Thursday, January 19, 2017

Negative and Positive Liberties

I am currently reading “Escape from Freedom” by Erich Fromm. He published this book in 1941. Which means he wrote it in the years leading up to and the first horrific years of World War II. As you may have already guessed, Dr. Fromm was desperately trying to figure out how the most “civilized” place the planet had ever known (Europe) had lost its collective sanity and decided absolute destruction and the murder of tens of millions was the solution to all their problems. What made the situation even more maddening for him was the necessity of the “II” designation. This was the second time in fewer than fifty years his neighbors had chosen this “solution.”

His conclusions and arguments are compelling. I will be unpacking them more next week because they have a laser focused relevance to our circumstances today.

Fromm believed we modern humans have a habit of celebrating our negative freedoms as individuals and stopping short of their true purpose of existing: the freedom to become

An example of this might be free speech. The Constitution of the United States outlines our right to freedom of expression and hampers the ability of the government or other authorities to infringe upon it. We celebrate and defend our right to think, read, write, and speak what we will. Fromm argued the vast majority of the population of free societies stop there. He wanted to encourage us to go past negative liberty of freedom from regulation and embrace the positive freedom of learning how to think rigorously and independently.

He believed our lack of initiative in this area makes us easy prey for advertisers and propagandists alike.

Henry Ford is quoted as saying:

                Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.

I find it interesting a man who so prided himself on his ability to think was bamboozled so easily by the anti-Semite propaganda of his day, but, on this quote, I think Erich Fromm would have agreed with him.

Fromm was concerned, as many are today, our inability to think well combined with our vast scientific knowledge brings many to despair. This despair is induced by cynicism and lack of belief in any personal significance, or meaning. This again creates a susceptibility to advertisers and propagandists.

So what was his solution?

Surprisingly, Fromm offered the same treatment as Jung:

                Acknowledge and face your fears of insignificance, separation from the whole of humanity and society, and lack of purpose and feelings of powerlessness. Once you have dealt with these insecurities you will be empowered to embrace your freedom to become.

Of course, being a psychoanalyst, Fromm, as well as Jung, wanted you to go through this process with an analyst to assist you. But, this is expensive and takes years, at best. Psychoanalysis is not an option for the average person in the United States of America. If Dr. Fromm’s solution is the correct one, and I have a hunch it is, the majority of us will have to go it alone. Which brings us right back to the heart of the problem, doesn’t it?

What do you think?

Do you agree with Erich Fromm? Does our lack of critical thinking skills make us susceptible to advertisers and propagandists to use as they will? Do you see signs of this in your community, church, government?

Do you see authoritarianism around the world or in your own country treating the masses as “prey” or a means to their own personal ends?

Tell me in the comments below.    

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sacredness of Mountain Solitude

The title poem from my upcoming collection:

There is something sacred about
    mountain solitude.
A life wholly other than
    the one we live below.

Is it the proximity to the heavens
    or the heavenly nearness of
    or quiet,
    or a more peaceful rhythm to live by?

 The answers to these questions are beyond me.
 As beyond me as the mountains themselves.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Carless Life?

In June of 2016 I began simplifying my life. Some would say my life was already simple and I’d agree. When compared to the typical American life of hustle and rush, scrape and scramble, my life was already simple. At the same time, I had far too much “stuff.” Junk drawers filled with scraps of this and that, “just in case” I or the kids needed it someday. An attic and a garage full of things I hadn't used in years and had no plans on using anytime soon. Cleaning, arranging, organizing, and searching through all this stuff wastes enormous amounts of time and energy. The older I get the less I have of either. I sold, gave, and threw away books, clothes, dishes, weights, tools, and much more.

I still have way too much stuff.

I am planning another purge soon. That one will be far more emotionally draining. I’ve already gotten rid of most of what I didn’t care about. What is left is different.

I’ll write about that when I go through it.

This past week I was ready to take my vehicle in for an oil change. A couple of days before I took it in the Check Engine light came on.

Uh, oh.

The local shop did the oil change and ran diagnostics. They came back with an estimate of $2300. The vehicle is a 2007 Saturn VUE. 4 cylinders. Over 230,000 miles. The Kelly Blue Book website says it will trade in for under $1000.

$2300 is far better than a new car payment for the next four to five years, but I took this as an opportunity to explore my options for an even more simplified life. Can I live a carless existence?

I am currently looking into a combination of Amazon Prime Pantry and a grocery delivery service my local grocery store is using. If I miscalculate and run out of something important before it is time for my next delivery, there is the mountain bike option. According to Google Maps the grocery store is only 1.3 miles away.

I believe, with a bit of careful planning, I can avoid needing to use the bicycle option in all but the most extreme circumstances such as, bad storms.

I currently have to drive one day per week for work. This drive is about two miles each way. I could use a soft guitar case with backpack straps to carry my guitar and papers I need as I ride the bike back and forth. I would have to come up with a different option June through September. Folks don’t want me showing up at their house to teach them music when I am all sweaty and stinky. Also, this option needs to be available to me on days like today when Houston’s skies open up and pour for hours on end. Will Uber or a taxi work?

The next hurtle is bank deposits. The majority of my students still pay tuition with checks. I can make another and regular pushes to convert folks over to PayPal or other electronic options, but, for the foreseeable future, there are going to be folks who can’t or won’t use online payment methods. I have to accommodate them. To do this I’ll be making at least two trips to the bank each month.

Finally, I need a plan for when I want to go camping and hiking and for the few times per year I need to get into Houston proper. For these times I can rent a vehicle for a reasonable rate.

There are other factors to consider, but these are the major concerns and I believe I can manage them.

The great thing about this is I can test it – even long term, if I like – with my vehicle parked in my driveway. I don’t have to commit to anything until I am absolutely sure.

By simplifying my life I am giving myself more time to consider the life I want.

The more time I give myself to think about my life, the more I become aware of my questions changing. For instance, this question changed from, “How can I maintain my highly convenient and expensive car lifestyle?” to “Which lifestyle serves me?”

As the months go by the small changes are bestowing upon me a vastly more fulfilling life.

I’ll take it. 

I want to hear from you. 

Are you currently simplifying or making other changes? If so, what prompted you to begin making those changes? Do you see anything I missed I need to consider? 

If you are enjoying this blog, please follow, comment, recommend and share it with your friends. 

See you Thursday. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How I Could Have Saved Time and Pain

To fully understand this post, first read Learning to Do Life Well. My post from 1/9/2017. 

It turns out some accomplished philosophers and psychologists have written about what I was going through in my twenties and early thirties. First, I had to do the work of living the ancient Greek maxim:

Know Thyself

The ancient Greeks claimed they got it from the even more ancient Egyptians. Had you asked me during the nearly two decades I was trying to figure all this stuff out, I would have said it was probably Shakespeare.

As I was learning about myself, I was also engaging in what Nietzsche called “The Will to Power” and what Jung called “Individuation.” Had I been exposed to these things before or during these particular struggles, I might have been far less concerned about why I didn’t seem to fit anywhere and never being satisfied as a joiner or a follower.

The process of learning who we are is often uncomfortable. Jung encourages us to confront and acknowledge our darker sides and to neither be ashamed or afraid of them. Nietzsche admonishes us to revel in the pain of the struggle. To see it as an opportunity to show the strength of our internal metal.

All through my mid- and late-twenties I had this recurring vision in my mind. I’d be working a job I hated for three to six months, falling farther and farther behind financially the entire time. I’d be working so hard to conform to what “god,” my church leaders, and society expected of me. And I’d be growing more and more miserable.

I could see this “other” me inside myself. He was nearly naked. Long hair, dirty. Aggressive. I had him in a cell of stone and ancient iron bars. There was a single, bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling that was always swinging side to side so no one could ever get a good look at his face.

I knew I had him caged, but any moment he was going to trick me into letting him out again so he could destroy the nice, sanitized, middle class life I was struggling to create. Complete with the two car garage and the white picket fence. Even though I didn’t want any of it.  

I was terrified of this other me and I knew I had no real power over him.

Had I been exposed to Nietzsche, Jung, and others, I might have learned this is normal. Instead of keeping this other me caged, I needed to learn to compromise with him and figure out how the two of us could live together in this one body and enjoy it.

It was perfectly fine that I wasn’t cut out to live the Monday through Friday life of modern Americans. Jung calls it the “average ideal.” I wasn’t designed to help fulfill the corporation’s vision, or the pastor’s vision, or anybody else’s vision. I was supposed to be finding and creating my own unique path. And I wasn’t supposed to be fighting my path, avoiding my path, or being ashamed of it.

On his debut EP, singer songwriter Joe Pug has a line I love:

I’d rather be nobody’s man than somebody’s child

This is how young Joe expressed his struggle of finding his unique path in life. I think he summed it well.
In trying desperately through my twenties and early thirties to conform to the jobholder lifestyle of the masses, I was literally harming myself and my family. It wasn’t who I was or who was designed to become. When I finally gave myself permission to accept myself as an artist I began the process of self actuation and my life began to get better. It was a painfully slow process, but it has made an enormous difference in every area of my life: mental, physical, emotional, financial, social, and career.

Life as an individual is good. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Learning to Do Life Well

When I was thirty I met a cousin on my father’s side of the family. He’s about a decade older than me. We discovered quickly the differences between us were vast and probably too difficult to overcome for there to be any kind of friendship between us. He grew up in the family business. I took it up out of desperation. He was an artist. I was a guy who was there to get paid.

What was the family business? Drywall.

Hanging, taping, floating, and finishing.

He was great.

My skills were passable – mostly.

We were both doing work for the same company. He was an hourly employee and a highly valued one at that. I was a subcontractor. The lowest one on the totem pole. Right where I belonged.

He’d show up at 7 am and work until at least 3:30 pm Monday through Friday. I’d get there shortly after nine and work until six or so. This habit quickly got in his craw. He took me to lunch so he could explain life to me.

“You know, there’s a reason school hours are from 7:30 am to 3 in the afternoon,” he informed me.

“Yeah, why’s that?”

“It’s so that you learn to be disciplined and show up to work on time every day.”

Sounded more like programming to me. I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing. I could see the value in it, but the trade-off didn’t seem worth it. And I definitely didn’t want to continue working in construction the rest of my life.

I knew he was trying to help me, but I couldn’t stop myself. “So, my showing up every day at 9 and staying longer than most isn’t disciplined?”

We had a short conversation about conforming to norms and expectations, but it didn’t take. Just like the hundred or so other conversations, consultations, and commands of this type that came before it from bosses, managers, sergeants, captains, and teachers. It wasn’t so much that I was rebellious, which I was until I was about twenty-one, but I was just never able to fit into the work-a-day lifestyle I was being encouraged to adopt.

My entire adult life I hated sitting in traffic with everyone else every morning and evening, traveling to and from jobs I either hated or could barely stand, just so I could get paychecks at or below subsistence levels. I simply wasn’t cut out for it. I got called things like, “lazy,” “flakey,” “flighty,” “weird,” and numerous other derogatories I feel no need to mention.

In my work-a-day life, whether in the military, on a construction site, or in the offices of a Fortune 100 company, I always felt out of place. I knew nothing was going to feel like being on stage. There’s just nothing else like it in the world. I also knew most of the rest of life was supposed to be enjoyable, as well. The problem was all other work felt as though it was making withdrawals from my life’s accounts and the meager paychecks at the end of the pay period never balanced the books.

When I got a chance to teach music to supplement my income and then make a fulltime livelihood, it was like coming home to a warm, welcoming house in the middle of a windy Nebraska winter. Don’t misunderstand. I still have to make sacrifices and compromises with my work, but they easily balance out with the rest of my life. I don’t wake up every day excited about work, but I do most days.

Finding what I’m good at and how to make a life with it took a long time. Mainly because I was distracted by what others were telling me I was supposed to do with my life and what advertisers and MTV had trained me to want as a musician. It took years of doing things that took from the quality of my life before I became brave enough to be creative and do something that enhanced and added to the value of my life and to the lives of others.

These days I try not to waste time wishing I’d gotten up the courage to do it earlier. I try to be thankful every day I get to build my life around teaching people in my community to have fun and make music.  

I don't know if I am doing life well, yet, but I do know I am getting better. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Signs of the Times

In Matthew 16:1-3 we read:

    One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus' claims by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven. He replied, "You know the saying, 'Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow, red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.'  You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can't read the obvious signs of the times!

I would not be surprised if the Lord were to show up tomorrow and tell most of us, believers and non-believers alike, the exact same thing.


We are in the midst of a global upheaval. Everything seems to be changing faster than our minds and wisdom can keep up. The world seems to be finding a "new" unsolvable problem every week. Are we on the brink of planetary self-destruction? Is World War III on our doorstep? Are we in the End Times? I have to admit, when it comes to these questions, I am as clueless as anyone else. One thing seems to be clear. Only the "good guys" appear to be without vision. It looks like the bad actors of the world  know exactly what they want and how they intend to make it happen. The leaders in the free, democratic world appear to be lost in a cloud of unknowing.

While all of this is happening it is easy to get caught up in the panic of it all. It is easy to turn to worldly philosophies and tactics to protect our family and what is ours. Whether what we believe is ours and what we are trying to protect is property or more ethereal concepts such as "rights" doesn't much matter. As believers, we are required to go about it according to the principles the Lord lays out in His Word. No matter how good the outcome we pursue it will be less than worthless if we go about achieving it in the wrong way.

The Joseph Principle

This brings me to the Joseph Principle. Joseph's story in the Bible kicks into high gear in Genesis chapter 37 when he begins to have prophetic dreams. The Joseph Principle begins in Genesis 41. Pharaoh has a couple of nightmares. He knew they were important, but could not figure out why or what, if anything, they meant. Pharaoh's wine aficionado tells him about Joseph's gift for interpreting dreams. Pharaoh sends for Joseph. God gives Joseph the interpretation and and word of wisdom for the solution. Pharaoh appoints Joseph over the national project that is the result of this encounter.

This is the Joseph Principle.

God revealed a coming catastrophe for Egypt and the surrounding regions. He also gave Joseph and Pharaoh the solution to save thousands if not more than a million lives. Joseph was given the authority to implement the plan. He gathered the resources, put the delivery systems in place and when the cataclysm hit, he launched the solution into the marketplace.

We say we serve the same God as Joseph. Do we believe it? Pharaoh had an encounter with God. Joseph relied on the Holy Spirit to interpret the encounter and give a solution. The solution was practical. It did not rely on the miraculous, but on the pragmatic. Today we might call it 'saving for a rainy day." In this case it was "saving for no rainy days," but I am sure you get it.

We can read the signs of the times we are in. We know trouble is not around the corner. Trouble is here. Very bad things are around the corner. If we believe this, than isn't it time we add to our prayers for mercy, a few prayers for solutions to the coming problems?

      "But you, dear friends, must continue to build your lives on the foundation of your holy faith. And continue to pray as you are directed by the Holy Spirit. Live in such a way that God's love can bless you as you wait for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren't contaminated by their sins."
                                                                                                              Jude 20 - 23 NLT