Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Dentists

At the Dentist

At the Dentist

I have trouble with the dentist’s office.  It all goes back to my high school days.  My parents were bad at taking care of their teeth and I did not get good habits from them. In high school my teeth were riddled with cavities.  So, off to the dentist’s office in Grand Junction.

It was the 1950’s, so the dental arts were not like today.  The dentist was probably well into his 60’s, and his art was behind even those times.  He did orthodontics as well as general dentistry, and  he liked to show off his work.

He had a number of display cases filled with plaster casts of deformed mouths he had worked on for the last 50 years or so.  They belonged in a circus sideshow. They were horrible and fascinating, with crooked teeth, missing teeth, teeth that had grown the wrong direction, and deformed jaws.  A few skulls and skeletons would have completed the collection.

He had an old fashioned dentist’s chair that had a porcelain basin with swirling water for you to spit the blood into.  The worst part was the drill.  It was a large apparatus with the motor at the base.  From the motor a series of leather belts and pulleys ran up the arms to the drill.  I am surprised it was not operated by a treadle.

That drill was slow and noisy.  Today, the drill has a high pitched whine.  His drill vibrated, made a grinding sound, and those leather belts turned on their wheels making the clumsy drill turn.  He did a lot of drilling, or torture.  I can still hear the noise and feel the pressure and the pain.  No anesthetic, ever.  That went on for several visits with gutta percha temporary fillings between appointments that always fell out, exposing sensitive places.

After the interminable drilling came the gold fillings.  The lower molars had the largest cavities, so he cast gold inlays. He then cleaned out the holes with that damned drill, applied an adhesive and installed the fillings.  He used a punch and mallet and hammered them in.

The upper molars had smaller cavities so he used gold foil.  He would pack some foil into the cavity, then use some kind of tool that was like a manual impact driver.  Click, wham.  Click, wham.  Click, wham.  That repeated what seemed like thousands of times.  When he got enough foil in the cavity, out came the punch and mallet to really pack that gold in.  This lasted for weeks.  The good part?  Most of those fillings are still there.

I tended to avoid dentists after that experience until I had to.  In my middle thirties my impacted wisdom teeth had to come out.  There was anesthetic along with the cutting, prying, hammering,  pain, and wrenching.  I developed a dry socket that had to be packed and tended until it finally healed.  I had more dental trauma with that process.

I did start getting intermittent dental care, but not enough brushing, flossing, and cleanings.  Every time I opened my mouth to brush it reminded me of all that time in the chair back in High School.  I developed gum disease and was referred to an oral surgeon.  I made the appointment, drove into the parking lot, turned off the ignition, sat there, turned the ignition on, and drove away.

Now I go to get my teeth cleaned and have work done at Metropolitan Dental in downtown Denver.  The dentists are good, I know them, they know me and my phobias,so we get along.  Barb, my hygienist, is just the best.  I get chided, told to use a Sonicare or a Water Pic, but the sounds and the feelings I get from them bring all the old trauma back.  I brush and floss irregularly, and get along.  I have lost one tooth.

At my last visit I found I need to have a crown replaced and went into a tailspin, hardly able to brush at all.  I still have not made an appointment.  I have post traumatic stress disorder from dentists.  I think it is time for some PTSD therapy.

My Spiritual Journey

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

“If a man will begin with certainties,  he shall end in doubts.  But if he will be content with doubts, he shall end in certainties,”.   Francis Bacon, Advancement in Learning, 1605.

Prior to the seventeenth century the Church, the Bible, and the rule of the Nobles were the certainties all Europe relied on.  The social structure was rigid, warfare was nearly constant, and the Black Death had killed much of the population.  Then, things began to change.  Religious inquiry began, governments became more centralized, cities and trade began to flourish, and people started asking questions.

Francis Bacon’s quote reflects the shift in thinking that led to what many now take for granted: critical thinking.  The shift will never be complete, for millions continue to rely on what they take as revealed truth.  Critical thinking requires another condition that we also take for granted: liberty.

The freedom to choose, to say yes or no, to do as one wishes, is a rare thing.  I am lucky my family and my country encouraged independent thinking because I am a seeker.  If anyone tried to fit me into a fixed system they faced rebellion.

I was raised a drop him off at Sunday School Methodist.  It just didn’t take.  Basic Christianity got planted, but the dry services never resonated with me.  The only part of the services I liked was the Doxology.  Those felt Jesus’ and Josephs in Sunday School with the cute little sheep and donkeys on a felt board just seemed silly.

I was confirmed as a Methodist in high school, but just because the cool girls were Methodists.  I didn’t know what to believe, but I kept looking.  I looked into Mormonism, but there is where I ran up against a closed system.  I just could not conform to a rigid system, even if one of the prettiest girls in school was a Mormon.

I needed solid, rational, verifiable truth from the scientific method or a powerful experience of truth. I was finding neither.  Blind faith or the statements of some spiritual minister or guru did not work for me.

I read, talked, searched.  I looked into Zen, but couldn’t meditate.  I got pretty serious about existentialism because I was also depressed after my mother’s death. Camus is depressing.  I looked into right-wing politics and ran into another closed system.  So, I became an annoying agnostic.  I challenged everything.

Then came the late 1960’s and drugs.  Marijuana taught me how to feel.  LSD stripped my ego away so I could see and feel the vast, wondrous, interconnected universe.  The problem with the drugs is that you come down.  I got a glimpse and some of the feeling of the One, but not enough.  Drugs opened the door, but were not the answer.



Then, in the early 1980’s,I was having a dark night of the soul from a divorce and fell into the clutches of a Pentecostal deacon.  I prayed the prayer, asking Jesus into my life and it happened.  I felt like I was wrapped in love.  It was a tangible, physical and emotional feeling.  I was a Christian instantly in a basement apartment in LaSalle, Colorado.  Two weeks later I was a speaking in tongues Pentecostal.  What a time.  I had experience after physical experience of joy, love, and deep peace.  I felt delivered from many of my old hang ups and was a new person in Jesus Christ.

I put my rational skepticism on hold.  I had found spiritual experience.  After a year I started having problems with the fundamentalism.  Pentecostals are a bit better, but they are still fundamentalists, and took the evangelical ideology and the Bible literally.  The currently popular fascination with the end times and the book of Revelation just did not ring true, and I studied it carefully.  The dire prophesies in Revelation are about Rome, not today.  The Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 79 AD and the Jewish diaspora began in earnest.  No wonder John of Patmos wrote an apocalyptic book about the oppressors.

The profound spiritual experiences began to fade, although I still pray in tongues.  I also moved to Colorado Springs, fell in love (More physical and emotional experiences, and just as meaningful.)  I ended up at a Charismatic Episcopal church that combined the wonderful ancient liturgy with the gifts of the Spirit.  The Episcopal Charismatics are part of the evangelical wing of the church and I ran into the same problem.  I ended up an Episcopalian in a mainstream liberal parish.



About this time I also found I can meditate, probably a gift of the Spirit.  I looked into Zen Buddhism.  Sitting Zazen, meditating, was wonderful.  All the rules coming from a rigid Japanese culture did not work.  I could not walk into the Zendo, the meditation room, without doing something wrong and getting caught.   Now I use Insight Meditation, part of the  Theravadan tradition of Buddhism, but here it does not carry all the cultural baggage the Zen folks continue.  My mantra, however, is the Jesus Prayer, an ancient orthodox prayer.  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,  have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Try about 3000 repetitions daily.  Read The Way of a Pilgrim, written by a Russian Orthodox mendicant.

I also explored Christian Contemplative prayer.  It is an ancient tradition, starting with the Desert Fathers in Egypt in about the third century.  Today, Thomas Keating,  a Trappist from the monastery in Snowmass CO, and Thomas Merton are the best known from their writings.  There is a large network of contemplatives, mostly Roman Catholic, but from many other denominations as well.

Today, I guess you can call me a Buddhapalian.  I don’t often attend services, but I meditate daily, pray, and do longer meditations almost weekly.  This fits my pattern.  I have big spiritual events, sometimes lasting years, and quiet times lasting years.  I am happy with that.

I have two bits of advice.  Don’t trust anyone who says they know the answers except Jesus and the Buddha.  When you pray, don’t ask for specifics, ask for what is best for the situation.  As for what it all means, it’s a mystery.  I remain a skeptic.



The Trouble With Politics



The biggest political problem we are facing is the influence of money.  Politicians need lots of money to get elected and those with a lot of money can buy influence.  The individuals and groups with a lot of money tend to have one foremost goal: more money.

The Money People tend to support politicians who can help them get more money.  The State of the Union, the world, and the environment are secondary.  The priorities are wrong.  I don’t know the answer, because it is up to Congress to get big money out of politics and the politicians need money.  Maybe it has to come from a constitutional convention initiated by the state legislatures.  That is a problem because those legislators need money to get elected.

Big problem.

Beware of Cats


Cat Trapped in a Folk Music Environment


It started innocently enough.  I like to get on Facebook, and some of the people I am friends with are into the animal rescue thing.  Lots of cute pictures of cats and dogs.  I didn’t pay much attention to them until this great cat picture appeared.  I liked it, laughed, and shared it on my page.

It is important when using social media to avoid posting material one might regret later.  I have ADD, and one characteristic of my condition is impulsivity.  I get myself into trouble.  I don’t do Twitter as a result.  I also watch my behavior on Facebook and have seldom made a fool of myself. But, I posted a cat picture.

This time, however, it all went bad.  I haven’t posted anything rash, but that one act, posting a cat picture, has led to my moral decline.  I look at too many animal pictures, Like them, and even follow links.  Even more dangerously, I find myself following ever more decadent Internet pages.  Stories about Kardashians!  Jenners! Brad and Angelina!  Republicans!  Media liars!

I have worthwhile things to do with my life, but my time is increasingly going to meaningless pursuits.  I even found myself looking at The Enquirer in the checkout line yesterday.  I fear that I may even start watching reality TV shows.  Oh, the horror!  Will I switch from The New York Times to the Daily Mail?  Watch Good Morning America?

My worst nightmare is watching Fox News.  I have managed to avoid that so far, but I feel myself weakening.  I used to avoid most sports writing and programming, but I found myself talking to my wife about Lance Armstrong this morning.  I also tend to follow attractive woman athletes.  Mixing my weaknesses together.

Will I have to have ESPN now?  Will I find myself at Nuggets and Avalanche games?  Will I start following the sports betting lines from Las Vegas?  Even worse, will I be at Caesars Palace instead of Carnegie Hall?

Remember, Dear Reader, that a cat caused this crisis.

Little Free Library

Little Free Library

Little Free Library

Have you seen them?  These cute and brightly painted little houses are to be found in front yards all over town.  Bigger than a birdhouse, but much too small for a child’s playhouse, Little Free Libraries are popping up everywhere.  In fact, pretty soon Bill and I are going to have one in our front yard too!

Can you tell that I am excited?  I first ran across the Little Free Library concept on line sometime last fall.  As soon as I read about them, I knew I had to have one.  A career as a librarian always came up on the Strong Vocational Interest test when I was in school, and now I am finally going to be one.

LFL1 Right now our Little Free Library is sitting on a table in our new garage waiting for the final coats of bright red paint and protective glaze.  While the snow flies, it is too cold to paint.  Instead, I turn to my advance review copy of The Little Free Library Book by Margaret Aldrich (Coffee House Press, 2015).

If I can’t paint, I can read about other LFL librarians around the world who are finding so many pleasures in establishing small colorful libraries and sharing a love of books and reading with friends, neighbors and passing strangers.  I’ve learned that I wouldn’t have a chance to join this global community if not for Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin who built the first library in 2009 as a memorial to his book loving mother.  His library is No. 1.  Ours, received in January, 2015, is No. 21,265.

My favorite thing about this book is the many photographs of LFLs set up along city streets, suburban lawns and country roads from Bellingham to Bogota and other unexpected places around the world.  Many are elaborately decorated and embellished, but others are created out of found objects like discarded kitchen cabinets and even old microwaves.

Another exciting thing about the libraries is their power to build community.  Some librarians (they are called “stewards”) comment that they meet more people in a week since their library went up than they have met since they moved in to their neighborhood.   A big part of the fun is seeing who stops to poke through the books, which of the books are taken and what new books appear.

The Little Free Library Book contains suggestions for inviting others participation in library activities from a grand opening ceremony to organizing bike trips to visit other libraries nearby.  One steward met a family who had organized their vacation to visit LFL’s in distant communities.  What about making room for the distribution of original writing or setting up a small seed sharing project?

LFL2The Little Free Library Book offers many practical suggestions from how to install a counter to track visits to your library to how to deal with books that no one takes out or how to respond to problems that might come up with neighbors or city authorities.  While problems have arisen in some places, mostly the reception is very positive.  The Los Angeles Police Department has gone so far as to install LFL’s at their stations to encourage better community relations.

You might want to buy your LFL from the website   or, if you want to build your own, there are detailed plans to be found in The Little Free Library Book.  You can even find information on knitting your library a custom designed sweater!

By now you can tell that the LFL community is a zany and wildly creative bunch.  The Little Free Library Book is an exciting report filled with beautiful photos, great stories and inspiring ideas.  It’s worth a read even if you don’t want your own library.  But beware.  If you don’t want one now, you will after reading this book.  Look for it in April, 2015.  You can look for my library then too.

This is a guest post.  My wife Carol wrote it.  I am very much involved in the project, but Carol won’t let me paint.