Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Esteeming the Essential

As it is New Year’s Eve and the clock is counting down to the magic hour I simply want to close the year with a brief reminder to esteem the essential and eliminate the nonessential. So many truths are reinforced for me via my reading and this topic is no different. I recently read Old Songs in a New CafĂ© by Robert James Waller and he shares some timely insight that can help us move forward into a new and better year ahead. For when all is said and done, no matter how manicured our lawns or how spotless our homes, for example, we need to make time for each other.

“There’s also the problem of doing away with the clutter. Like good composition of any kind, coming to grips with life requires a certain elegance of lifestyle, not in the sense of being fancy, but rather a consideration of what can be discarded in favor of simplicity,” writes Waller. “I propose there is an insidious plot to steal our time in the world we have created, and it’s important to get rid of as many encumbrances as possible, including lawn care and excessive housekeeping. The sign my wife posted a long time ago says it rather nicely: ‘Today I Cherish, Tomorrow I Dust.’”

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Place Called Home

I have been thinking a lot about the place called home lately. And as a sign I saw at Cracker Barrel the other day eloquently states: “What I Love Most About My Home Is Who I Share It With.” As I have written here before, home to me is wherever my wife, Linda, and I are together. And for the time being, that is an antebellum house we are leasing here in Middle Tennessee. Yet travel writer Pico Iyer has written, “Home is the place where you become yourself…Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else.” And lately I have been thinking of the sea.

For all of Middle Tennessee’s charms, and they are many, one thing it cannot supply is the beach vibe we love and were blessed to experience during our sabbatical on the island of Nantucket a couple of years ago. As blessed as we are here, I cannot help but reflect fondly upon our time spent enveloped by the sea. Even when we lived for several years in Central Florida before heading to Nantucket we furnished our Cape Cod style cottage with nautical prints of lighthouses and ships. And some of my favorite books include such titles as Gift From the Sea, Return to the Sea, and A Year by the Sea. I guess one could quip that the ocean “floats my boat.”

And so it was with much interest that I read this passage from a thought provoking book titled On Moving: A Writer’s Meditations on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again by Louise DeSalvo: “[The poet] Elizabeth Bishop loved to live in ‘temporary homes by the sea.’ They brought back the ease she’d sometimes felt in Nova Scotia. She liked the simplification, improvisation, and community these places could provide. ‘You live in this Robinson Crusoe atmosphere,’ she wrote, ‘…contriving and inventing.’ It is just such qualities that I find myself craving anew. So we shall see where all this carries us. But in the meantime, I am making myself at home for the holidays and hope you enjoy yours also.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Intentional Technology

Writer Pico Iyer, author of the new book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, has this advice for all those who think they are too busy to tame their use of technology: “It’s precisely those who are busiest who most need to give themselves a break.” According to Iyer, the World Health Organization has stated that “stress will be the health epidemic of the twenty-first century.” And he adds that a third of American companies now have “stress-reduction programs” to help alleviate it.

Iyer, who does not use a cellphone or social media, also shares the story of how his friend, technologist Kevin Kelly, “had written his latest book about how technology can ‘expand our individual potential’ while living without a smartphone, a laptop, or a television in his home. Kevin still takes off on months-long trips…without a computer, so as to be rooted in the nonvirtual world. ‘I continue to keep the cornucopia of technology at arm’s length,’ [Kelly] writes, ‘so that I can more easily remember who I am.’”

It is remembrance of the essential that people frequently forget. So easily distracted by digital devices, people ignore those present in the name of being connected to ones absent. It grieves me to observe groups of people together in public yet glued to their screens instead of paying attention to one another. The saddest occasions are the ones involving families oblivious to the obvious: that each individual is neglecting their loved ones for the fleeting attention of so-called friends, fans or followers.

Digital distraction has grown to the point that it has gotten difficult to enjoy simple pleasures like going to a movie or concert due to other people’s rudeness ruining the community experience. And the deadly driving of texting twits endangers all of us on a daily basis. All of which reminds my wife and I to be even more intentional about our own use of electronic devices, including not using them on weekends, or at least on the Sabbath. Gadgets are designed as useful tools but are not meant to be our gods.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Nantucket Project

It has been a couple of months since I last posted here as I am in the process of transitioning my websites but I thought I’d go ahead and share a somewhat time-sensitive update. Late last month my wife, Linda, and I volunteered at The Nantucket Project (TNP), the fourth annual thinkfest held on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, where regular readers will remember we lived for several months during our sabbatical of a couple years ago.

As it turned out, we were already set to visit the island for a vacation through the good graces of friends who invited us to housesit their place while they were off-island. It was only after booking our flights that I realized the good timing of our visit coinciding with TNP. I applied for a fellowship since attending the event cost about $4,000 but did not get one; however, I was invited to volunteer and quickly signed up Linda also.

The theme of the conference explored the intersection of art and commerce and its resulting values. In addition to some cool, free shirts (pictured above), we also got to attend several of the sessions, including a surprise visit from Secretary of State John Kerry (who has a home on-island), and a surreal appearance by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange via hologram in real time from his asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

I also got to meet some very interesting people, including influential tech columnist Walt Mossberg (formerly of the Wall Street Journal), documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (who interviewed Assange live), founder of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences Richard Saul Wurman, copyright activist (and a founding board member of Creative Commons) Larry Lessig, and several others. Linda helped with event registration, I assisted with video production and we both had fun.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Too Much Information

No, I am not referring to oversharing during conversations here. What I am alluding to is the deluge of data that can make daily life like drinking from a fire hose. While we all may be inundated with media messages from sunup to sundown, I suggest that we not simply accept it but instead actively resist its onslaught. It is an illusion to think that information necessarily leads to illumination. As Herbert Simon says, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

In Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write, “If information is coming quickly and overabundantly, knowledge, paradoxically, is harder to come by. When information is in greater supply, knowledge is harder, not easier, to create, because we have to sift through more facts, more assertions, more stuff, to arrive at it. An abundance of information often means more dissonance, more contradictions.”

And according to The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin, a study by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California, San Diego, found that Americans consumed information for an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on a typical day. With all that consumption comes overload so we’d do well to listen to William James, who wrote, “Wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

I am a lifelong learner and love reading so I must continually discipline myself to practice what I am preaching here. One tip I can share that has helped me is to limit the flow of information into my life by getting off virtually all online and other mailing lists, including magazine, newspaper and newsletter subscriptions. As a result, I no longer spend countless hours perusing said materials and am instead free to create my own art. Consider only consuming media that adds value to your life so you can create some meaningful stuff of your own.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

No Place Like Home

As I shared earlier, my wife Linda and I have done a little traveling this summer and it has been fun. During Memorial Day weekend we visited Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky and to celebrate Independence Day (and our wedding anniversary) we visited Sewanee in Monteagle, Tennessee. And at each place, we were treated to classical music concerts, which we loved.

Yet as nice as each place was to visit, we nonetheless found ourselves uttering that familiar phrase, “be it ever so humble, there is no place like home,” which has gotten me to think about the meaning of home again, particularly since our one-year lease has expired and we are living on a month-to-month basis. The virtues of our present place are many and so we are content to continue living here.

For friends and family who have followed our journey these last three years since we sold our house and furniture to explore a more location-independent lifestyle, the question may arise, “so do thoughts of home mean you are thinking of settling down again?” To which we’d reply, “uh, no.” I’m not sure I even know what settling down would look like for us, but it definitely does not include buying another house. It even feels a little funny staying in the same area for the last couple years, even though we changed addresses.

As regular readers may recall, I posted an entry titled The Meaning of Home about a year ago but here are more thoughts about it. Alain de Botton writes in The Architecture of Happiness: The Secret Art of Furnishing Your Life, “Those places whose outlook matches and legitimates our own, we tend to honor with the term ‘home.’ Our homes do not have to offer us permanent occupancy or store our clothes to merit the name. To speak of home in relation to a building is simply to recognize its harmony with our own prized internal song. Home can be an airport or a library, a garden or a diner.”

And Kirsten Chapman adds in The Way Home, “We are imprinted with an eternal sense of ‘home’—no matter how far we wander. Home can be found in a place, a person, a book, a melody. When we feel it, we know we’re there. It is that safe haven where we find comfort. Where we feel anchored. It is a lifeline.” So for the time being, we are at home here, and if that changes, I will write about it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Celebrating Interdependence Day

As it has been awhile since I posted here I’ve got some catching up to do. I’ll start with an overdue post about our visit to Monteagle, Tennessee and the University of the South, better known as Sewanee. Just a couple hours’ drive from the Nashville area, our holiday trip transported us a world away, which is exactly what we wanted as we celebrated our wedding anniversary, or Interdependence Day, as it is known in our house.

We had heard what a beautiful campus the college had and it was that and more. But it was a series of serendipitous experiences that combined to make our adventure so memorable. Upon arriving for our first night at the luxurious new Sewanee Inn we learned that the college orchestra was performing a free concert of classical music at the nearby Monteagle Sunday School Assembly (MMSA) and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit.

According to the sign at its entrance, the purpose of MMSA is “the advancement of science, literary attainment, Sunday School interests, and the promotion of the broadest popular culture in the interest of Christianity without regard to sect or denomination.” It is patterned after the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York and is similar to the Methodist campground that we visited at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

It was a slice of our beloved New England here in the South and the weather even turned quite a bit cooler for us, adding to the irresistible ambience of the idyllic retreat center. Back at Sewanee, we bravely (and successfully) rode the tandem bike the inn provided for guests, toured the gothic-themed campus of the university and visited several of the neighboring scenic spots, including a giant-sized white cross on the mountainside and the stunning library of homegrown investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton.

Capping off our relaxing visit was the complimentary upgrade upon our request to a spacious upstairs suite overlooking the golf course. Our stay not only refreshed our bodies but also our spirits and reminded us anew of how much God cares for us and delights in giving us the desires of our hearts. This Independence Day we celebrated our interdependence on one another and on God and yes, there were fireworks!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Less But Better

I am reading an insightful book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and its main point is that “less but better” is an idea whose time has come. The author touches on what has widely come to be known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, which I blogged about earlier in my post titled Living the Edited Life. As he reminds readers, our focus needs to be on the 20% of our efforts that produce 80% of our results.

McKeown also shares how uber-investor Warren Buffett—who famously said “Our investment philosophy borders on lethargy”—owes 90% of his wealth to only 10 investments, which got me thinking about what I’ll call the Tithe Principle. As anyone remotely familiar with the scriptural concept of tithing knows, a tithe represents a tenth, or 10%, of one’s wealth. And as a believer myself, I can attest to a higher standard of living with the 90% left after tithing than the alternative of not tithing.

The book even delves into what is called the power law theory, whereby certain efforts actually produce exponentially more results than others, as in 10X, or 100X or even 1000X. The thinking here is that it pays to leverage our assets in such a way as to optimize our endeavors; in other words, work smarter not harder, or exercise what I call the Eagle Ethic. While eagles are powerful birds of prey they conserve their energy by being very strategic in their hunting, to the point that some may consider them lazy. Their motto could easily be: minimum effort, maximum effect. Less but better: what a concept.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Road Less Travelled

I am reading a book called The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel by Dan Kienan, a travel writer who rarely if ever flies because he prefers more pedestrian modes of travel, such as walking. The book is all about taking the road less travelled, which the famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” suggests makes all the difference. And I agree, so much so that I carry a copy of the poem in my Moleskine.

Speaking of roads and notebooks, fellow travel writer and user of Moleskines, Bruce Chatwin, is quoted by Kienan: “Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and life itself is a journey, to be walked on foot.” While I don’t know if I want to walk everywhere on the journey of life, there is much to be said for slowing down long enough to savor the stroll.

Kienan also quotes my favorite travel writer, Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” And the author suggests that what Thoreau may mean by “music” is an alternative concept of time, namely celebrating the present.

“The thrill of living in the moment, which is the real destination of all journeys, is what the greatest travel writers are revealing in their meticulous descriptions of the places they go and the people they meet,” writes Kienan. Wherever we are on our own travels it helps if we move more slowly and read the signposts along the way so we can make detours if necessary. Here is to enjoying the journey!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Being of Art

Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, the largest restored Shaker community in America. For the uninitiated, Shakers are a Christian sect who broke from the Quaker tradition and became known for their vibrant dancing during worship. They are largely known for their utopian living arrangements and for their fine workmanship, namely furniture and specifically chairs.

Aside from the peaceful vibe of the community derived from their simple approach to life, what stood out to me most about the Shakers was their attention not simply to the art of being but also the being of art. The late monk and writer Thomas Merton, who happened to live not very far from the Shaker Village in Kentucky, wrote an insightful book about the community called Seeking Paradise: The Spirit of the Shakers.

With reference to the Shakers’ work ethic he wrote: “In no case was work to be done in a hurry or under pressure, or indeed under any form of spiritual compulsion. The competitive spirit was banned because of its occult relationship with lust and violence. Overworking was frowned upon…They strove in all things for truth, and made a point of simply being themselves.”

And Merton described the Shakers’ creative process this way: “You are concerned enough about this thing that you are making that this has got to be. Here is something that God is calling into being through you, and if you pay attention and you take care...there is going to be a new being in the world which has come into the world through your care and through your love of this being.”

He summarized the Shakers’ artistry also: “‘Labor until you bring your spirits to feel satisfied.’ What do they mean by that? Art. Any way of learning how to do the thing right is art. It doesn’t have to be a picture or a sculpture or something like that. Art is the right reason for making a thing. So whether it is cooking or whether it is making shoes or sewing a garment or something like that, it is art.” So create art until your heart is content.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Not Busier Than Thou

I read an intriguing article in the latest New Yorker titled “No Time: How Did We Get So Busy?” by Elizabeth Kolbert in which the phrase “busier than thou” is used to describe the warped attitude of many people today, thus the title of this post. Kolbert quotes several researchers who have endeavored to get to the bottom of busyness, including one Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University.

As Kolbert highlights, “Stiglitz argues that people’s choices are molded by society and, over time, become self-reinforcing. We ‘learn how to consume by consuming,’ he writes, and how to ‘enjoy leisure by enjoying leisure.’ In support of this position, Stiglitz cites the contrasting experiences of Europeans and Americans. In the 1970s, the British and the French put in just as many hours at work as Americans. But then the Europeans began trading income for leisure” [emphasis mine].

And she continues: “The average employed American now works roughly 140 hours more per year than the average Englishman and 300 hours more than the average Frenchman. Current French law mandates that workers get 30 paid vacation days per year, British law 28; the corresponding figure in the U.S. is zero. Stiglitz predicts that Europeans will further reduce their working hours and become even more skilled at taking time off, while Americans, having become such masterful consumers, will continue to work long hours and to buy more stuff.”

I love the lesson here of trading income for leisure. Personally, my wife and I make it a point to live more like Europeans by consciously limiting our consumption in favor of enriching experiences. It doesn’t hurt that my wife happens to work for a progressive-minded organization where she gets five weeks of vacation but we embraced such a lifestyle long before she got a job with them. We believe the key is to not own much stuff that needs financing and maintaining so we are free to live on our terms instead of some lenders’. And we prefer being “not busier than thou,” thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Sharing Economy

According to a new study by Havas Worldwide titled “The New Consumer and the Sharing Economy,” about 80% of people polled globally agree that progress is not about consuming more but consuming better and more than half say they could live happily without the majority of the things they own.

The report calls “collaborative consumption” the next wave of consumerism and states, “a new economic model is emerging—one that focuses less on ownership and accumulation and more on community and collaboration.” Two-thirds of the total sample believe society would be better off if people shared more and owned less.

The bottom line is that many people are gradually realizing it is becoming more about access than accumulation, especially for big-ticket items like houses and vehicles. As a case in point, my wife and I lease both our home and automobile, freeing us from the weekend routine of lawn mowing and car washing, since both are included.

And without kids or pets tying us to a particular place we are in a position to explore a location-independent lifestyle. Americans claim to dream of a home to call their own and my wife and I lived that dream, but since counting the overall cost and selling our extra stuff to become more mobile we are realizing how fun an untethered life can be.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Milestones and Musings

I have been blogging for 10 years as of this month and this is my 200th posting, which might not be much to some folks but it amounts to enough words to fill a book. And on that note, I am planning on compiling a “best of” edition of posts available as an ebook so stay tuned for details.

I am also in the process of relaunching my website at and rethinking my blog format so I will post updates about that also. As for frequency of posts, I am thinking of updating my blog weekly and publishing some type of ebook annually.

I have been encouraged lately by several regular readers of my blog to keep up the good work and so am busy ramping up my writing across the board, including my print book, tentatively titled Searching for Mayberry: One Couple’s Quest to Redefine the American Dream.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Screen Age

I enjoy gadgets as much as the next guy but a series of events this past weekend convinced me the incivility of others misusing them threatens our pursuit of happiness, our liberties, and our very lives; in other words, all the things our society was founded upon, if I may be so dramatic.

Because my wife had Good Friday off we headed out to view a matinee showing of the uplifting movie Heaven Is For Real, a faith-based film focused on high-minded themes like uh, heaven and eternal life, for instance. Such topics surely would bring out the best in one’s fellow men, or at least fellow moviegoers, wouldn’t you think? Well, think again!

Before we even entered the theatre complex itself a “screenager” fixated on his smartphone acted anything but smart by walking right into me, so I suggested he watch what he was doing, which he summarily sloughed off without so much as an apology.

Once inside the theatre, the one where they play repeated reminders to turn OFF all devices, a woman sitting in front of us insisted upon checking her smartphone several times during the movie until I politely asked her to stop, at which point she reluctantly did so. Suffice it to say that smartphones and stupid people do not mix.

I once heard a clever turn of phrase suggesting that an “ipodectomy” be administered to people dependent on iPods and other such devices. Either that or a lobotomy, I think. The thing I’ve come to realize is that technology simply amplifies who we are as people. If one acts rudely without an iPhone, one is likely to act more so with one. And movie going is the least of our issues when so many distracted drivers threaten our safety with their thoughtlessness. Heaven IS for real and we need to act like it here on earth by not being so selfish using our devices.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Point of View

It was famed photographer Mario Tostino who I first heard define photography as “writing with light.” As my business is called Lightpost Communications and my blog here is called Lightpost, my chosen media for communicating have always been both prose and pictures. And so it was with delight that I came upon a thoughtful essay about photography the other day in the New York Times entitled “Through a Lens Sharply.”

Former magazine editor Dominique Browning, author of Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness, which I had read earlier, wrote the essay about her newfound love of photography and the renewed perspective of life it has given her. Incredibly, the well traveled writer had never owned a camera until a friend gave her a simple point-and-shoot model a couple of years ago and she hasn’t quit pointing and shooting it since. While I don’t ordinarily share excerpts at such length Browning’s musings are too beautiful not to speak for themselves.

As she writes, “My pictures are evidence that I was there, that I cared enough to pay attention, that I noticed, and honored, those tiny miracles of life we are all given, along whatever path we have chosen to travel. Now, when I travel, I feel a simultaneous quickening of desire, and a thickening of time. When I scroll back over the photo rolls in my computer, I study my idiosyncratic way of seeing, and I find something I think of as my own sense of time, my own rhythm of movement through the world. It is slow, and getting slower, more deliberate, more mindful of small beauties.”

My camera roll is…a way of collecting souvenirs, which, like any trinket, might be meaningful only to me. And so what? I can scroll back through time, because of my camera, and remember where I have been, what I saw, whom I was with—and this isn’t limited to what I captured in an image. Each image triggers associated recollections, and they roll alongside, hovering around each picture.”

No one sees the world the way you do. No one. If you fall in love with a photograph, it is often because of a glimpse of recognition, even a pang of desire, that things were or should be that way—or that someone came close to seeing what you saw. The photographs we take hold a place in our personal narratives, like bookmarks. We know what led up to that moment. And only we know what came next.” What a point of view.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Escaping House Arrest

It has been said that time flies when you are having fun, and so it has for us lately. At about this time only four years ago our neighbor’s huge oak tree fell unbidden on our beloved home, shaking our sense of safety and ultimately leading us to reevaluate our lifestyle. As the result of our analysis, we cast off the anchor of home ownership tying us to one locale and used the extra time and money that selling our house a year later afforded us to explore other modes of living.

In the meantime, Robert Shiller of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index made the dramatic statement that, with Americans’ growing shift to renting and city living, suburban home prices may never rebound in our lifetime. “Except for some exceptional boom periods, housing has never been a good financial investment,” he said. Shiller, the world’s leading student of bubbles, housing and otherwise, found that from “1890 to 1990, the rate of return on residential real estate was just about zero after inflation.”

According to Richard Florida, author of The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, “Mobility and flexibility are key principles of the modern economy. Home ownership limits both. According to one important study, cities with higher home ownership rates also suffer from higher unemployment rates.” Linda and I can attest that mobility and flexibility were key qualities in our quest for a leaner style of living.

And Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his bestselling book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: “Also consider the number of families who tunnel on their future, locking themselves into hard-to-flip real estate thinking they are going to live there permanently, not realizing that the general track record for sedentary living is dire. Don’t they see those well-dressed real-estate agents driving around in fancy two-door German cars? We are very nomadic, far more than we plan to be, and forcibly so. Consider how many people who have abruptly lost their job deemed it likely to occur, even a few days before.”

All of which suggests that Linda and I made a smart move when we escaped house arrest and adopted a more mobile means of living. Just the other day, a prominent regional magazine announced that our new hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, beat out another place we’ve called home, Savannah, Georgia, as the best southern town. And since we’ve mobilized our lives, we’ve had the pleasure of living in other popular destinations like Celebration, Florida and Nantucket, Massachusetts. While it might not be for everyone, we are loving the leasing lifestyle!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Savoring the Silence

My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting with a friend of ours yesterday over brunch after church, during which the pastor had shared about the need to savor silence in our lives in order to draw closer to God. He even went so far as to suggest we unplug our televisions and tune into our loved ones, as I have written about lately.

As we visited with our friend, she reminded us that her husband, who is hospitalized with a stroke, was moved to a private room since his former roommate watched nonstop television, a medium not very helpful to the healing process, what with its daily menu of violence and vitriol. But it is not only television that hinders us from hearing the still, small voice of God in the silence. There are many sources of noise, technological and otherwise, that we need to notice and neutralize in our lives.

One simple way to dial out the distractions in daily life is to spend time enjoying nature. Now that spring has sprung in our area, my wife and I are awakening to the budding blooms of nature’s bounty all around us, whether it’s the forsythia, daffodils or pear trees pictured above, creation is coming alive in our corner of the world and we are slowing down to savor it. God created nature for us to enjoy and doing so blesses us even as it blesses the Creator.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Great Awakening

I once wrote a research paper about the eighteenth century spiritual revival called the Great Awakening. It started in New England and spread throughout the other colonies of America. And I think the time has come for another awakening today due to the stupefying effect of the screen age in which we live.

I am reading a thought-provoking book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. It is subtitled “Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” and it is a classic treatise on the hypnotization of humanity through the means of television but also other technological tools at our disposal. The book was written before the advent of the Internet but its wisdom is as timely as it is timeless.

I don’t know about you but it appears to me that people are virtually sleepwalking through life and sometimes literally asleep at the wheel, largely due to the perceived need to stay “connected” with others, usually ones not present with the person. Don’t even get me started about the continued threat of texting while driving despite its being outlawed in most states.

If I have a pet peeve it is when people attend to someone absent at the expense of someone present. I have traveled hundreds of miles to stay overnight with loved ones only to be left waiting at the door while they chit-chatted on the phone with others. Respecting people begins with valuing their presence and if that is lacking then it doesn’t say much for the relationship.

In closing, I recently read an attention-getting quote by Annie Dillard in The Writing Life: “We still and always want waking. We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show.” I am not so sure about the half dressed part, but I think it would help to turn off all our screens and tune into each other.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Unplugging to Reconnect

Author Alain de Botton said, “Journeys are the midwives of thought.” My wife and I recently returned from a roadtrip to Florida during which we saw our families and thawed out at the beach, and it got me thinking. I turned 50 earlier this year and, while I turned down an AARP membership, I am mindful of my stage in life and that none of us is getting any younger, no matter how hard we try to maintain our youth.

On our journey south, we had the pleasure of visiting not only with family but also with several friends that we hadn’t seen in the year since we last visited Florida. Most are our age or older and some had experienced health issues during that time, even severe ones. My dad turned 90 at the end of last year and has had his challenges, including surgery to remove a cancerous growth. All in all, our loved ones are fine, but this life is temporary.

The other day I saw a poster that captured this very sentiment: “All that we called our own, as it turns out, was borrowed.” Not only are our lives not our own yet gifts from our Maker, but all of our stuff is on loan also. Yes, all of the stuff that we strive so hard to obtain, maintain and retain…it is all temporary, people. The only thing that remains after this life is over is our spiritual being and our relationships with other people. That is it!

As I am writing this on the one-year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s passing, I can’t help reflecting on her godly heritage and the gracious gift she gave me in the guise of her daughter. I am grateful to God for her and glad that she is enjoying her eternal reward. As for me, I enjoyed a special time visiting with my mother the other day, a chat into the late evening as a result of my inadvertently unplugging a cable, wiping out the television.

To place this event in its proper perspective, it is important to understand that for talking to replace television in my parents’ household practically takes an act of God, so it was no minor miracle that my mother and I had the opportunity to catch up with one another and discuss things that would never have arisen if the television had been operating. Perhaps the moral of the story is that we must unplug in order to reconnect with what matters.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Unconventional Wisdom

I once heard billionaire investor Warren Buffett say that the time to invest is when the herd is trying to get out of the market, as that is when the deals are to be had. In other words, he was advocating a contrarian philosophy of investing, which requires one to disregard conventional wisdom in favor of the unconventional type. It is not always easy to do or else everyone would do it, but it pays rich dividends.

And it takes guts to think and act counter to popular culture also. When the American Dream is defined as owning your home and you opt out to try a different mode of living it can cause people to question your sanity. I know because we’ve experienced it. While most of our loved ones have been supportive of the transitional lifestyle we embarked upon about three years ago, some simply didn’t get it, and that’s okay. But the rub comes when you step out to follow your dreams anyhow.

When I was asked in college by a fraternity brother during the initiation process to describe myself in two words, I replied: “conservatively unorthodox,” and I still think that comes pretty close to capturing it. Standing out isn’t that hard to do if you are willing to question assumptions and challenge the status quo. As the saying goes: “it’s hard to fly with eagles when you flock with turkeys” [and are too chicken to try].

Speaking of fowl, I am reading a profoundly insightful book called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and he writes: “Not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking. You stand above the rat race and the pecking order, not outside of it, if you do so by choice…You have far more control over your life if you decide on your criterion by yourself.” Amen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Enough Is Enough

There is a story that author Kurt Vonnegut once informed his friend and fellow author Joseph Heller at a party that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 [which sold more than 10 million copies] over its whole history. To which Heller was said to respond, “Yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of enough is: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” What that looks like for each of us depends on our own specific situations but it is probably safe to say that the answer lies somewhere shy of where we think it does.

The tell tale sign that we Americans don’t think we own enough is our national obsession with shopping. For example, the average American makes 38 trips to a mall every year, spending an average of $83.30 per visit, or $1.01 per minute spent at the mall. And with an Internet connection we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our homes to rack up the debt, which Americans do to the tune of $8,000 on credit cards alone.

Referring to the iconic World War II era Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom from Want,” David Kamp writes in Vanity Fair: “It was freedom from want, not freedom to want—a world away from the idea that the patriotic thing to do in tough times is go shopping. Though the germ of that idea would form shortly, not long after the war ended.” Wherever we are on the consumer scale we need to try wanting less and enjoying the bounty that is ours. Enough is enough.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Living a Legacy

I am reading a book about the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and it appears that he qualifies for the billionaire bad boy club by sharing the unenviable trait of being both a genius and a jerk. I hesitate to use such strong language but I am fed up with reading the life stories of so called “successful” businessmen who bullied their way to the top while leaving a path of destroyed relationships in their wake.

Bezos didn’t kick a partner to the curb like Steve Jobs of Apple did with Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates of Microsoft did with Paul Allen but he has apparently alienated scores of others who helped get Amazon off the ground while making billions in the process of laughing [his infamous laugh] all the way to the bank. But what he and his ilk don’t realize is theirs is not the last laugh. The lives we leave behind determine our legacy so how we live is what matters. It is the foolish that think it better to be feared than loved.

In full disclosure, I am a big fan of Apple products and actually cried the day Steve Jobs died, but it grieved me more to read in his official biography how poorly he treated people. And the first software I got for my Apple computer was Microsoft’s Office for Mac but I find it profoundly ironic that Bill Gates is now globetrotting as a philanthropist after helping himself to Apple technology that he later used to monopolize the software industry. I also happen to be a fan of Amazon and hope Jeff Bezos learns to live a legacy worth leaving before it is too late.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Heart of Art

As part of our celebration of my 50th birthday the other day my wife and I visited the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Frist Center in Nashville and loved it. According to the exhibit, Rockwell was hailed as a “contemporary Currier and Ives” and “Dickens with a paintbrush” and was heralded for the realism and idealism of his portrayals of simple, small town life in America.

One of my favorite Rockwell paintings, which was not part of the exhibit but hangs at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is the painting of his adopted hometown at Christmastime, which is pictured above. It speaks to me of the beauty of New England, the Christmas holiday, and small town living in general. Rockwell’s ability to capture the essence of any setting was unparalleled, but home even more so.

Rockwell was a master of his craft and as an artist he inspires me to create with heart the type of art that uplifts people and moves them toward their better selves. To me the artist’s legacy is so much more than the impressive quantity of his artwork; it is also the quality of the art he created with such attention to detail. Some may criticize Rockwell’s work as crass commercialism, but I think he preferred people to products and it showed in his portrayal of them.