Highway 9 conversion
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
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
"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