Monday, March 13, 2017

Titans and Heroes

Like so many of you, I have become a bit of a podcast junky. So much amazing content is being made available so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Of course, we all have certain shows that just can’t come out fast enough. We listen as soon as they drop and we eagerly await what’s next. For me that list includes both The Tim Ferriss Show, which I just assume you know, as well the Jordan B. Peterson channel, where this brilliant, and recently controversial, professor from the University of Toronto posts recordings from his lectures. 

This week, a friend and I drove from Tampa to Austin Texas for SXSW. That’s not a short drive so we had plenty of time to get in some podcasts. When we left we cued up the most recent episode from each and a thought that has been brewing for some time solidified in my mind as I listened to these two episodes back to back. In short, Tim Ferriss is doing what Jordan Peterson is describing. It’s brilliant and desperately needed. 

The Hero's Journey as sketched out by Joseph Campbell.
Jordan Peterson has a fascinating way of blending his work in Neuropsychology with evolutionary biology, and making a brilliant case for the rise and crucial role of mythology in the human experience. He argues that as humans evolved they would tell stories about those that had been successful in navigating the world and the social dominance hierarchies within which they existed. It was by way of symbolic representation that stories would pass on the wisdom and values of those who had gone before. These narratives would, naturally, take on religious significance and develop over time into the great mythologies of our world’s religions. The key observation here is not so much how religious traditions and myths evolved but that all of our ideologies have narrative structure and shape how we understand the world within which we find ourselves. People’s success and emotional stability depends upon the integrity of their stories.

As Peterson points out, “the first monkey to drop a stick on a snake, was very popular.” When we see someone who is particularly strong, or smart, or successful, we tell their stories. These stories help us imitate that success and strength in our own lives. Over time, one story would merge with another and less relevant details would be dropped as the story becomes more and more distilled, and a hero myth emerges that tells about the most successful and smartest person who succeeds in every imaginable scenario and so a kind of christ emerges. 

This is the archetype of success. The story of the one who has oriented themselves to the highest imaginable good and adopted the most effective means of achieving that good in whatever context they happen to find themselves in. 

This is what Tim Ferriss is doing. With over 225 podcasts he has been exploring “The Tactics, Routines and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers” as the subtitle of his most recent gem, Tools of Titans, states so clearly. Again and Again you will hear him say that these people who have excelled in one arena or another, whether gymnastics, business, investing, or chess, have more in common with one another, than with the vast majority of folks within their own arena. These folks, most anyway, and among other such patterns, set goals, have clearly defined routines, meditate, journal, and exercise. He is extracting the stories of those who have succeeded in many different dominance hierarchies and is articulating the archetype of success. If one were to extract from Tools of Titans that distilled archetype that is contained within its pages and turn that character into a single figure, and then tell that hero’s story, we would have the modern hero myth that would be sure to take on religious significance. The truth is it already has taken on such significance for the gargantuan following Ferriss has accumulated by helping to tell the story of that “first monkey to drop a stick on the head of a snake.” These stories are inspirational and instructional. As we imitate those that succeed we grow more like that figure ourselves. 

Ferriss highlights today’s Titans while Peterson points out that the stories of the past, the great hero myths, teach us about how to live in this world. They may not always describe the objective world of matter, but they describe the world of value and they teach us what matters. This is the world in which we live and we must not miss the value of the heroes and titans of both today and history, as they model the way of heroic action for tomorrow. In a time and society within which many have abandoned traditional religions as superstitious, lack meaningful rituals or systems of sacrifice, we are desperate for orientation to what is good, and right, and leads to success. Ferriss, whether conscious of it or not, is meeting what is a deep and existential need of our generation. Chuck Palaniuk’s Fight Club articulates our condition well: 

We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Just as the myths of old are spoken in response to our deepest existential questions, so the archetype emerging from the stories of Ferriss’s Titans is responding to this existential angst in our generation. Maybe you won’t be a movie star or a millionaire, but you can live well and be a success if you choose to. 

Just as Jesus told his listeners at the end of a hero story that he told, a story still told today and known as “The Good Samaritan,” a phrase implied at the end of all hero stories:

“Go and do likewise” 

Personally, I would like to thank both Ferriss and Peterson for their work. Both have served to challenge my own development and thinking. Both have helped clarify what actually matters. 
Thank you both!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Reviewing Your Year: An Annual Discipline Worth Embracing

Each year as everybody is getting excited about the holidays, I also get excited. Albeit at the same time, my excitement is about something else all together. My own seasonal ritual, an annual review! I have been developing this habit over the course of the last 6 or so years. It has been a fruitful and actually fun exercise for me and I have only become more convinced that everybody should consider such a habit. You won't believe how many incidents you will find happened this year that seem like forever ago. Other things that you were thinking about last January are still on your mind, or in process. Some things fly by, other things seem to drag on. How many balls were dropped? What unexpected events effected my trajectory? 

Below is just a quick sketch of my process. As I have been working on this year's review and shared what I am doing with a few friends, I have gotten the impression that others were both challenged and appreciative of the idea. I also feel like it's been such a gift to me that I want to share it with others. So here ya go.

It's quite simple really.
I begin by creating a new Document for the review on which I simply list the twelve months as headings. 

Once that simple template is laid I throw on some music and start digging through the year. 

Start with what is obvious. Your calendar. Go back to January and just scan through events, appointments, etc. Just use your gut. There are a lot of things that won't stand out. Though as you comb over your year, there will be things will do jump out. Add it to your Document. Typically I will just use bullet points under the months heading. If I know an exact date of something I will put it in order on the list and include the date. If it just happened over the course of that month or I don't have a date, just add it under the month. 

Typically, after scanning the calendar I will scroll through any tweets (or other social media posts) from the year. Turns out this is a great source of reflection. Things that were on your mind, and when. Things you did that you posted a picture of or comment about. Things that you did with others. Local news that you shared. Since I work with the homeless, and don't hugely differentiate between personal or professional domains of life, I will usually find and include important city council decisions, laws, protests, or other things that effect the lives of those with whom I stand. Perhaps your social media posts will help you find those environmental or world events that you should include in your own year end review. 

You want to include anything that might serve to paint the picture of the year, that will help later when it is time to sit and extract conclusions about the data you have compiled. 

I have found that scanning through my 'sent' email is quite helpful. This will include any thread that you initiated or responded to. Obviously this is most likely a large number of emails to scan through and that is exactly what your doing, just scan. Whats the subject line? who is it to? when was it sent? Just go back to January and start scrolling. As you do there will inevitably be things that jump out. Each year as I do this I start remembering people I want to follow up with, projects that I should circle back to, and many other things worth jotting down. If its something that happened in the year, put it on your list. If it's something you realize that you want to do, put it elsewhere, maybe your inbox (if you  use GTD) or to-do list. 

Read over any blogs you posted, newsletters you sent, or anything else you might have. 

Since I began doing this review process, it has only encouraged me to record things throughout the year. Something as simple as recording weigh-ins with little notes about any dietary changes. So come year end, I use that to graph the years weight changes. 

Include any data from sleep tracking that you may have. 

Flip through any journals you kept. 

Perhaps there is a relationship or two that might even be worth scrolling though texts or other messages between you. 

After this list/picture of the year is completed, review it.  Inevitably, you will already have started the reflection process as you compiled. Still, it is best to set aside a chunk of time to process the year. Typically I will print all of what I have compiled and then take it with me to retreat for a day to just chew on and process. Write all over the print out. Looking for patterns, repetition, and trajectories. 
Are there any significant overlaps between weight gains/losses and major life events? 
What about sleep habits? 
Any months seem more productive than others? Why? 

Really, once you get to this point, it's on auto pilot. I am always impressed by how much you can learn about yourself, your relationships, habits, etc. as you go through this process. 

Typically, by the last third of the day away to reflect, I will naturally turn my gaze to the year to come. What is happening next year? What do I want to record? What changes do I want/need to make in my life? Forget simple new years resolutions, this is a rich place to make objectives for the following year and write goals for the first part of that year. 

Speaking of goals, I still use the school year calendar to write them. So this year as I complete this process, objectives for next year naturally emerge from that process, and I will write spring goals for January-May. 

Goals should be SMART. 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Sensitive (as in jan-may)
This way you can review and write goals each semester throughout the year. I will usually give myself a grade, based on number of completed goals each semester. You know 93% or 84% etc. Do not allow yourself to get C's. Also you will get better at writing goals each semester so if you don't score too well the first few rounds, it may be that your not so good at writing goals as much as it could be that you are slacking off. 

Anyway, I wanted to mention goals, for a few reasons. First off, I get excited about them and can't imagine living a life without being intentional in this way. But also because these goals are another resource to comb through at the end of the year as you do your year end review. 

Thats all folks. I really hope this is helpful to someone and I wish you all a happy new year! 

Friday, May 27, 2016

"We say we came into this world, no you didn't you came out of it."

The title of this post is a quote from Alan Watts.

We are part of this world, made of the mud even. We live by her water, we breathe her air, and eventually we decompose like all other organic matter. We die and become a compost hummus, which a seed, likewise dead, falls into. And from death springs life which then proceeds toward death again. You are, as Watts has said, part of the same ink blot as every other reality that you see. A cosmic calamity and here you are, part of a beautiful opera that often hurts quite bad, as Joseph Campbell put it.

thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
-Genesis 3:19           

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reviving Old Scratch- A Review/Recommendation

So, let me begin with a confession, I have a man crush on Richard Beck. His blog Experimental Theology has been a constant source of quality thinking, prophetic challenge, and palatable/authentic Christian reflections. It would not be a stretch to say that he has served, all the way from Abilene TX, via blogspot and books, as a mentor to me. I am grateful for Richard. 

I was able to preorder his new book Reviving Old Scratch and get a hold of it before its May 1st release date. I read it immediately and loved every page. While his work is always very accessible, this one, which was dedicated to the "Men in White" at the prison where he leads a bible study, seemed to have been written with accessibility as a very clear goal. It is filled with big theological ideas and yet is written in a way that might be understood and accepted by both skeptics or conservative believers of any educational level. 

The book takes the potentially doubting and disenchanted reader on quite a journey as he makes the compelling case that we talk far too little about the Devil. Whether you're a holy ghost filled Pentecostal who sees the devil everywhere or a secular skeptic that cannot even begin to imagine what the point of such language could possibly be, I cannot recommend this book enough. 

While there are those who scoff at the very notion of a devil and others who seem to go on and on about Old Scratch, Beck does an amazing job at offering up a corrective to all. To the liberal Christian who would flatten any talk of 'spiritual warfare' to a political battle for social justice, Beck pushes you to reconsider. To the more conservative Pentecostal position that imagines disembodied spirits floating around in the sky screwing with folks, Beck offers a very biblical invitation to Reconsider. 

Whatever it is you imagine when you read passages of the NT like Ephesians 6:12,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Beck follows the tradition of Walter Wink and William Stringfellow in breathing new life and understanding into these passages that so often baffle our 21st century minds. His offering gives fresh lenses based in very concrete realities that we all experience. It presents us with a very sober interpretation of the language of scripture and the realities to which that language points. Regardless of where you stand on questions about God, the supernatural, or religion in general, this book engages the reader in a compelling reflection on evil in the world and issues a serious call to an authentic spiritual vocation of love. 

Using everything from Scooby Doo to the our feeling that we haven't had enough sleep or don't have enough time, Beck brilliantly uses our everyday realities to illuminate something we might be missing everyday. Beck's own narrative about being reintroduced to the Devil will serve any and all who would also like to make his acquaintance. Consider yourself invited.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tampa's Local Food Mythology- A 'Farm to Fable' Reflection

Cover picture by Steve Madden for original Tampa Bay Times Article 

Tampa’s foodies were sent into a frenzy last Wednesday afternoon as Laura Reiley dropped her well researched investigative report on Tampa’s ‘local’ food scene. The article pulled no punches as it ran through a litany of local restaurateurs and unveiled their fibs and fables. I deeply appreciated the unveiling of these specific places in town that have moved quite a bit beyond hyperbole and yet I also can’t help but wonder what hope there is for that longing in consumers toward which these places are appealing. For years I have been growing more and more conscious about the foods we eat and the ways in which our sourcing of food affects everything from our bodies to our planet itself. 

Whether we are consuming genetically modified products or produce that has been bathed in chemicals or flown across the planet and back before it is served to us, the idea of eating sustainably seems to become more and more of a utopian dream as time passes. As somebody who has wrestled with this tension for years I share in the pain of all of those who realized Wednesday, thanks to Reiley, that your consciences have been salved by lies and your righteous food choices have actually been something closer to naïveté and gullibility. Many have been aware of the ways that large corporations ‘greenwash’ products to make them seem more environmentally conscious in response to growing conscious consumer demands. While the consumers’ consciences do affect corporate behavior it is only insofar as the corporate profit motive, which knows no conscience, can convince consumers to buy. It seems that perhaps we expected better from our small, local corporations. 

Beyond the question of restaurant integrity though, lies a more fundamental and local question for you locally minded foodies, can local and Tampa ever be a thing? Five years ago, a friend and I did a local food experiment that has left a lasting impression on me. We had heard of folks doing a 100 mile diet in which they only ate food that had been sourced from within that distance of their doorstep. We pulled out a map of Florida and then drew out a 100 mile radius circle from my address in Ybor Heights. Half of the circle was the Gulf of Mexico and we wondered to ourselves if it could be done. Could the two of us eat only food that came from within this circle for 30 days? Within the first day of this experiment we began to realize just how difficult it was going to be. We decided to be strict and therefore not allow any salts or oils or anything else that was not 100% verifiably local. This proved to be problematic as we realized how desperately we needed to find sodium sources and finally we ended up dehydrating water from the gulf to meet this need (probably not advisable). Perhaps most difficult of all was not having coffee (obviously this extreme posture was part of the experiment that could never be sustained long term, and that’s why trade exists). In any case, we sought out local farms, neighbor’s fruit trees, and any markets that might carry local products. Needless to say it was a full time job to figure out how to eat like this. Even at the Tampa Whole-Foods, which turned out to be one of our best chances of finding something, items labeled “local” were from farms that stretched quite a bit beyond our 100 mile marker. Every time we found an item that might work we would hold our breath in anticipation as we googled the location of the farm. Occasionally, we even found a potato or zucchini that qualified. It wasn’t long before we became regulars (perhaps even annoying pests) to places like The Dancing Goat Farm or Sweetwater Farm. Here is the thing, Tampa doesn’t produce very much food. On day 6 of our experiment I posted on Facebook:

What I was realizing is just how little local resources there actually are in and around Tampa. If everyone decided they wanted to eat this way, or if for some reason the trucks stopped delivering food to our city, there would be gunfights in our gardens.

Our self published reflections on our experience eating local in Tampa.
This powerful experience came flooding back to my mind as I read Reiley’s ‘Farm to Fable’ article. I just kept thinking to myself, these false labels and lies at our restaurants are related to a kind of mythology of local food in Tampa. The idea that there could be regularly sourced and available local food at a restaurant that was not telling you ‘sorry we are all out’ more than they were delivering on your orders, is a fairytale in Tampa. 

Nobody could do better than The Refinery’s “as much as we can” posture. If everyone was honest that’s all any of us can do, and we should. We can recognize the challenges to ethically sourcing products and not throw our arms up in despair and concede that it isn’t even worth trying. Of course it is! I am glad to see these restaurants called to task on their integrity because lying about what you are selling is, well, unethical. Doing your best and being honest about that struggle, that’s admirable. 

The 'F**k Monsanto Salad' pictured in Laura's article is topped
with watercress that was grown organically, by a
working poor community,  at the Well on Florida Ave.

In the years since this local food experiment that we dubbed ‘Surviving Tampa,’ I have been working hard with my local community to grow our own produce. Planting garden after garden and forming a network of gardens throughout Tampa that we call the Tampa Eden Project, which is an initiative of The Well, a not-for-profit committed to working with and among the poor in Tampa. Gardening has fit in with our cause well as we labor alongside many who don’t have work or secure food sources and we have been trying to help demonstrate ways that we can work together to grow food. Over the last year and a half The Well community has been working with Joo Lee, a local aquapon who’s been partnering with initiatives like ours and the Sustainable Living Project to raise fish and grow produce in symbiotic relationships in aquaponic systems. While working to teach our community how to grow our own produce and tilapia he has also been developing relationships with places like Mermaid Tavern, who has recently been purchasing some of our watercress and other greens that were produced in the system. While these products are local, organic, and produced in the neighborhood by struggling neighbors, there is hardly enough to meet the demand of their every salad at this point. We are excited about the relationship though and working hard to grow more as they have been encouraging us to expand and promising to continue purchasing our produce. At this point it is a symbolic gesture toward an intention, a hope for things to come, and they are not marketing our story as there is not much to tell at this point. There is however, a seedling that is being nurtured. It means a lot to a community like ours that a local restaurant would take an interest in our work and our potential as a grower. Our community is full of people in need of earned income and Tampa is full of scarcity when it comes to local food, perhaps there is a good fit here for a potential business that creates jobs for those who most need them. Joo and Becky, one of the owners of Mermaid Tavern, have been in discussions about a potential partnership that would provide a much larger space for Joo to scale his production capacity. Joo and I have been in discussion about how this might be a great opportunity to continue our work in the community and possibly create some meaningful and gainful employment for some of those that are unemployed with whom we have been working each day. As Rebecca Krassnoski was quoted in the article as saying “I think a lot of times farmers with a good story are used as billboards.” Local, organic, food grown by a community working with Tampa’s poorest is a great story, and one that perhaps should be used as a billboard. At this point though honesty would have to say, it’s a hope, a dream, an idea that we are working toward, but even that is worth investing in. It might be one of the only ways for Tampa to take seriously its own food insecurity, lack of local production, and the need to plant and nurture righteous seedlings.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Wisdom & Will- Why do we do things we know are bad for us?

So I have just ventured into the video blog world. Here is my second video which is the first that I publicly posted. There is a link to the first, which is unlisted, at the end of the video in case you are interested. -Enjoy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Civilian Police Review Board Discussion Unveils Power Dynamics at City Hall

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Yesterday was quite the day at city hall. Below is what I shared during my public comment during the council meeting. I was just one of many citizens who turned out to demand accountability. I was so proud of everybody who came out to represent their communities. Of all who spoke, not one spoke against a review board (duh) nor in defense of Buckhorns mockery review board.
Accountability in this City is a much deeper question than a few bad apples. The problem in this city has to do with power, It's been Tampa's struggle since it's inception. People, with concentrated wealth, which...equals concentrated power, who can basically buy results and who are using physical force and violence to subdue the poor.
It's a question of power;
  • who has it?
  • who made it that way?
  • and who is it we see doing anything necessary to keep it that way?
The police are the fruit at the end of a long chain of command.
The mayor is just as much in need of accountability as are his local troops policing our neighborhoods. You see what the mayor just did, with his preemptive executive decision, demonstrates the very unilateral abusive power tactics that characterize the values that manifest themselves in abusive policing in our neighborhoods.

In fact just yesterday more 10 squad cars decended on Homeless helping Homeless to raid the place and execute a search warrant. They were looking for tax records. I'm not even that interested in the question of guilt or innocence as much as the unnecessary and overwhelming demonstration of force and the intimidation tactics used at the place run by a guy who just sued the city, forcing your hand to repeal your panhandling legislation rather than try to defend it as constitutional.

Our police need acountability, yes, but that accountability needs to be independant and have the authority to follow leads right up that chain of command.

We need to take decisive legislative action so that the few, with concentrated wealth and power in Tampa do not further enshrine their privilige in policy.

In a democracy power is supposed to be in the hands of the people. But when the people of Tampa organized to demand accountability for forces that seem to only act on behalf of the wealthy and terrorize poor communities, what did we see? Mister big shot privilege and power himself making executive decisions that mock the demands of the people AND that were meant to put you, our city council in your place.

Is this the way we are going to let power work in our city?

Power must be guided by conscience
We cannot abide a strong mayor with weak character.

So we're here today putting the whole of city gov't on Notice. The people of Tampa are uniting to take power back from those who are abusing it and to demand justice. Holding police accountable is just the beginning.

Attorneys are in here debating the charter about who has what power.... So go ahead and argue, meanwhile we will organize and remind you who it is that really holds power in a democracy.

The people of Tampa...demanding justice.

Also here are two related blogs that I posted over the last few weeks in case you want to follow along

  • First are my comments from the last council meeting discussing the revew board
  • The second is me having a bit of fun retelling events in mythological language. I enjoyed doing that and really hope you enjoy reading it too. (this post also has many links embedded in it to related news if you are trying to catch up on things)

Finally, here are links to news stories that came out yesterday about the council meeting: