Summit County: Street preacher still smiling and waving
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Love him or hate him, there’s no question that Milton Kapner ” aka Brother Nathanael ” has become a regular member of the local community in the two years since he danced on his first Summit County median strip.
On a recent weekday morning, most commuters on Highway 9 in Frisco sped by the slim, 57-year-old man dressed in religious garb, brandishing a crucifix in one hand and an American flag in the other, with hardly a glance.
Maybe they were late to work. Maybe they were lost in worry about their mortgages, or their children, or their health, or their jobs. Or maybe they ignore him on purpose ” because they think he’s crazy or scary.
Kapner, a former Eastern Orthodox monk, doesn’t put too much stock in how he’s perceived by those he’s waving and smiling at.
“Everybody comes to Christ in a different way,” he said. “I don’t force it on anybody.”
As unusual as his street evangelism may have initially seemed to Summit County locals, Kapner’s arrival at his highway post ” after more than two decades in high-powered sales and eight years in a monastery ” has its own internal logic.
“I have no regrets,” he said, when asked if he ever wished his life were more conventional. “I see my life as piece by piece had been building to this.”
And it may well be that Kapner’s new life work fits into a time-honored Christian tradition: that of the “holy fool.”
His willingness to dance in public ” what he refers to as his “calling” ” has driven Kapner outside the mainstream of his religion and resulted in death threats, assaults, and at least one cease and desist order from a local ski resort.
“I’m looked upon as a nut,” he said. His commitment to a world “united in Christ” takes the sting out of the world’s judgment, though.
“It doesn’t matter what they think of me,” he added.
Although he may deny a direct comparison, Kapner’s street antics bear a distinct resemblance to the Eastern Orthodox tradition of the holy fool, or “fool for Christ.”
According to Jim Forest, author and editor of “In Communion,” the journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, holy fools are those “whose acts of witness to the Gospel fly in the face of what most of us regard as sanity.” Particularly valued in the Russian Church, such figures challenge conventional rules of behavior. They do and say outrageous things without concern for society’s judgments.
In the history of Christianity as a whole, suspicions of “foolishness” have been pretty common, former Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church pastor Rich Mayfield said.
“There’s always been lots of talk about the fine line between sainthood and psychosis,” he said. “Traditional wisdom has a hard time telling the difference.”
The willingness of individuals to behave foolishly for the sake of their beliefs can be of great benefit to both the soul and the society at large, Mayfield added: “When you stand apart you can find great spiritual insight.”
Mayfield cites numerous examples of the positive effects of foolishness in traditional religions. Mother Teresa, for one, was initially thought to be crazy for wanting to help the dying poor of Calcutta, but history has proven the Albanian nun to be an enormous inspiration. The same can be said of many of the teachings of Jesus.
“Even the practice of nonviolence in a violent world is a foolish thing,” Mayfield pointed out.
While familiar with the holy fool tradition, Kapner makes no claim of inclusion within it.
“I’m not as holy as a fool for Christ,” he said. He admits he still sometimes finds himself reacting internally to those who attack or insult him. Standing on a street corner day after day, though, has had a calming effect on him.
“I’ve become more relaxed over time,” he said. “I don’t want to alienate anybody.”
Kapner’s plans for the near future include appearances at the Boston Marathon and the Harvard University graduation, as well as an all-expenses paid trip to Chicago.
“I’m busting out of Summit County,” he said. “But this is my home, and I want the support from my community. Please pray for me.”
Although he’s never met Kapner personally, Mayfield is appreciative of the former monk’s contribution to the local landscape.
“I find him to be a very comforting figure in the community,” he said. “If anything, he may be a reminder for us not to take ourselves so seriously.”
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