Friday, February 08, 2013

I've Lost Weight!

No.  It's not what you think.  Although I've been blogging incessantly about the fresh vegetable and fruit juice I'm on -- along with members of the TJMC community -- this is not a report about the incredibly shrinking minister.  In fact, in a weird way, I'm not interested in my weight.  That's not why I'm on the fast.

I'm interested in my health -- my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  (My "relational" health, too.)  My weight is a symptom, and I'm interested in getting at the cause.

But this post actually isn't about the juice fast at all.  At least, not directly.

The other night, as I was going to bed, I was feeling overwhelmed -- weighed down by problems and pressures.  I was feeling as though my life had become too heavy.  And for some reason my not-quite-ready-for-sleep mind focused on -- of all things -- my phone. 

I found myself longing for a phone that was . . . well . . . a phone.  Just a phone.  Something to make and receive phone calls with.  Instead, I carry around with me a phone; an address book; my calendar; my e-mail; FaceBook; twitter; the internet; copies of the Bible, the Qur'an, the Bahagavad Gita, the Upanishands, a Book of Shadows, the writings of St. Francis and Brother Lawrence; a set of tarot cards and rune stones; and a host of other apps that virtually guarantee that I will never have a quiet moment to simply look up at the sky and marvel.  (No, I've got a camera with me all the time that'll turn that sense of awe into the action of trying to get a good picture of it!)

So . . . two days ago . . . I lost some weight.  I spent about half an hour unloading apps from my phone.  I dropped most of the games I'd accumulated (mostly because my kids were playing them on their devices).  I dropped some of the cool gizmos that no one really wants or needs.  I even dropped my mobile connection to FaceBook.

And I feel lighter.  It's only been a couple of days, but while I am amazed at how often I reach for my phone, it feels good to remember that I don't have that app with me anymore so I can put the phone done and just be where I am.

A fast -- whether from solid food, or from certain kinds of food, or from particular forms of media, or from specific behaviors -- as fast is just a tool to help us recognize how "heavy" we have become in our daily lives and to remind us that we have choices to make.

Some day I might even get that phone of my dreams.

In the meantime, I will bow to you . . .

In Gassho,


Thursday, February 07, 2013

Day 7

Most people are no doubt familiar with the phenomenon of the motivational poster -- a compelling image with a pithy quote intended to uplift and encourage.  One of my favorite spots (by far) on the internet is the website of Despair, Inc., makes of de-motivational products. I have whiled away many an hour perusing their posters, chortling much of the time.

I mention this because today is Day 7 of this month-long juice fast.  The end of the first week.  And this has seemed to me to be one very long week.  And to be honest and transparent, it has not gone exceedingly well, at least if by "well" I mean that I stuck to the plan day in and day out and could be used as a poster-boy for vegetable and juice fast consistency.  Nope.  I messed up.  More than a couple of times.

So I look to the beginning of Week 2 with a bit of trepidation.  Not to put too fine a point on it, I'm scared.  Well, maybe "a little nervous."  I've chosen to put my juicing journey in quite a prominent light -- these blog posts are only one way that I'm out in front on this, offering my face as the public face (in this community at least) of both the problems associated with unhealthful eating and an attempt to make deep and lasting changes.

There is a danger in this, of course.  Whenever anyone lets her or himself become identified with something like this there is the risk of over-identification.  It's easy to see that individual as somehow special or unique -- particularly courageous, for instance, or strong.  Maybe she's more profoundly spiritual, and that's why she could do something like this.  Maybe he's more grounded.  And when some leader becomes the personification of the ideal, it's easy to distance ourselves.  "Oh, I could never do that," we exclaim.  "I'm not that <whatever it is we think that person is more of than we are>."

That's one of the reasons I've chosen to be as open about my own struggles as I have been.  I'm hoping that my discouragements might end up being encouraging to others.  "Shoot!  If he can do it, anyone can!" is kind of what I'm going for.

But that leads to the other danger in this . . . the one that's got me "a little bit nervous."  What if I can't do it?  What if sometime during the rest of February I give up?  What if I decide that it's all too much for me?  Or what if it's not even a decision and I just fall flat on my face?

Well here's the secret that I realized while tossing and turning last night:  one can only fail at the end.

I'm not sure that that's the most eloquent encapsulation of my thought, but it will have to suffice.  (As Steve Martin once famously observed, "Some people have a way with words and other people . . . not . . . have . . . way.")  What I mean, to use a sporting analogy, is that one team can only be declared the loser at the end of the game.  As long as the game is still in play, it's conceivable to come back from even tremendously far behind.  And this applies here because the game is going to remain in play as long as I'm alive.

Even if I totally fall apart during this month-long juice fast . . . well . . . this month is just part of this, my 50th year breathing air, during which I've dedicated myself to getting healthy.  So there can be no declaration of failure until this whole year is over, no matter what I do or do not do during this month.  And even if I regress to my worst eating and non-exercise habits during this year, I'm committed to seeing that the entire decade of my 50s is invested in increasing wellness in body, mind, and spirit.  That mean's even a bum year won't spell failure.

All the more, of course, if we go in the other direction.  If this is true about my "blowing" a month or a year, all the more so if any particular week of this month goes awry.  Or any one day.  Or a particular meal-time.

This lesson -- that we can only fail at the end, when all's said and done -- goes hand in had with my recent post about how this moment is the beginning of the rest of our lives.  And as long as that is true, "failure" is not really possible.

I'm starting to look forward to next week!

In Gassho,


PS -- last night, while I was worrying about all of this, I remembered this demotivational notion from Despair, Inc. and smiled:

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Day Five (or is it day one?)

There is a story told in the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous about a man named Jim.  Jim was a young man who was in many ways a successful person.  He was also an alcoholic.  He'd made several trips to the asylum because of his drinking.  He'd also came into contact with the early AAers and had, at the time of this story, come to understand his problem and had managed to stay sober for quite some time.

But one day he'd had a difficult encounter with a co-worker and decided to hit the road to try to make some sales.  Along the way he stopped at a diner for some lunch, a place he'd frequented and where he thought he might also be able to make a contact and, perhaps, a sale.  He noted in his story that he'd had no thought about drinking -- he'd just ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk.  He'd eaten here several times during his period of sobriety.  Nothing wrong here at all.  Nothing to be worried about.

And then, he notes, "suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn't hurt me on a full stomach.  I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk.  I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach.  The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and pured it into more milk.  That didn't seem to both me so I tried another."

As the Big Book notes, "Thus started one more journey to the asylum for Jim." (Jim's story can be found on pages 35-37.)

Notice these parts of his story:  he'd gone into the restaurant with no thought about drinking.  No urge; no cravings.  As far as he was aware he was just going in to get some lunch. And then a thought "crossed [his] mind" -- he wasn't consciously aware of thinking this thought, he felt as though he were a passive recipient of it.  He was even conscious of a "vague sense that he was not being any too smart," but this thought that came upon him unbidden was more in charge than he was.  It's no wonder that addicts often personify their addiction.

So on Sunday I was rushing from the activities of my busiest day of the week knowing that I was on my way to take my 9 year old son to a friend's birthday party at a local pool.  I was hungry.  It was the third day of the fast so I was feeling a little depleted.  And I decided to eat a little something to "give me strength."  Instead of going to Burger King, however, I went to Food of All Nations and got some sushi.  Not a terribly unhealthy thing to do, even if it did technically break my fast.

But yesterday, coming in for a meeting of the church's executive committee, having myself, as I now realize, had an unsettling encounter with someone, I decided that it'd be okay to have another bit of sushi.  It was okay yesterday -- why wouldn't it be okay today?  But when I went in to the store they were out of sushi.  And suddenly the thought "crossed my mind" that because I'd come in to buy some food I might as well still do so, and that that chicken and linguine dinner looked fine. And so did those cheese sticks.  And as with Jim there was a "vague sense that I was not being too smart," but that vague sense couldn't argue against the stronger sense that this was somehow okay.

Of course, there's no asylum for me.  On the way home, when the urge to swing into Seven Eleven to get a couple of their giant hot dogs was particularly potent, I was able to regain control, take a swig of water, and keep driving.  A slip is not necessarily a fall, and even a fall is not necessarily failure.  There's always an opportunity in each moment to make a better choice.

A month or so ago a member of the church shared the pulpit with me and eloquently spoke about his own addiction and his powerful recovery.  We named that service, "Do You Know What Tomorrow Is?" because Mike likes to ask the question, "Do you know what tomorrow is?" and then give the answer, "it's the first day of the rest of your life."  An important lesson that can be surprisingly hard to learn.

Yet I would like to change Mike's question a little bit.  Instead of asking what tomorrow is, I'd like to ask, "Do you know what time it is right now?"  The answer, of course, will be the same, "it is the beginning of the rest of your life."  Right now.  This moment.  Choose.

So today is Day 5 of my juice fast.  It's also Day 1.  As will be tomorrow.  And each of the tomorrows after that.

In Gassho,



Sunday, February 03, 2013

I Really Don't Want to Do This, But . . .

I know that there are some people who say that they're totally okay with being overweight.  They say they have no need to conform to our culture's sick standards of beauty and that they can be comfortable in their own skin . . . no matter how much volume that skin covers.

I am not one of these people.  For as long as I can remember I've avoided looking at myself in mirrors.  So much so, in fact, that it's no longer active avoidance; it's now more a habitual neglect of them.  I just don't think about looking at myself, and when I do, I'm not happy with what I see.

I am, on the contrary, embarrassed.  Distressed.  Disgusted, even, isn't too strong a word.  Disappointed, for sure.

Remember, I'm a comic book fan from way back.  It's not just the female characters who have impossible body types!  I mean . . . have you ever taken a good look at Batman or Captain America?  So I'll cop to having my own distorted body image issues to deal with.

So why am I posting so publicly a photo of my bared basketball belly?

One answer is, because it's expected.  I keep making reference to my first vegetable and fruit juice "reboot," and the fact that I lost about fifty pounds.  I wasn't Kwai Chang Cane slim yet, nor Nightwing buff, but I sure looked different than I had at the beginning of the month.  And people noticed.  Yes, even though I've been wearing all black on Sunday mornings since I got to TJMC -- and black is supposed to be slimming, right? -- people noticed that I'd lost weight.  And since I was blogging about this experiment I had friends old and new from all over the country following my "journey."  And I can't tell you how many people asked for "before" pictures.

So here's the "before" picture.  Now you know.

The other reason for posting these pictures is to face my own disappointment, distress, embarrassment, and, yes, disgust.  There is an old saying from the Christian traditions:  God loves you just the way you are . . . and loves you too much to let you stay that way.  Whether I weigh the 305 lbs I've started this fast at, or the 175 or so that's my ultimate goal, the "me" within my body deserves my love and affection.  Certainly my acceptance.  And one way of dealing with shame is to shine light on it.

So this is what I look like under my "slimming" black pulpit attire.  I do not like what I see, but I need to be able to affirm that I like who I see.  Because if I don't there's no way I'll be able to make it through the challenges of this fast and, even more importantly, make the long-term changes this "reboot" is cleaning the decks for.

In Gassho,


Saturday, February 02, 2013

Movie Review: Food, Inc.


That's my one-word review of Food, Inc.  Wow.

If I had as many as three words they'd be:  Oh.  My.  God.

I knew that the Standard American Diet is pretty . . . well . . . sad. Yet this movie opened my eyes to just how far the ripples spread.  It's not just that my food choices affect my own personal health.  There is an interconnected chain of effects that stems from our industrialized model of food production.

Agribusiness is a term that's been used to describe the industrialization of farming.  It involves not only the increasing sale of the farming enterprise, but a serious shift in the process of farming itself.  Traditional farming follows an organic model -- grazing cows, for instance, fertilize the soil where they graze.  This makes that patch of ground ultimately more productive.  And through rotating crops and animals a cycle is developed which nurtures each and every step in the process.

Modern agribusiness, on the other hand, utilizes a factory model -- emphasizing efficiency over effectiveness.  And so we do away with grazing cattle, for instance, because it's far more efficient to pack all of the animals together into giant barns and treat them as cogs in a production line . . . a meat production line.  And since it takes a while for a cow to grow up, it makes sense to feed it a diet that will maximize growth . . . even though it's a diet that isn't natural to the cow.

The consequences of using a factory model are, roughly, two-fold.  On the one hand, more and more animals can be raised more and more quickly, making more product more readily available for lower cost.  As with the machine factory, economies of scale increase production and decrease cost.

On the other hand, imposing a mechanized model onto an organic process leads to unintended consequences.  When animals are housed in such close quarters and are not allowed their natural exercise, they are far more prone to disease.  And so farm animals are routinely immunized and given antibiotics, and these things get into the food chain, and into us, and many scientists think that one of the major causes of the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria is this routine and overuse of antibiotics in our food supply.

And feeding animals a diet which has been determined to maximize growth, yet which is not their native diet, has had unintended consequences as well.  It has been demonstrated that modern beef is high in Omega 6 but low in Omega 3 fatty acids.  Too much Omega 6 can cause serious health problems, as can too little Omega 3.  Most Americans suffer from both problems.  Yet beef that has been raised using traditional grazing actually has a completely different balance of these two fatty acids and is, instead, a much more healthful choice as a protein source.  Our modern methods of factory farming have actually changed the nutritional composition of the meat being produced!

In Food, Inc. we see just how sick our system is, yet we also hear from people -- like Virginia's own Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms -- who are demonstrating that all is not lost.

In Gassho,


Internal Dialogue

There's a scene near the end of the movie The Jungle Book.  We come across a quartet of vultures -- who share a remarkable resemblance with a certain mop top boy band of the era.  One of them keeps asking, "Whacha wanna do?"  To which another answers, "I dunno, whachu wanna do?"  They go back and forth like this for a while until they realize the futility of this circular conversation.

I'm on Day Two of my juice fast.  (I know that some of the other folks at church are starting today, or don't plan to start until Sunday or Monday, but I started yesterday.  It's easier if Day One is actually on the 1st of the month.  Easier to keep track.)

Anyway, this is Day Two.  And inside my head there's been a fairly constant dialogue.  "Wacha wanna do?"  I keep asking myself.  "Eat."  I reply.  "No, seriously," I'll say, "what do you want to do?  "Eat." comes the reply.  "Eat.  That.  Now."

This is not surprising.  Never before in human history have we had so much access to so much food.  Or, at least, food-like stuff.  In truth, many of us are hardly ever eating actual food most of the time, so perhaps it's more accurate to say that never before in human history have we had so much access to so many calories.

The Standard American (processed) Diet is calorie rich and nutrient poor.  We are capable of consuming incredible amounts of calories while hardly getting any of the nutrients our bodies need.  In fact, this is one of the explanations for our current obesity epidemic -- that even though we're eating more than enough calories to fuel our body's functioning our bodies keep crying out for the nutrients they need.  This causes us to eat more food, and the food-stuff most readily to hand is the same stuff that didn't give us what we needed in the first place.

And so the activity of eating becomes nearly completely removed from the function of eating -- giving the body the nutrients it needs to live.  Instead, eating becomes a comfort.  Or a reward.  Or an escape from boredom.  Or an escape into boredom.  Or a self-medication to reduce stress.  Or anger.  Or depression.  Or . . .

So it's Day Two of the juice fast.  And I'm getting all of the nutrients my body needs.  And my digestive system is beginning to relax a bit from its usual overworked state.  And the toxins are beginning to be dislodged from the places they've taken up residence in my system.  And all of that is to the good, but I've also stopped trying to escape my boredom, or my feelings, or my whatever it is I've been escaping through eating.

And this is one of the benefits of a fast -- whether it's a fresh vegetable and fruit juice fast, or a FaceBook fast, or a fast from media.  One of the benefits of a fast is that it separates out a behavior from the myriad of meanings we've superimposed on it so that we can once again engage it for its own purpose. After a period of withdrawal from these activities we can see them again for what they really are -- I eat to fuel my body; I go on FaceBook to connect with friends; I . . . 

Of course, all of those things I've been trying to avoid or deny will begin to come more clearly into focus.  While this is uncomfortable, to say the least, it also provides me with an opportunity to devise new ways of coping with them.  Because, as I already know, eating is not the best way to deal with my emotions.

In the meantime, though I'm going to keep asking myself, "whacha wanna do?"

And while my habituated answer is "eat," at least for today I'm going to answer instead, in the words of Joe Cross:  Juice On!

In Gassho,


Friday, February 01, 2013

And So It Begins . . .

 I packed my car with brand new Breville juicers.  I drove to church.  And realized that I'd forgotten my keys.

Luckily someone was there so I was able to get in and set up for tonight's showing of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and the launch of both the month-long juice fast and the Health and Wholeness Initiative.  I was excited.  I was nervous.

I was also hungry.  I'd started my own fast this morning.  I'd had some "Carrot/Apple/Ginger," some "Mean Green."  Also a leftover's mix of apples, blueberry, strawberries, and kale.  All that wonderful juice had me feeling pretty good, but hungry.

Eight people came to tonight's program.  I'd been hoping for 25 or 30, but I'd been afraid of 2 or 3, so this was good.  I was really looking forward to sharing Joe and Phil's stories, but technical problems got in the way of our watching the film -- again and again and again, in fact.  (Thanks goodness that it's so readily available on Netflix and that we'll be showing it again on Tuesday the 5th and Wednesday the 13th.)  But I think that the juicing demonstration went pretty well and we had some really good conversations.  Three people went home with juicers, and several of us said that we were planning to give this a go.

Tonight's is going to be a short entry.  More tomorrow.

In Gassho,