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Highway 9 conversion

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  • Al Green
    http://www.summitdaily.com/article/20060908/NEWS/109080054 Highway 9 conversion RYAN SLABAUGH summit daily news September 8, 2006 SILVERTHORNE - I m not here
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2006

      Highway 9 conversion

      summit daily news
      September 8, 2006

      SILVERTHORNE - "I'm not here to save anybody," says Milton Kapner,
      which seems like only a half-truth on this Tuesday morning. He holds
      a crucifix in his left hand and, with his right, waves to a man
      driving a diesel truck through the busiest intersection in Summit
      County. Kapner, who also goes by "Brother Nathaniel," wears a black
      robe, white gloves and a pair of well-kept New Balance running
      shoes. The diesel driver honks and waves back.

      "Today's a little quiet," he explains. "Some days, it gets quite

      If you've seen him, you would remember. Since December, four days a
      week, Kapner has strolled down Highway 9 in Silverthorne, strutting
      with his crucifix like a boombox in Harlem. He spins, twirls, waves,
      flashes peace signs and raises his fist like the revolution is only
      days away. He starts around 7 a.m. and finishes two hours later.

      Brother Nathaniel, 56, then spends the rest of the day in his
      Leadville home, in quiet, unless he wants to head downhill in the
      evenings to inspire those caught in rush hour. Overall, while it's
      quiet he desires, it's the same quiet he's spent most of the past
      few years resisting ... that, and our PC nation.

      A salesman in Pittsburgh
      Milton was born on Sept. 5, 1950, to Solomon and Rebecca Kapner,
      both Jewish, but both accepting of other ideas. In the Bible,
      Solomon, whose name means "Messenger of God" in Hebrew, was given
      beauty in exchange for his acts of faith. The gift, for the Kapners,
      was a middle-class house in a mixed suburb in Pittsburgh. Poor,
      black, white, Christian - neighbors were neighbors and the
      term "politically correct" had yet to reach its tentacles into
      middle America.

      Religion was a Sunday activity and, every day, Milton said the
      Lord's Prayer before school started.

      Even during Christmas, Milton would join his Catholic friends in
      going door-to-door, singing Christmas carols.

      "And here I was, supposed to be this Jewish kid," he joked.

      Kapner gained an early affinity for Christmas songs, despite his own
      religion's views that Christmas, well, was based on a lie. His
      father didn't help. On Christmas, when most kids were tripping over
      themselves to open gifts, his father would put on Ed Ames' "Oh Holy
      Night" and ask the whole family to join in on the melody, when Ames
      would belt out, "Fall on your knees ..."

      This obscure devotion ultimately would be the spark for a major
      conversion in Milton's life, and help guide him toward the Highway 9
      street corner he stands on today.

      In 1968, during the Summer of Love, along with a few million other
      people his age, Kapner followed the counter-culture movement. He
      left Pittsburgh, grew out his hair and a beard, and decided to study
      music composition at the Art Institute of California. He played
      guitar in a rock band called "Rebecca and the Sunnybrook Farmers,"
      which benefited from some choice contacts made at the music school.
      Between 1968 and 1971, the band opened for Jethro Tull, Alice
      Cooper, and Blood, Sweat and Tears, to name a few. A review from a
      West Coast magazine called the psychedelic feel, "Eclectic, almost
      to a fault."

      "I had met Frank Zappa before he died," Kapner said. "He was a
      genius. I admire Hendrix, too, the way he wore all those colors.
      This was the generation we lived in. Now, the kids and the bands all
      wear black," he said, pointing to his own garment. "Are they

      Right on cue, he met the love of his life, a violinist named Ilene
      Novig. She refused to marry him, however, so Kapner looked East and
      away from California. Alone and searching, he cut his hair, shaved
      his beard and, as he put it, "started groping to find something."

      With the spiritual momentum of the psychedelic movement long faded,
      Kapner moved back to Pittsburgh and took a job selling industrial
      chemicals, fertilizers, paints, cleaners ... anything to help a
      factory stay clean. Along the way, he also became active in "Jews
      for Jesus", whose goal is to convince Jews that Jesus is the
      Messiah, and landed a huge account, U.S. Steel.

      As a salesman, he set his own hours, met his quota and earned a six-
      figure salary. "I was good," he said. "I did this for 25 years and
      met people from all walks of life. I had a very broad customer base -
      Christians, atheists, blacks, whites. I guess I learned through
      that, you better treat people as individuals."

      In Pittsburgh, he joined a few friends on the street handing out
      information about Jews for Jesus, or Messianic Jews. "I was
      dedicated, but I still had a day job," he said. Still searching,
      Kapner decided he needed to try the East Coast. California and
      Pittsburgh would only be stops along his spiritual quest, not the

      In 1987, he transferred to a new job in Boston working as a salesman
      for State Chemical Company. "That's when things really started
      happening for me," Kapner said. "I wanted a challenge and Boston
      seemed to be more exciting. I lived right next door to Paul Revere's
      park on Salem Street."

      There, he opened big accounts with the electrical companies and
      continued to build up a healthy lifestyle. He was heralded for his
      work with big money but, just when he was reaching the peak of his
      career, he dropped all of it - the money, the job, the city he lived
      in, and his friends, including Jews for Jesus.

      A monk in Colorado

      In 1988, a refreshed Kapner found himself under water. In the gothic
      hallways of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, he discovered his
      spiritual home and asked to be baptized.

      "There was a mystical event that entered into me," he
      said. "Something internally changed inside me. Be quiet. Go deeper
      into Christ. Be still. Let it come over you. Be receptive. Don't be
      a salesman ..."

      That idea, "Don't be a salesman," distracted him enough that he
      spent the next four years losing his accounts, missing financial
      goals and, along the way, coming to an understanding with himself.
      When the day finally came, he gave his notice at work. One of the
      company's best salesmen wanted to become a monk.

      "You're a salesman. Pray on Sundays," they'd quip.

      "I'm just not into it," he'd reply.

      So in 1992, Kapner joined the Transfiguration Monastery in
      Brookline, Mass., which had 30 monks and controlled all aspects of
      his life. At 7 a.m., they started work on religious pictures and
      other goods they would sell to fund the monastery. Instead of
      selling industrial cleaners, he made incense.

      "It brought me back to the hippie days," he explained. "It was like
      living on a commune." Each day, he would attend a service at 4 p.m.,
      which was followed by a meal at 6 p.m. A midnight liturgy usually
      lasted until 4 a.m., after which the monk would rest until rising
      again at 7 a.m.

      The routine, however, didn't fit his developing personality, so he
      moved on. Father Isaac, the head of the Brookline monastery, would
      only call him "eccentric," when interviewed for the story; he
      wouldn't comment any further. Brother Nathaniel doesn't deny the
      eccentric claim.

      "I moved to a new monastery in Buena Vista in 2003, which was much
      smaller, only like five monks," Kapner said. "It was way back in the
      mountains and very secluded, which was very good for someone like me
      who just wants a whole lot of quiet. It was perfect."

      He spent the next two years removed from society, from the news,
      from everything "modern." His desire for this life, however,
      returned when a parishioner visited the monastery and asked if he
      had heard the news about Wal-Mart and Christmas.

      'War against Christmas'

      In 2005, Wal-Mart announced it would replace all "Merry Christmas"
      signs with "Happy Holidays." It also meant the chain would stop
      playing traditional Christmas songs over the intercom.

      The bad news sent Kapner into his Bishop's room, to begin a new
      chapter in his life.

      "I told my Bishop, this is a war on Christmas," Kapner said. "This
      is a war on Christ. I don't know if Jesus wants me to do something,
      I don't know if you want me to do anything, but I'm doing something."

      Turns out, the monastery and the church would have rather kept him
      quiet. There is nothing orthodox in a vocal protest movement. Forced
      or not (Kapner wouldn't say), he moved away from the monastery,
      living on his pension, away from people who would rather he minister
      quietly. Instead, he got an apartment in Leadville and decided to
      live off the pension built up from his years in sales.

      "I watch my expenses. I got myself ready. I prayed," he said. "I
      went on the internet and read the news for the first time in years.
      I wanted to get back in touch with the world."

      Finally, after Kapner had read more about Wal-Mart in an online
      chatroom, his life began to piece itself back together. The groping
      stopped. His next move surprised even him. He walked into the Wal-
      Mart in Frisco and starting singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" in the

      "The customers sang with me, the clerks were singing with me, but
      the store manager finally didn't know what to do, and finally asked
      me to stop. He had to do his job. ... But my point got across," he

      And that's also when Kapner hired a lawyer. He understood that his
      message would alienate many folks, who would turn to the police to
      keep him away from Wal-Marts and street corners.

      One of his first run-ins came in Breckenridge, on a snowbank where
      he sang "Joy to the World," certainly not a criminal act. Alas,
      someone called the police, who showed up and asked him for his ID.

      "I showed him that, but I also showed them my lawyer's card," he
      said, managing a smirk. "The police's jaws dropped - this nut has a

      Another time, a pastor came up to him with a critical voice. "He
      asked me, 'Is this how Jesus dressed?' I said, 'He dressed like a
      Hebrew. I'm a monk.'"

      On other occasions along the highway, he gets the finger and shrugs
      it off. When pressed, though, he relaxes and calls the past
      year "overwhelmingly positive."

      It's not hard to understand why. If you spend a few hours with him
      at the busy street corner, you'll notice the positive energy he
      receives back. Folks honk and wave. Some park their car and start up
      a conversation. It's that connection with people that will keep him
      returning to Silverthorne - a place he now calls his home, despite
      living in Leadville - and continuing to brighten the days of those
      who, most of all, are surprised at an older man, dressed like a
      monk, twirling and jigging to a silent music.

      "We're all dissatisfied with some things, or many things," Kapner
      said. "We're all trying to make ends meet. Wars, this problem, that
      problem. I say, 'Hey everybody, here's Jesus Christ. Let's dance.'"

      Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-4618, or at
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