Gardening: The Inverted Metaphor

I have heard people say that many of the parables in the Bible are lost on today’s society because we are so separated from the food production process. They say that most people do not understand the parables because they have never grown anything. But I think it’s worse than just that. I believe there is much wisdom that our society never has access to because we don’t understand how life works.

Unfortunately, we are so arrogant that we think we do know how life works. And that’s why I’m calling gardening the “inverted metaphor.” We think that the wisdom we have access to in our time is real life and that things like parables are the metaphors. But from my perspective, it’s actually the other way around. Our wisdom is not based on truth and because the reality of living, growing, reproducing life is so constant, our modern understanding of wisdom is nothing but a metaphor to that reality. And often a false metaphor at that.

Gardening

Our Ignorance

Ten years ago I was a volunteer at Armond Bayou Nature Center. I did several jobs while I was there, most of them were in the area of education. I lead tours and helped out with the classes (Ruby said I was a natural handling the animals). I remember several times, taking bus loads of students through the farm area of the center and showing them the garden. It was surprising just how little our children today know where their food comes from.

Not only were the children not able to recognize everyday produce, but they were also grossed out by the mere idea that they could eat something that came from the dirt. Bus load after bus load of these students could not tell you that carrots, potatoes and peanuts come from under the ground. They don’t know that beans and peas grow in pods. They don’t know that corn grows in stalks like grass. The man who ran the garden back then made a comment once about how less than ten percent of the children who come through the farm area know even the slightest thing about where the food they eat comes from.

That was ten years ago. Today, most of those children are either college students or in the work force already. They are now involved in our lives, with responsibilities that either directly or indirectly effect all of us. And they know nothing of real life!

Cut Off From the Wisdom

I am not suggesting that those students are alone in their ignorance. Not at all. This malady effects all civilized people. The strength of civilized society is that work is divided in a way that each job is done by someone who is skilled at that job. In less civilized societies, the people have to do everything themselves. But in civilization, we have a division of labor that is 1,000 times more efficient than if we all had to do every job ourselves to survive.

So yes, we are all ignorant of real life to some degreebecause we live in a civilized society. This means that, if we are to ever grasp the wisdom that comes with the knowledge and understanding of how real lifeworks, then we have to actively pursue that knowledge and understanding.

It’s Called “Gardening”

Gardening is real lifein action. Growing a garden is how modern day, civilized people tap into the wisdom that we are otherwise cut off from. The plants we grow in our gardens are genuine living organisms. Because I know that the plants are real, that the life they live is real, how can I see them as metaphors to the problems we face on a daily basis? Most of those problems are not real. Well, not real in t he sense that a living, growing plant is real.

The way things work in our social lives, in our business lives, in our personal lives, these things work LIKE real life does. Not the other way around. If you want to tap into the wisdom that will make your business life better, grow a garden! If you want the wisdom that leads to a happier marriage, grow a garden! Last but not least, if you want to understand the wisdom Jesus was communicating through His parables, grow a garden! Learn how real life works by spending time learning how to grow a garden, and it will enhance every aspect of the way you live.

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Popular vs. Highly Regarded

It’s no secret. I’m not a very popular person, and that seems on the surface to be a bit of a paradox. How does someone make a living for three decades as a professional musician without being popular?

But I believe there is a huge difference between being popular and being highly regarded. Somewhere along the line, in American culture, we lost sight of that difference.

Proverbs 22:1 says that “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” This along with several other verses in the Bible suggest that a good reputation is one of the most valuable things anyone could ever poses, more valuable than “great riches.”

popular vs highly regarded

But is someone who has a good name also automatically popular?

I don’t believe so. In fact, I believe that one of the things that makes someone highly regarded is when he or she has the courage to make unpopular decisions.

What’s the Difference?

How do you know the difference between being popular and being highly regarded?

I think the best way to see the difference is to ask yourself, which would you rather have at your party and which would you have perform your heart surgery? If your life was hanging by a thread, would you want the most popular doctor to do your surgery, our would you prefer the one who everyone regards as the best in the field?

Popular people are the ones we enjoy being around because they say the right things, and act the right way. They make everyone around them feel good and help them have a good time. Popular people are wonderful at parties. They will cheer you up when you are feeling blue. They tend to be very charismatic and bubbly and you just feel good when they are around.

In contrast, I think most highly regarded people don’t care much about stuff like that. Those who are regarded as the best of the best at what they do tend to not really care if people like them or not (in a social sense that is). They stand in confidence knowing that they have that other value, you know, the one that is greater than riches.

Popularity tends to be shallow and the people who are popular tend to disappoint in the long run. They are less reliable. They are not so good at what they do, and when push comes to shove, they are not the ones you would hire when you need the best.

But a highly regarded person, even though he may be cold, cocky and being around him may make you feel uncomfortable, you wouldn’t want anyone else to do that work for you if that work really matters.

In My Music Career

I feel that I have always been more on the highly regarded side of the music industry, not on the popular side. That is by design. I have never cared much for popularity. In fact, for most of my life I have considered it an insult for someone to say that I am popular. I have always desired to be that person people go to when they need someone who will make the unpopular decisions.

This difference in my approach to the music industry permeates my entire attitude. I tell people all the time that I see myself as a servant. I have never desired popularity. I have never wanted more people to “like me.” What I desire instead is for people to know they can count on me when they need me.

That’ s why I dress the way I dress. That’s why I practice the way I practice. That’s why I write the way I write. Every aspect of my career is derived from my desire to serve.

Not Your Typical Music Business Model

I know that this makes me something of an odd duck in the music industry. Musicians tend to be glory seekers (and yes I know this is an over-generalization). They love the spotlight. They love the attention. And the music industry is built around the hero worship that fuels the musicians’ narcissism.

But I am proof that being popular is not the only way to make a living in music. My business model is a service oriented model. It puts YOU above me, not the other way around. I do not desire your praises. I would much rather compliment others than to be complimented myself. I don’t need applause to feel like I am appreciated. I don’t need public adoration. I am satisfied knowing that I provided the service or products you needed and that my work made a difference in your life.

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New CD Now In Production

After a series of setbacks and distractions, Pearl and I finally submitted our CD project to the duplicators. The arrival date is estimated to be the second week of September.

I am very excited about this CD. I’ve been listening to it, partly because I needed to and partly because I actually like what we’ve done with it.

CD cover art for a jazz recording I (Eddie Lewis) did in El Paso with Ruben Gutierrez, Erik Unsworth and Ricky Malichi.

CD cover art for a jazz recording I (Eddie Lewis) did in El Paso with Ruben Gutierrez, Erik Unsworth and Ricky Malichi.

I remember reading that Miles Davis never listened to his own recordings. He was adamant about it, and I think a lot of jazz musicians like to follow his example. I’m not one of them. First of all, we live in the “indie” era. Miles had the luxury of never listening to his recordings because he was signed with major labels that did all of the other work involved in publishing a new release.

Today, we have no such luxury. If you want to put out a great product, then there must be hours and hours of listening. I actually spend weeks planning the correct song order, listening to the tracks, over and over again, until I find that perfect sequence. Then there are about five other steps along the way that require me to listen to the CD repeatedly. The last of which is to check the “disk image” one last time before uploading to the duplicators.

So yes, I have listened to A Not So Distant Pass many times now, and I like it. And that’s another point I wanted to make. I cannot confidently invest so much time, effort and MONEY into a project that I don’t like. I mean, really, who has resources to just waste like that? So yes, I like this CD. I had reservations at first because, ironically, I was NOT having a good day when we recorded (I’ve already written about that here). But how someone feels has very little to do with how the performance goes. So yeah, I think this has turned out to be a fine recording.

More To Come

So far this is our second CD, the first being the Vintage Trumpet Treasures recording. There is already another CD in the can, waiting to be mixed, mastered, etc. That CD is called Rivers of Life and no, I’m not going to try to predict when it will be done. Ha!!! I’m not making that mistake again.

You know, in a way, I am breaking all the rules with these recordings. The biggest rule I am breaking is the one that says you need to have a consistent sound so your fans know who you are and what to expect from future recordings. All three of the CDs we’ve done so far and completely different from each other. And no, there is no guarantee that if you like one you will like the others. But I’m not trying to build a fan base. I’m not part of that market. That’s not what these CDs are for.

Remember that I believe our music should be true to who we are. I believe in what I call “musical honesty.” And who I am as a musician is so multifaceted, it would be wrong for me to try to now restrict “my sound” to something less than what it is.

Anyway, I am getting carried away here. This was just supposed to be a quick announcement, a heads up to let you know that the CD is on its way. We are excited about it and I hope you will be as well.

But this is not the official announcement. I’m working on that separately. I’ve asked my good friend Rob Alley to review the CD and I’ll be posting that review soon along with a track by track description of the tunes and stories about the session and the concept behind the CD.

Until then, be blessed and let God’s peace rule in your lives!

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Why Doing Business on Facebook Is a Bad Idea!

I get it. Business has forever been changed by social media. Without it, a free-lance musician or budding business owner has no chance of success. So yes, I do more Facebook than I would like. It’s how we stay connected in this new age.

So I do the whole facebook thing. I connect with friends and family and let people know what we are up to. And I post pictures and stuff. I have my blog publish straight to Facebook and other social media. I do this, not because I like it, but because I have to.

Facebook

Yes, I Like Facebook!

I do like it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t just like Facebook, I love it. What better way for an extreme introvert like me to stay connected with all of my “friends?”

But I’m not a hedonistic person. I’m not the kind of guy who just does whatever I LIKE to do. In fact, being a man of principal, I prioritize what I HAVE to do over what I like to do because of the love that I have for the people in my life. A person who places his or her own “likes” over and above other people’s “needs” is a selfish, unloving, evil person.

So yes, if it weren’t for the fact that I have to use Facebook as part of my business, I would hardly ever be on it. Without the “need” for Facebook, it would be one thing on a very long list of other things that I “like” but deny myself out of love for my family, friends and people who have come to rely on my in my business life.

But Doing Business on Social Media?

As much as I like Facebook, and as much as I know I “need” to use it in my business, I still think that doing business on Facebook is a very bad idea.

I remember when the primary business medium shifted from phone calls to email and there were a lot of stubborn naysayers who, like me with Facebook, resisted that switch. Even today there are still people who insist on doing business over the phone. But this is different. Email is actually more reliable than phone calls. There is less distortion  in the information chain.

With email, I have a very organized system of processing emails when the come in. I have a set time during the work day when I sit down and sort through my emails and flag them the way they need to be flagged and file them where they need to be filed. Every business email goes into its appropriate folder so I can always go back to it when I need to.

And that’s my point, is that email is setup in a way that you CAN be organized with it. You can be methodical and take care of business in a controlled setting.

Doing business on Facebook is no better than doing business on someone else’s gig, or doing business with someone when you bump into them at the mall. It’s very difficult to keep track of everything anyone has ever said.

Quirky Notifications

Facebook also has a very quirky notification system. I believe in responding to messages within 24 hours from when I receive them. The exception being the weekends because I cannot always get to my computer when I’m out. But I have over 1,300 “friends” on Facebook. Just for that reason alone, a business message on Facebook can get buried in a matter of minutes.

But to make matters worse is that sometimes Facebook won’t even notify its users. Even if you have all of your notifications turned on (and I have mine sent to even email me when I have a notification – once again because I feel like I have to), if you have Facebook open in your browser, it sometimes thinks that you have already seen the notification.

Temporary vs. Permanent

Also consider the fact that Facebook is constantly updating the way they do things. So there is no reason to believe, even if you set everything up perfectly, that you will always receive important notifications in the future.

Email, on the other hand, is a lot more permanent than something like Facebook. Especially today when email has become so much more reliable than it was ten years ago.

The Risk of Error

There is also a potential risk on Facebook that private stuff may become public, not necessarily due to maliciousness of the system (as many conspiracy theorists would think), but more likely due to our own mistakes. Most business should be done in private.

And that reminds me. I think sometimes people do business on other people’s Facebook walls as a way to show off or to advertise. But that is in extremely poor taste. It is a very bad practice to work that way. I would even go as far as to say that it is borderline narcissistic.

Virtual Schizophrenia

I am also very much opposed to virtual schizophrenia. It makes no sense to me to be communicating to business clients through ten different mediums. Text messages, phone calls, voice mails, email, Facebook, twitter, myspace, blog comments, Youtube: how can one man keep up with all of that? You can’t! Not without going nuts.

I tell people that nothing is final with me unless I get an email. I DO NOT MIND when initial contact is made via other mediums, but the actual business needs to be handled through email.

Setting a Standard

We are the pioneers of this technology. It is up to us to decide what the cultural norms are in this context. I encourage everyone who reads this to do their part in moving those norms in a direction that utilizes the power of that technology in the most logical and efficient manner possible. And that means making it standard practice to use email for business, not messages from random social media sources.

Which concludes my music business rant for the week.

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My Literacy Story

This is a story I was going to send to Jacqui Sutton privately, but then I realized that other people may enjoy reading it. It’s not something I talk about much, and most people would probably never know this about me.

A Close Call

Most people don’t know that I almost didn’t graduate from high school. My sophomore year at Andress High School (North East El Paso) was on a trimester system, but we switched to a semester system my junior year. Unfortunately, I failed one of the three trimesters of English. Officially, they were supposed to average the three grades and decide what to do with me from there.

No problem! With the three classes averaged, I easily made the pass mark. However, my counselor had other plans. He thought it would be good for me to repeat sophomore English.

And the result?

Well, I outright failed sophomore English the second time around! How do you like those apples? And this posed a bit of a problem. I had one year to meet the minimum requirements for graduating from high school. If I didn’t pass sophomore English the third time around, during my senior year, I would have had to do the whole GED thing later (I think that’s the way it worked back then).

Photo by Pin Lim - Forest Photography

Photo by Pin Lim – Forest Photography

Grammar, Grammar, Grammar

Thanks to a wonderful teacher named Ms. Patnaude, I finally passed my third year of grammar. I just cleared the basic requirements for graduation…by the skin of my teeth. Of course, by that time, the damage had already been done.

NOTE: You know, before I move forward with this story, I should stop here and clarify that I don’t blame anyone but myself for what happened. I don’t blame my counselor. I don’t blame my teachers. No one! I blame myself for skirting so close to the line.

I wasn’t just three years behind on my English. I was genuinely illiterate. I missed two very important years of my education and I knew it. The only reason I was able to go to university was because my math scores on the SAT made up for my terrible English scores. But that meant when I got to UTEP that first semester, I had to take the idiots’ English class. You know the one I’m talking about….the one that doesn’t even count towards a degree! Not English 101, but English 001.

And guess what we did in that class!!!

Grammar!!!

The Stigma

Because of my close call, almost not graduating from high school, I spent the first half of my adult life seeing myself as an illiterate person. For that reason, I took my English studies VERY seriously. In fact, I took them so seriously that I dropped the first core English course (the first one that counts towards the degree) three different times. I did this because I knew English was a problem for me and I didn’t think I was going to get what I needed from those classes. That’s how serious I was about working on my reading and writing.

I do believe I had a few different reading disorders. I remember one time checking out a book from the library that listed dozens of reading disorders and there were several that I had struggled with for a long time. The best example from the book I can remember is a disorder that causes the student to see rivers of white flowing down the page instead seeing of the words. I have vivid memories from when I was a child of having to look away from the page, blink, shake my head, and do my darnedest to see the words and not the white space between them. (Ha! Perhaps this is why I still don’t like justified paragraphs today.)

I was a slow reader and had low comprehension, etc. but I wasn’t going to just accept that.

Taking Initiative

Instead of just accepting that I was an idiot, I did things to “fix the problem.” I forced myself to do a lot of reading. I also did a lot of writing. I graduated from high school in 1982 and began journaling in 1984. I wrote in my journal religiously until my divorce in 2004.

One of my biggest problems was always (and still is) the spelling. So I put into place several daily habits that would help me make improvements in that area over the years. Probably the most important of those habits was making myself look up the words I didn’t know. Simple enough, right? Well, it’s agonizing when you know you’ve looked that same word up dozens of times already. Yet, it must be done. When something doesn’t come natural, something important, like a necessary life skill, you have to take measures to insure that you eventually get it right.

Also, in the mid 90’s I began writing trumpet books. Granted, my method books don’t tend to have a lot of text in them, but I felt like I was really sticking my neck out to self publish when I KNEW I was still illiterate. Indeed, that first book was horrendous, but that didn’t matter. I knew I needed to take a chance if I was going to grow and learn.

I’ve Come a Long Way

Today I don’t see myself as being illiterate anymore. I’ve written articles for ITG, for the Texas Chapter of IAJE, for Jazz Houston and a list of other online publications. Then of course there is my blog and our other websites. So I get a lot of practice.

It wasn’t until recently that I got around to finishing those first two college English classes. Pearl and I were playing with the idea of me finishing my degree so I signed up for a couple of online courses. You cannot imaging how validating it was when the teacher, in response to one of my assignments, asked me if I was a professional writer.

Yes, I have come a long way. I’m not saying that I think I am a great writer. I am still a work in progress. Always growing. Always striving for something better. But I’ve covered enough territory now that I can look back and confidently say that I am no longer illiterate.

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Envy and Fairness

I know it has been a very long time since I wrote one of my “Love Is” posts. In fact, it’s been over a year and a half – basically since I started writing music for Jazz Forever. But now it’s time to get back into it. I started this series because I felt the Holy Spirit leading me in that direction. That I hadn’t finished the series yet was something that had begun to bother me, to prick at my conscience. So here we go. We were in the middle of exploring envy…

I took this picture on a gig I did with David Caceres in California.

I took this picture on a gig I did with David Caceres in California.

“Fair” Is a Hateful Word

My moral compass and ethical values are often at odds with the rest of the society I live in. There are so many things that American culture believes in that I do not, and this is one of those things. People see fairness as a good thing, but the only time I’ve ever seen the word used was when someone wanted more for themselves. They see what other people have and believe it is not “fair” that they do not have the same. If it is love to not envy others, then this makes fairness a hateful word. Let’s revisit the definition of envy a bit before we explore fairness.

My copy of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists the definition of envy as a “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”

Think back to all the times you have ever heard someone say “it’s not fair” and ask yourself how envy played a role in that scenario. In one of Jesus’ parables, the characters of the parable complained about fairness. In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells the story about laborers who worked in a vineyard. Each one agreed to work for one denarius. But the workers each started at different times of the day. When it came time to pay them, those who had been working all day complained when they received the same pay as those who only worked a couple hours. Verse 13 says, “But he answered one of them, I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?

Unfair?

Was it unfair that the workers were all paid the same if they each agreed to that wage before they began? As someone who is working towards being a small business owner, I can see in my mind various scenarios when I might do the same as the landowner in the parable. If I have a deadline and that deadline runs a risk of not being met, I could see myself going out to find people to help me pull it off at the last minute. And yes, I would be willing to offer the last minute workers a generous wage in exchange for their help. So no, it really is not unfair at all.

For almost ten years now I have been observing the way people use the word “fair.” Without exception, it is always in a context of envy and selfishness. When someone says, “I only want what’s fair,” they are saying that what they have right now is not as wonderful as what someone else has. And they want more. They want at least as much as the next guy.

All I Have Is Yours

Another famous parable is the one about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). People tend to miss one very important detail at the end of the story when the father tells his eldest son, “everything I have is yours.” When you look at the story with that detail in mind, it takes on a bit of a different meaning.

Here is someone who did everything right, and because of that, he’s going to have land and wealth. But he thinks it is unfair that his screw-up of a brother is getting a party…because HE never got a party.

And that’s how fairness works. When you limit the scope of your thinking to the shallowest level, all you can see is that one brother got a party and the other did not. Then it looks unfair.

But real life is more complicated than just that. Genuine fairness is not a straight forward issue.

Gigging World Fairness

I know people in the music industry who believe that it is only fair that all the members of a band should get the same pay. And we want to be fair, right? So let’s say I hire a band to play a wedding reception and I pay everyone $150. That’s fair, right?

I think most people, without giving it much thought, will say that this is fair. But what about the fact that the drummer has to be at the gig three hours early to setup? Is it fair to him that he gets the same pay as the trumpet player who can show up only minutes before the downbeat and can leave seconds after the last note? When you consider this difference, do you still think it’s fair that the drummer only gets $150.

What about the bass player who paid $30,000 for his bass and was forced to buy a larger vehicle to transport it? He also needs to show up to the gig earlier than the horn players. Is it fair that he only get’s $150 for the gig?

And what about the piano player who is in such high demand that he could have played a gig that night for $300? Let’s say this is my favorite piano player and I REALLY want him on the gig. Is it truly “fair” for me to pay him $150? Isn’t it MORE fair that I pay him at least as much as he would make gigging with someone else?

Abuse of the Word

As you can see, fairness is not a straight forward issue. What is considered by us to be fair in one context will not be anywhere near fair in another context.

Unfortunately, some people use this flexible fairness dynamic to manipulate others in order to get what they want. That’s where the issue of envy comes into the picture. Fairness has become a tool people use to exercise envy.

If we are to love others, according to 1 Corinthians 13, then we should never be caught saying something like, “I only want what is fair.”

I know that this is a very difficult pill for many modern thinking people to swallow. We have been taught that we “deserve better.” We are taught that fairness is the ultimate goal in life. We are taught to fight for fairness because it is the ultimate right.

And maybe things weren’t all that different in Jesus’ day. Why would he need to share parables about fairness if things were different? His message through those parables was that the Kingdom of Heaven is NOT fair. Righteousness is not fair. If we all got what we deserved, then we would all rot in hell. It is ONLY through His grace that we can say we are saved.

And if we are Christian and we say we are saved, then we cannot go through life acting as if we deserve as much as the next guy. 1 Chorinthians 13 says love does not envy. So fairness should not be an issue to us if we are saved. We have all the riches of our Heavenly Father stored up for us. We don’t need to become petty, trying to fight for what is ours.

Fairness as a Warning Sign

When you catch yourself complaining about fairness, use that as a warning. Warn yourself that you have just stepped over the line. When you whine about fairness, and complain when others have an “advantage that you desire to possess,” let that be a loud warning to tell you that you are being envious…and envy is a form of hatred (because the absence of love is hate).

I know it’s difficult. I’m not going to lie and say that I always get it right. I’m not here to tell you that I live a completely righteous life and therefore you must do like me. No! God forbid! I am far from perfect myself. I need God’s grace just as much as anyone else. So do not take this post as a condemnation of you. I don’t even know, as a write these words, who will eventually read them. So no, I am not condemning you. Instead, I am the one cheering you on towards a more righteous life. And yes, it can be done. We can all improve. We can all make changes that move us in the right direction.

So my purpose here, on this page, is to show you that whining about fairness is a fruit of envy. If you can see that in your own life, then you have the understanding you need to take the next step forward…forward in love. The famous “Love Is” list does NOT say, “love is fair.”

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Squirrel Suite

It is not uncommon for students to walk into our home studio with a smile on their faces. When I ask what they are smiling about, more often than not, it is the squirrels.

Here is a collection of squirrel pictures that Pearl and I have collected from around the Houston area. Most of these are from our yard, but not all of them.

This montage of squirrel pictures is dedicated to our Port Elizabeth neighbor, Jean Artico.

NOTE: To see the pictures as a slide show, click on one of the pictures.

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