Tag Archives: freedom

Freedom is a Road to Love

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“[T]he ultimate goal of human beings is not the ‘kingdom of freedom.’ Rather, the kingdom of freedom is a process toward the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of love.” – Miroslav Volf (explaining Jurgen Moltmann), Exclusion & Embrace, 105

I chose “Freedom Road: The Exodus Story” as our church’s fall semester sermon series and brought it to a close yesterday morning. We will now turn our attention to the birth of Jesus and a brand new year and a consideration of how to live once liberated from oppression.

I have enjoyed the freedom road journey despite having to listen to myself speak along the way. It is a spectacular story. We started with the birth of Moses in Egyptian slavery and followed the stunning liberation narrative until Joshua stood in a land of promise and called the Israelites to fully commit to God.

It has been particularly interesting to consider freedom in a land that loves the idea so much because the American preoccupation with independence is at odds with my particular faith. Freedom is a good word, of course, if for no other reason than because oppression is a bad word, but there is danger in making freedom the ultimate goal—and our unfortunate tendency is to value our independence above all things. I agree with Volf/Moltmann in recognizing freedom instead as a pathway to a beautiful land where love rules.

But I still don’t trust myself. While drawn through compelling hints toward the land where love rules, I have been conditioned to be in control and to avoid answering to anyone other than Me. The cultural indoctrination runs deep.

So I find myself still on Freedom Road, ironically in the process of being set free from the oppression of Freedom. But my journey is filled with hope and faith in a beautiful future that to date remains unseen.

 

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Pictures. Or, How Instagram Might Unwittingly Save Our Collective Soul.

I blog, tweet, share, post, connect, friend, update, and everything else related to social media, so my occasional rant about how technology may be destroying the world comes with zero credibility.  If we’re all going down, at least I am on the train with everyone.  It is bad enough that for many of us “work” and “email” are now interchangeable concepts, but my greater concern is that “social media” and “life” might follow suit.

I immediately understood Facebook.  And LinkedIn.  And blogging (via my friend, John Dobbs).  And, with a little effort, Twitter.  But Instagram confounded me.  I found it Instaweird.  But like a sheep with a Smartphone, I signed up, and now, surprisingly, think Instagram might represent hope for the future—simply because it is all about pictures.

My interest in photography came late because, well, we were poor, and listen closely boys and girls, it used to cost actual money both to purchase film AND develop the pictures.  When digital cameras arrived on the scene, I joined the revolution.  After splurging on a clunky camera, sets of rechargeable batteries, and a bag large enough to carry small pets, I was free to take as many pictures as I wanted without the worry of paying for multiple reminders of my terrible skills.

In that glorious freedom, I started venturing to new places—just to take pictures.  There was no rule that said I couldn’t enjoy nature or a park or festival or sunrise without a camera, but there was something about capturing a place or moment in a photograph that led me out into the world on adventures that simply wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

This is why I have Instahope.

At least, given the terrible development of living our lives heads down staring at a screen, Instagram encourages us to venture into the world to see what there is to see.  Sure, after we take a picture, we stare at that silly screen to fret over filters and tags and the like, but at least we are there, occasionally looking up.  And that is something.

Emancipation

An article in the online edition of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention: “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email: Reasonable Attempts to Tame It Are Doomed to Fail.”  Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the article arrived via email.

The author (Cal Newport, Georgetown professor) is apparently serious, and as one of the “inbox-enslaved individuals” he describes, I appreciate his attempt at a Technological Emancipation Proclamation.  He accurately portrays my people’s need “to constantly check their inbox and feel great guilt or unease about the possibility of unanswered communication awaiting attention” and that “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking.”

So, he suggests chunking it.  He writes, “The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses.”

I think he is crazy.  Which is partly why I love it.  But more importantly, and I’m speaking as one highly skilled in email management, I think the day is coming when the email problem has to be addressed.  As Professor Newport concludes, “if workplace trends continue as they are, [his crazy/stupid/fruitcake idea] might one day soon seem less less like an interesting thought experiment and more like a necessary call to action.”

Email allows us to be so stinking available, efficient, and responsive that we no longer have time to work (in fact, that becomes our work)–or, tragically, to live.  In his delirious alternate universe, Professor Newport envisions: “[W]hen you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there is no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.”

Can you imagine such a thing?  I can imagine.  In fact, I can almost even remember.

Brothers and Sisters

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“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)

Three years ago, I wrote an essay for the Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal titled, “From Integration to Multiculturalism: Dr. King’s Dream Fifty Years Later.” The essay questioned whether the changes in race relations in the United States in half a century signified actual progress toward Dr. King’s dream. The skepticism I expressed in the essay has not improved while watching the news over the ensuing three years.

And what exactly was the Dream? Although the terms equality and freedom and justice, words with a legal flavor, were prominently featured in Dr. King’s speeches, it is the family metaphor of brotherhood (with apologies for the non-gender inclusive language of the time) that stands out in the speeches as a better characterization of the Dream. As King famously stated, “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”

Check out the epigraph to this essay that closed out the Letter from a Birmingham Jail to see what I mean. Check it out again and tell me that we are in shouting distance of such a dream. I think not.

So has this all been a waste of time? Are we simply left with a new holiday? Of course not, but although there has been much good, it is naïve to think that we are anywhere near a world where we see one another as brothers and sisters across the various social lines that divide us. Watch the news. Heck, join me in taking a good look at our own hearts.

So what now? Well, I say that we keep dreaming. And keep hoping. And keep working. For equality and freedom and justice, sure, but climb up on the mountaintop and see beyond those lofty words to an even loftier ideal where we all live together as brothers and sisters.

That is some dream, and it is worth remembering today.

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You Can’t Control the Weather

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A Malibu winter is, well, two mismatched words, yet visitors throughout the year often find the weather cooler than expected in this famous little town. I mostly blame the Beach Boys for misrepresentation. Still, the weather is pretty great, and in January you have to get past the general sunshine and spectacular sunsets just to imagine cold and dreary.

But we saw a lot of snow on our cross-country flight last weekend, and when we hit the Rocky Mountains (metaphorically, thank God), the aerial view was breathtaking and demanded an iPhone picture attempt through a dirty window at however many thousand feet. Thankfully, iPhones apparently know everything and mine let me know that I took the picture (above) in Fort Garland, Colorado. This thriving metropolis has a population of four hundred (or eight hundred for about fifteen seconds when our plane passed overhead).

Winter can be spectacular, but I remember enough from past lives to know that winter can also be a pain, and the bitter and numbing kind. Life is like that, too: spectacular at moments, and bitter at others.

Emily Dickinson presumably looked out her window once and wrote:

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

That Emily Dickinson sure had a way with words. Nature has its glorious days, but it has its bad days, too, complete with mean clouds and complaining winds. As do we.

Today may be one of your glorious days, but then again, odds are that it could just as well be a day when you misplaced your diadem (editorial note: not a dirty reference if diadem is new to you, but it sort of sounds like it, doesn’t it?).

Good days come and go, just like the weather, and much of that is out of our control.

How we choose to respond is not.

Indomitable Freedom

post1Christmas added several items to my sports movie collection, and the first new flick into the DVD player was The Hurricane, a 1999 movie featuring Denzel Washington as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer and convict whose triple murder conviction was set aside after decades in prison due to the love and dedication of others. It was Rocky meets Shawshank Redemption meets To Kill a Mockingbird, which is quite the inspirational combination.

The most memorable scene occurs just prior to Carter’s exoneration when he and his young friend, Lesra, have a brief conversation through prison bars. Carter utters the most famous line in the movie: “Hate put me in prison; love’s gonna bust me out.” His young friend brazenly-yet-facetiously responds, “Just in case love doesn’t; I’m gonna bust you out of here.” Carter erupts in laughter, and then, tenderly, reaches through the prison bars to wipe tears from his young friend’s face, and says, softly, “You already have.”

Yes.

This entire blog is predicated on the idea that humanity can be liberated from any circumstance that aims to imprison us—that in our hearts, we can rise above anything. I believe that in the depths of my soul. Argue with me all you want.

But even those who buy the premise may want to argue with me on how we rise above our circumstances, but as we square off, know that my contention is that it is love that busts us out.

Hate imprisons. Love liberates.

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• Click HERE to see Bob Dylan in 1975 singing his protest song, “The Hurricane,” while Carter sat in prison (and remained there for another decade).

Freedom Road

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Random Glitter Beard Guy (Not Me. Yet.)

My inaugural participation in No Shave November would have ended today were it not for (a) my wife’s shocking declaration that she likes the beard; and (b) an entrepreneurial law student convincing me to wear a “glitter beard” for a full day if he raised a thousand dollars for the law school’s public interest student organization. He created a GoFundMe page for this effort, and as disturbing as a glitter beard on my face is to consider, last I checked he had raised ten bucks. You could change that, of course, with your donations (click HERE), but this is a classic win-win situation for me.

Glitter beard aside, my life is actually one long story of self-consciousness about physical appearance, but there has been great progress over the decades, and my path to baldness is particularly instructive.

My hair embarrassed me from the moment I realized people judged your appearance. I don’t know exactly how to describe my hair, other than terrible. It was thin, light brown, oily, and curled in all the wrong places with length, with a cowlick smack in the middle of my forehead. I hated it. I tried, without talent mind you, to make it look okay, hoping not to draw attention to it—ever—and in that effort spent more time than I care to know in front of a mirror. In effect, I was a butcher with a comb attempting brain surgery.

Worse, any time the wind blew or rain fell it somehow got worse, and both happened in my hometown on a regular basis. Wearing a hat was okay if it was stapled to my head and never came off in public. I wore out untold back pockets on blue jeans because I carried a comb everywhere I went. Everywhere. I guess I was vain in reverse, not consumed with looking good, just desperate not to be the object of laughter.

This went on for a few decades or so, give or take, and then I started going bald on top, too, as if being pale/skinny/freckly with bad hair wasn’t enough self-esteem for an American male.

And then one glorious day I was reading lovely Anne Lamott talk about her lifelong obsession with bad hair (although her particular malady was frizzy-ness). She mentioned that as an adult a friend with dreadlocks encouraged her to follow suit, but the idea of a middle-aged white woman in dreadlocks took some time to consider. Then, one day, while watching the climactic scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne tunnels through sewage to escape from prison and stands in the pouring rain with his arms to the sky in glorious freedom, Lamott thought, “I could never do that. My hair would look terrible.” At that moment Lamott decided to go with dreadlocks. You laugh, but I had to catch my breath. It was me. In effect, it was that story that led me to shave my head.

Here is the kicker: It was so difficult to actually follow through with it because my entire life had been one long attempt to avoid calling attention to my personal appearance. (And let me tell you, shaving your head is one surefire way to draw attention to your personal appearance.) But I did it. Our friend, Devon, did the honors, and as expected, everyone had to comment. (My favorite was when meeting those who hadn’t seen me for some time. They were oddly quiet, and I am sure that my bald/pale/skinny self had them wondering if it was cancer or AIDS. I just let them wonder.) After some time, the comments went away, and all these years later, I could not be happier.

What I learned is that the path to freedom requires the courage to face your greatest fears. And that the freedom is worth it.

It is still difficult to say, but—look at me. I’m up to sporting a glitter beard now if the price is right.

Freedom is Respect

As I reflect on last week’s inaugural (and wonderful) Diversity Week at Pepperdine Law, the following passage from my hero, Will D. Campbell, comes to mind.

“The civil rights gains we have made are largely cosmetic,” my old friend, Kelly Miller Smith, told me just before he died. One would have expected to hear those words in earlier times, when the gains of black people had been more modest than it seemed to me they had been during his lifetime and mine. He had been a pivotal figure in it all. Buses and taxicabs, schools, restaurants, theaters, parks, swimming pools, as well as participation in the political process had all been desegregated since he and I had come to Tennessee from Mississippi in the rigidly, segregated decade of the fifties. He from a black church in Vicksburg, I from a white university in Oxford. His little daughter had been one of the nine brave children who faced the violent mobs to begin the slow and painful process of integrated education. The church he pastored for thirty-four years was headquarters for the massive sit-in movement. Quietly or obstreperously, whatever the situation indicated, he negotiated with mayors, governors, merchants, and owners such issues as employment, housing, fairness, and decency in general.

All that he had been party to and more. Yet here he lay, a few weeks from death, saying that all his efforts had produced no more than a cosmetic coating over an inveterate malignancy as socially lethal as the one claiming his life. I protested with a roll call of the improvements he had presided over. He listened in his usual smiling, affable manner as I listed them one by one, beginning with public transportation in 1956 and concluding with his being a dean and teacher in one of the most prestigious universities in the South where he could not have been more than janitor not many years earlier.

“But they still don’t respect us,” he said sadly. After a long pause for needed oxygen, he continued. “Look at the television shows. Listen to the rhetoric on the streets. They still don’t respect us.”

His words were a startling awakening. How far I had missed the point of it all. How dissimilar the promised lands two Mississippi men had envisioned. To grant the truth of his words would be to acknowledge that the years of both of us had been wasted. He spoke with approval and gratefulness for the things I recited, but as he did it became clear to me that the one thing which was behind all else was never his. Respect.

Freedom is respect.

– Will D. Campbell, Forty Acres and a Goat 269-70 (2002).

That is what gave me great joy this past week—the giving and receiving of respect.