Right here. Hands in the soil digging up carrots and beets and onions. Life. Its cycle.

The seasons. The Great Wheel of the Seasons. Putting away apocalyptic linear time for good. Everything has its season. Yes. Everything.

The bees. Are you more important than they are? Is Celt, that 180 pound goofy, loving dog less significant than you? Oh.

Life begins to look less complicated.

Later, much later, that wife dies. And that’s part of the Great cycle. Maybe you get cancer and find solace in the Mountains of your new home. How short your life is compared to theirs.

You begin to live with the seasons, with life as it comes. Not pushing against it, not privileging that life over that. Extending your understanding of life to include the Mountain on which you live. And the ones which surround it.

You find your wild neighbors communicating to you. Welcoming you, including you.

That’s how.


Jewish Coda

King David. That’s why. My wife, Kate Olson, a convert at 30, and I searched the Canyon Courier. New to the mountains in 2014. Oh, an education session on King David at Congregation Beth Evergreen.

Folks we met that snowy, bitter cold night came to Kate’s shiva in 2021. Tara, Marilyn. Many others, too, whom we met later.

Kate sat on the board, dressed like a jester for Purim. We attended services, holidays, education events. Got to know people. Studied mussar and kabbalah with Rabbi Jamie.

Made friends. Brought food. Carried tables. You know. The work of community.

Assimilation. Happens so slow. So many Seders, Simchat Torahs. Love that holiday! The dancing and the simcha. Meals in the sukkah. Learning late at night on Shavuot. Breakfasts and lunches with friends from the synagogue.

Teaching in the Hebrew School with my buddy Alan. 6th and 7th graders. Doing the occasional bagel table lesson. Discovering Avivah Zornberg, my favorite.

Two and a half years after Kate’s death. Still a member, still hanging with my friends from the synagogue.

Rabbi Jamie’s lesson on the Mah Tovu. This summer. It hit me. The truth of this Mordecai Kaplan commentary on p. 141 of the Prayerbook: It is only a true and close community that develops associations, traditions and memories that go to make up its soul. To mingle one’s soul with that soul becomes a natural longing.

I had long ago mingled my soul with this sacred community. These people are my people. I am one of them.

The next day I called Jamie. I want to convert. What do I need to do. To bring myself into full alignment with this community.





Religion and Its Cultured Despisers

Written By: Charles - Nov• 26•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Sunday gratefuls: The Ancient Brothers. Tara. The Mikvah. Shema Yisrael. Adonai eloheynu. Adonai echad. Prayerful humility. Being a new Jew. The Sabbath. Jacob wrestling at the Jabbok Ford. Zornberg. Great Sol lighting up the Snow on the Lodgepole Branches. A crisp, clear and blue Sky. The Iliad. The Jacob cycle in Genesis. Israel. Me. Soon anyhow. In shallah. All the Dogs. And their human companions. Wild Neighbors.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Books

One brief shining: Read an article yesterday about increasing nones, yes nones not nuns, in particular among Millennials and younger, which prodded me to remember Friedrich Schleiermacher and his book, Religion and Its Cultured Despisers, then to wonder why I, a man almost as far away generationally as possible from the new nones, chose to embrace a religion while others flee them.


No. This is not a question of doubt about my choice. It’s firm and almost ritualized. Tuesday. It’s about those cycles of history when certain institutions get shunned, disbelieved, set aside as archaic, over with. It’s about me and my choices over a lifetime and why I’ve made them. Mostly though its about religion and those who would be nones. Not relevant to those who would be nuns.

Three times I have rejected institutional religion. The first. After studying philosophy and finding Christianity’s arguments dissolved in the acids of logic. The second. After finding Christianity’s claims dissolved through love of my son. The third. After finding liberal religion, Unitarian-Universalism, had no there there for me. At that point I turned to the Soil, to the Bees, to heirloom Tomatoes, to Rhizomes and Bulbs, to Kate, to Dogs, to Great Sol and the Great Wheel. Became a pagan.

On Tuesday I’ll make my fourth teshuva, return, to an organized old religious tradition. You could look at this and say why can’t he make up his mind? I mean, geez. Really? Fair enough. Although as I look at this pattern, I see something different. I see a man who could not let go of a search for the sacred, the holy. Who was not satisfied. But also one who kept his heart and mind and soul open, willing to learn, to see what he was looking at.

Could I have gone on to my death as a pagan, devoted to the Soil and my Wild Neighbors, to the Great Mother who birthed us all and to whom we return? Yes. I could have. That’s why my pagan heart will still guide much of my search for the sacred and the holy. I will not stop listening to the Mule Deer, the Elk Bull, the crashing Waters of a Spring Maxwell Creek. I will not stop seeing the holiness in Black Mountain or in the wide Pacific or in Great Sol.

Yet my heart, which guides me now more than my mind, could not escape this. I find the sacred, the holy, the divine, in other humans too. And so many of those humans: Alan, Tara, Susan, Joan, Jamie, Ellen, Dick, Ron, Rich, Cheri, Marilyn, Irv, Veronica, Mark, Lauren, Karen, Sally, Nancy, Ruth, Gabe, Kate of blessed memory, Leslie, Rebecca, Anne, Luke, Tal, Iris, Jamie Bernstein, Stephen, yes all of these and more I know but not well, are all Jewish. When I walk into the sanctuary for a service, it is my friends who make it holy. And my heart, this insistent and stubborn heart/mind-my lev said follow them further.

Not only that. But, thanks to Kate, eight years of holidays, learnings, immersion in the Jewish world. Of seeing how dogma simply does not exist in a Reconstructionist Jewish frame. That these folks are seekers, searchers too. And willing to investigate, rethink, reimagine. Everything. Yet to still celebrate that search in a three-thousand year old vessel which carries great wisdom about how to be human. In other words, how to be sacred.

I know. I admit I’m drawn to the prayers, to the rituals, to the careful and unusual hermeneutic of Torah study. That I find comfort and even solace in them. That’s the monk in me. Yet the pagan, the pilgrim still on the path finds food here, too. I am not alone in my insistence on finding the sacred and the holy in the Mountains, the Streams, the Black Bears and Mountains Lions. I am also not alone in finding the wisdom of the Rabbi’s, of the authors whoever they were of the Torah, of the whole Tanakh, a living stream, one way of seeing not only what I’m looking at but what I’m looking for.

A bit of this, a bit of that

Written By: Charles - Nov• 25•23

Samain and the Choice Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Israel. Hamas. Palestinians. Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia, especially Hafar. Malaysia, especially K.L. Korea, especially Songtan. The Rocky Mountains, especially Shadow Mountain. Minnesota, especially the Twin Cities. Maine, especially Robbinston. San Francisco, especially Lucky Street. The Mikvah of East Denver. The three immersions. Veronica. Becoming a Jew. Molly, the kind Dog at the windshield replacement place.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Lodgepoles Branches flocked with Snow

One brief shining: Snow drifted down as it often does in the Mountains, white, glowing like Diamonds as it covered the black driveway, the brown deck, the blue solar panels gently accumulating, so light and fluffy it could stuff pillows.


Yesterday and today are Snow days. Not a big storm, maybe 6-8 inches, but a cold one. 5 degrees when I got up this morning. White dominates the landscape. No Kep to run and investigate in the back. The Snow came at a good time, late Thursday and over Friday, after Thanksgiving dinners had been eaten and guests returned to their homes. I’m reevaluating my practice of putting my Snow tires on in early December. Maybe mid-November would be better.


A quiet day yesterday. I reshelved some books in the loft, moving towards getting them all back from my Hawai’i move sorting. Then I’ll have Furball Housecleaning clean it again. Right now it’s too messy to clean.

Had to sort out my internet/router connections because my Starlink subscription ended on November 23rd. Took a little doing. Not much. Wish Musk was not, well, Musk. I liked Starlink though at times it was not superior to dsl. It was a simpler connection for me. And usually faster. Time of day mattered. A lot of work from home types living in the Mountains.


Thanks to Mary and her exercises my back has receded as an issue. I have to do a set in the morning and evening, plus one I do throughout the day if the back starts to act up. Much, much better. Still don’t know how I would fare on a trip, but I now I have tools to take care of myself thanks to her.


Getting closer to the ritual moment for my choice to become Jewish. I’m excited and looking forward to having to having it done at the same time. I’m hoping a lot of folks show up for the service on Friday and our oneg afterwards. I’ll see these friends I’ve had for eight years as, as Alan put it, a new Jew.

Not sure yet if I’ll wear a kippah. Feel like I want to, but I don’t want to look silly either. I know, that’s silly. Still… Part of the issue is that I’ve not worn one all these years and it feels odd to contemplate doing it now. Not everyone does. Probably fewer than half at services. Almost no one other than Rabbi Jamie wears one during the week at Beth Evergreen. Not sure I know why they’re worn. That might help me.

OK. So I looked it up. No particular reason. Reform Jews have typically not worn them at all, though that seems to be changing. I liked the idea of wearing one for certain times, like for services or when studying, or, on the sabbath. More on this later.