General News


The star was turned on this week. We can see it from the front windows in the living room of this old house. It is the Flagstaff Star, a Boulder tradition for decades,  a large shape strung with light bulbs on the side of Flagstaff mountain. It used to be associated with Christmas and many years ago, it would be made into a lighted cross for Easter each year as well. But in more recent years, the star was lit on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Downtown Boulder Association would hold an event on the Pearl Street Mall complete with Santa Claus. At the right moment, someone would flip the switch and the star would go on. You could see it miles away, too. Coming to the top of the hill on Highway 36, with Boulder spread out in the valley below, one could see the star way off in the distance on the side of the mountain. The star is huge and is visible from way out east county as well.

But that tradition is no more.

Beginning last year, the star is turned on November 11th for Veterans’ Day, meaning it is no longer even remotely associated with Christmas or even the secular holidays. Not that I have anything against veterans! I am very thankful for them but the conversion of a tradition that was originally so closely tied with Christian Christmas now stuck on another remembrance seems jarring. It has taken the joy and anticipatory excitement out of the star for me.

Years ago, when the girls were still little, we would watch on that Friday night after Thanksgiving from the front windows of this old house until the star came on. Every year, we would drive up Flagstaff mountain where Baseline Road dead ends into it and climb up under the great frame work of lights. As the girls got older, they would make that pilgrimage with their friends. One year, my younger daughter and her girlfriend were sitting under the star on a cold December night, looking out at the lights of  the city of Boulder, when they looked to the right. There in the woods, at the edge of the clearing that held the star, was a mountain lion, watching them. The girls decided that maybe they had had enough time under the star and moved cautiously down the steep slope and back across the road to where the car was parked. Fortunately, the lion seemed well-fed and merely curious or this story might have ended very differently.

We have such fond memories but now, it is simply on for weeks and weeks in the winter, not really connected to anything. It feels a lot like life in some ways. So many moorings that people had religiously, ethically, morally all seem to be unhooked from their original foundations. There are no absolutes, all truth is relative, we make it up as we go doing whatever feels right at the moment.  In our desire to be inclusive and to live well in an pluralistic society, we have lost the ability to stand for something. In our fear of offending someone, we have turned everything to mush. We have eliminated dialog out of fear of dis-respecting different traditions and beliefs. Why can’t the schools, for example, share joyfully and naturally what everyone believes in December instead of pretending like no one believes anything? Manners and decency have gone by the wayside and  in trying to not be offensive, we offend everyone. I sure hope some wise men and women follow the star to Boulder and help us realize that we are painting ourselves into a corner with political correctness.

Who knows? Maybe the star will go on for Halloween next year because somebody decides it “fits.”

 

 

Dictionaries have always been a part of our lives here in this old house. We have at least two hard copies of English language dictionaries and several foreign language ones along with a thesaurus and an etymological one thrown into the mix. Dictionaries were even part of a Christmas gift years ago to a couple of  not-so-thrilled elementary and middle school-age children. I love words (surprise, surprise) and this week, I was excited to learn a new one: asymptote.

In analytic geometry, an asymptote (/ˈæsɪmptoʊt/) of a curve is a line such that the distance between the curve and the line approaches zero as they tend to infinity. An asymptote is a line that the graph of a function approaches, but never intersects.

You have to understand that I barely got through geometry in school and I am not even sure what analytic geometry even is so when my friend used it as we were packing up from the weekly Mah Jongg game, I was instantly intrigued. We were talking about a social or political situation (in my excitement over the word, I have forgotten the context in which she used it) that was ongoing and seemingly never to be fully resolved. While asymptote is first of all a mathematical term, the implications in other realms of life fascinate me. Theologically, physically, emotionally, socially, financially: there are all sorts of situations in life where we strive to “hit the mark” but never quite get there. Madison Avenue thrives on this kind of discontent!

Here at this old house, parking has been an asymptote issue since the Colorado Chautauqua grounds opened in 1898. First it was with horses and buggies; now it is with cars. All kinds of solutions have been tried from signage to switching the streets to one way. When that didn’t fully work, some sections were flipped back to two way. Still, there is always someone driving the wrong way down the hill while parking on the streets on weekends is so out of control, residents struggle to find a place to park near their house. We have tried permit systems and designated parking areas for groupings of cottages. I guess this is one of those never-fully-solved situations that we will all just have to learn to live with.

Theologically, an asymptote is a very Christian concept, the idea that one strives to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world even as we recognize that we will never do that perfectly. Yet, we keep trying. Socially, as Jesus predicted, we seem to always have the poor with us. Various agencies and organizations try to make inroads into homelessness, hunger, lack of education, joblessness but again, it feels very much like an asymptote graph. Here in Boulder, we have wonderful social programs to help those in need. The problem is that we have become a regional magnet for needy people as well as many who have chosen the vagabond lifestyle and expect society to support them in that choice. How do we not encourage the latter while not causing the former to suffer? I certainly have no answers.

Meanwhile, it is a beautiful, warm November day with the threat of serious cold and snow bearing down upon us within 48 hours. While most of the leaves are gone due to recent frosts and wind, the low bushes still have their color. Some positively glow in the late year sunshine. I am reminded that despite the many asymptote situations in my life, habits that never quite seem to be overcome, situations that never seem to change for the better, I am called to keep moving forward on the “graph of life.” Like the line going out into infinity, I hope to finally connect with the end, if not in this life, then certainly in the next.

 

 

 

http://conversationsjournal.com/2014/11/big-medicine-and-strong-magic/

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the Eucharist.

unnamedOnce again, we had no trick-or-treaters here at this old house. With no young children around, long streets with only an occasional front porch light on makes for a picture of discouragement to any child looking for a big haul of candy. I did carve a pumpkin and set it out with a candle, and I did have a few Baby Ruth’s ready to pass out but they will be passed out to friends or eaten by us! I carve a pumpkin each year so that I can roast the seeds. I love roasted pumpkin seeds. Here is the recipe I use: Remove as much pumpkin “goop” from each seed as possible and soak them in heavily salted water overnight. (A tablespoon per cup of water is about right.) Drain thoroughly and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the nearly dry seeds on a large enough rimmed cookie sheet so that they don’t overlap much. Watch carefully as you roast them until they are starting to turn light brown, maybe 10 minutes or so. Check them every couple of minutes though to be sure you don’t burn them. Store in a lidded container and enjoy in moderation. They can be a “surprise” to your system if you don’t already eat lots of fiber.

All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en) is to All Saints’ Day (November 1st) what Christmas Eve is to Christmas Day. That is why Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door on October 31st. He knew lots of people would be going to church for All Saints’ Day, to remember those who have died in the Lord. Unfortunately today, many Christians have come to oppose Halloween because many, Christians included, have lost the connection to it being a Church festival. Halloween has been taken over by commercialism, second only to Christmas in consumer spending, and gore. Instead of focusing on the last chapters of the Book of Revelation with its hope of Resurrection and restoration of the earth, we focus on evil, blood, guts, and scaring the living daylights out of others. It makes no sense to me that, with all the wars and other atrocities that happen daily in the world,we  re-create them as a form of leisure and entertainment. Maybe we are too far removed from the images TV shows us. It becomes hard to distinguish between the latest network show and the news, especially since neither do much to distinguish themselves from the other.

On the wall in this old house is an historic photo of the house in 1901, shortly after it had been moved up from somewhere on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder. There are two women and two children standing on the front porch. No one knows who they are, not even the late Colorado Chautauqua historian, Mary Galey, whose extensive research can be read in “The Grand Assembly.” They are part of the departed ones who have called this old house home. Was this old house their summer residence when they came from Texas to the Colorado Chautauqua? Were they guests of the owners? It looks like we will never know.

My cousin has been doing lots of research into the paternal family tree. Recently, he sent pictures of Maggie Rush, a distant grandmother who owned the table that now sits in the kitchen of this old house. Family lore has it that Jesse James ate at this table. It seems that Great-great Grandma Maggie ran a boarding house near Meramec Caverns in Missouri about the time Jesse and gang were hanging out there. Rumor is they came and ate there. Then the table was put in a covered wagon and taken to Rio (RYE-oh), Illinois to where my grandfather was born. I remember it in my grandparents’ house, by then painted white with black trim. To save our marriage, John and I had it professionally stripped when we inherited it. It is now oiled wood and continues to feed a wide variety of hungry people.

On this All Saints’ Day, I recognize the stream of DNA I carry from past centuries. All kinds of people, many who were not very noble, make up my ancestors. As one relative quipped, we don’t come from royalty! Yet each of them has contributed to who I am today. In addition to the biological inheritance I have, there is the emotional, mental and spiritual capacities that have come down the line in various combinations, ultimately arriving in a unique combination to make up me. As I age, I am learning to embrace it all and seeking to gently let go of that which is not worth passing on down the line.

I look at this grim picture of Great-great Grandmother Rush and wonder what will my descendents four or five generations from now think of my picture? Who will have the table then? Regardless, may the legacy I leave to my children be one of goodness and blessing.

 

 

 

We are back in this old house after a six-day road trip through the Southwest. Even though this old house is only about 1300 sf, it feels huge after a series of motel rooms! We were primarily headed to the Grand Canyon with stops at Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Rock Art Ranch, and Canyon de Chelley. It was a birthday celebration for me as well as a chance to see some amazing petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (ancient rock art paintings). In reading further about these mysterious carvings in the rock that various people groups did over a period of several centuries, I learned that these figures, some recognizable, some not, were, among other things, ways of saying “We were here.” Not that much different than modern day graffiti in some ways.

Today, these sites are considered sacred by the descendents of these various people groups. There is some debate as to whether the rock art figures were considered sacred when they were created. Some archeologists, tribal and otherwise, feel they may have been more like our newspapers or a map of where water sources were. Some may have been recording a person’s dream or vision. Whatever the reason, people in the past took time and energy to chisel out or paint these figures, some in very hard-to-get-to places. These ancient people wanted to leave a record of some kind for someone else to find.

Standing in the canyon at Rock Art Ranch outside of Winslow, Arizona, I was caught by the natural beauty of the place. I could understand why ancient people utilized the cool water and shade the canyon provides from the blazing desert sun. There are a gazillion canyons in the Four Corners area of the USA (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico). Not every canyon has rock art in it. Why were they so prolific in the Rock Art Ranch canyon and not someplace else? What message were they trying to tell others when they climbed way up some of the walls and chiseled intricate figures and designs? What message were they trying to tell themselves?

All of this got me thinking. This is a “big” birthday for me, one of those that makes me stop and reflect on the passing of time in deeper ways. I am aware that I have far fewer years left on earth than I have already lived. Seeing those rock art figures made me wonder what kind of mark I am leaving that says “I was here.” Sure, I have written books, borne children, had good friendships and creative work. I have also done things I wish could be erased from my life. Do any of the petroglyphs or pictographs record a confession of a misdeed? Or were they an ancient form of Facebook where only the successful hunts were shared with others?

The question became for me: What will last from my life? Or will it, and I, completely disappear in the distance of time, someday to be forgotten by all? My Christian faith says no, from an eternal perspective, but from an earthly perspective, I have to recognize that even my journals and books will someday be forgotten, discarded, disintegrate as did the many broken pottery shards I saw, forever disconnected from their original whole.

This can be kind of gloomy language around a birthday, a milestone age many of the ancient peoples never lived long enough to see. Yet, reflecting on what is meaningful, long-lasting, worthy of focusing on is a good thing to do as I begin the last section of my life. It is time to discard people and things that are life-draining and focus more on that which is life-giving. It is a time to reflect on the “carvings” that are on my soul. Experiences and words leave lasting impressions on our lives. If my soul were a rock, what has been chiseled into it, painted onto it? And what is the message those carvings have for me as I flip the calendar on a new decade?

 

 

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