BECOMING MORE FREE
This is an autobiographical reflection on
freedom in my own life.
At each turning point in my life,
I have exercised progressively more
I hope my story will help others to become more free.
3. EARLY CAREER
5. LIVING EVERY
DAY IN COMPLETE FREEDOM
6. FREEDOM IN
7. FREEDOM IN
BECOMING MORE FREE
by James Leonard Park
When I was still a child, I had almost no freedom
in the sense of making free decisions about my life.
I was mostly the product of my genes and environment.
I can remember wanting to be like the other people
I wanted to wear jeans to school
because that is what all the other
boys were wearing.
I did not want to be odd or out-of-step with the others.
Later this desire to 'fit in' diminished and eventually disappeared.
I no longer try to conform to any set pattern of appearance and
Rather, I am pleased when it becomes clear that I am not conforming.
Do you remember moments in childhood when
freedom was emerging?
Perhaps it was first merely a rebellion against authority.
But later, even as a child, were you beginning to invent yourself
in the process of making free choices?
Can you identify any important turning-points in childhood
when you decisively began to use your freedom?
Somewhere in the process of becoming more adult,
I have developed a strong capacity to resist social pressures.
I could have gone in the other direction,
fulfilling the expectations of my culture for what an adult is supposed
I went thru many years of education because it was
expected of me.
I just never considered dropping out of school
and doing something else with these years of my life.
But I used my years of education
for purposes beyond the expectations of my
For example, I began my college education in the
Institute of Technology
at the University of Minnesota, planning to become an electrical
I knew from my high school education that I was good in the sciences.
And this seemed to be a good career-path for me to follow.
If I had followed that prescribed path,
I would have spent my adult life in jobs
that called upon the abilities I learned in that technical training.
But in the middle of my four years of college,
I decided to change my career-path radically:
I decided to become a minister
rather than an engineer.
So I switched my major from engineering to philosophy.
I did not tell my family about this change
until after I had already moved into what is now the College of Liberal
I do not think there was any pressure on me to make
But I see that I was selecting one of the career-paths
that was ready-made before I came along.
What it meant to be a Methodist minister was well defined.
Four years of college were required,
followed by three more years in seminary to earn a Master of Divinity
I followed this new path by exercising my developing freedom
to choose among the alternatives before me.
Perhaps you also had a radical change of direction
In those years of preparing,
did you make important decisions
that shaped the rest of your life?
3. EARLY CAREER
After I got my MDiv from Union Theological Seminary,
I followed the expected path into the ministry of the United Methodist
I served two rural churches in Minnesota
while at the same time being Methodist Campus Minister
to two colleges in Northfield, Minnesota
Carleton College and St. Olaf College.
These were free choices in many respects.
But I was still to some degree following a career-path
that existed before I decided to go that way.
After one year in this Methodist ministry,
I announced that my second year would be my last.
I wanted a full-time campus-ministry position.
And if that could not be provided, I would create my own.
No such position was offered,
so I stepped down from my two jobs without any offers of new
Looking back on this retirement about 40 years later,
it does seem to be a courageous choice,
a dramatic exercise of freedom going beyond any prepared path.
When you look at changes in your own employment
were these choices manifestations of your freedom?
4. FREE-LANCE LIFE
Since that retirement at age 27, I have not held any
other full-time jobs.
So my career lasted only two years.
Since then I have done things that seemed right and meaningful to me.
I started by teaching in the Minnesota Free University,
an activity I had already tried in small ways while I was in
Both Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges had small free universities,
which were run by the students—without credit, tests, grades,
Each class I offered in the Minnesota Free
University was invented by me.
There were no established classes that I stepped into,
which would have been the case
if I had taught in any ordinary
I offered classes in subjects that interested me.
Some classes did not draw enough people to make them viable.
But most did prove to be meaningful for everyone involved.
It was in the process of offering these Free
that I began to write my books.
I also offered adult education classes in some other organizations.
This was a very free time of my life.
And I was never tempted to return to
one of the career-paths that already existed.
The teaching dimension of my life largely
when the apartment building where I was living burned,
which destroyed the means of carrying on that dimension of my life.
But I was able to recover copies of all of my book then in print or in
And since then, reading and writing have been the
main activities of my life.
The books I produced were not expected
Some have been ignored by everyone who learned about them.
But some of my books have continued to sell ever since they were first
The readers continue to make a free choice to read what interests them.
And I have produced additional editions of all of the books that have
(Here is the index of all of my
books in print.)
Have you ever steped completely outside the
career-paths available to you?
Are you creating a pattern of life that did not exist before you
5. LIVING EVERY DAY IN
I began to write this cyber-sermon
as a way to encourage others to exercise their freedom.
But it has turned into a kind of short account of my life.
However, it does illustrate the power of freedom at every turning point
in my life.
I have decided what to do with my life every day.
When I wake up in the morning, there are no requirements.
I have been retired since age 27.
This means that my time
belongs to me.
I am free to pursue whatever purposes seem meaningful to me.
The expectations of other people do not shape how I spend my
I can evaluate each hour of my life:
Was this hour well spent?
In every present moment as it passes, I can ask:
Am I doing what I want to be doing with my life?
Am I pursuing meanings I have chosen for myself?
How free are you in your daily life?
Is there a list of duties
waiting for you in the morning?
Or does each new day offer more opportunities to actualize
6. FREEDOM IN LOVING
Another dimension of my freedom manifests itself in
my personal relationships.
Until I was about 25 years of age,
I had assumed that I would get married and have a family.
I postponed those dimensions of my life until I had my career-path
But then I began to question that expectation as well:
Why do people get married?
I have had a variety of good loving relationships during my life.
But I have never come close to getting married.
Freedom also characterizes my personal relationships.
I have written about keeping love free in my book entitled
New Ways of
Loving: How Authenticity Transforms Relationships.
There is even a chapter called "Loving in Freedom:
Choice and Flexibility instead of Security and Obligation".
Loving relationships do require meaningful amounts
but if we keep our relationships free of patterns and obligations,
we can love in freedom,
which is a theme of the book just mentioned.
How free are you in your personal relationships?
Do the people close to you represent obligations and duties?
Or do you freely wish to be with them because of the values you create
7. FREEDOM IN RELIGION
Over the years, my forms of spirituality have also
I can now look back on a period of my life when I was a committed
But after I retired from the Methodist ministry,
my views gradually became more liberal.
I joined the Unitarian Universalist movement,
where my views have continued to evolve.
Because this is a creed-free movement,
it has not been necessary for me to change my religious affiliation
whenever I shifted my thinking about religious matters.
My religious thinking is not shaped by any institutional
I am free to change my religious views as much as I please
for the rest of my life.
Do you also have religious freedom?
Or does your participation in some organized religion set limits on
In what ways have you already departed from the faith of your
What new changes do you foresee in your religious evolution?
Work, love, & religion are three major
And in my case, I have been able to choose my own paths for all three
without following any of the expectations
that were present in my culture before I came along.
Human freedom is not an
automatic capacity of all
Rather, we are born with the capacity to develop freedom.
In what degrees does your
life story illustrate human freedom?
Since retiring at age 27, James Park has been
as an independent existential philosopher,
reading, writing, teaching, creating, sharing information on the
In freedom, he shapes every day of his life.
Here are three related on-line essays by James Park:
The Positive Side of Existentialism
Contribution to the World .
Am I Spending this Hour Well?
created June 12, 2005; revised
2-29-2008; 3-8-2008; 5-8-2008; 1-5-2009; 5-7-2010; 6-18-2011;
If you would like to
see a course description
for a seminar on Authenticity, go to:
Go to the EXISTENTIALISM
Go to other
cyber-sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.
Go to the Unitarian
Universalist Campus Ministries page.
Go to the UNITARIAN
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