Monday, June 14, 2010

Oil Spills and Blame

The mess in and surrounding last month's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused a lot of people to do some evaluating and introspection, but most of this is going on silently within the individual. Outwardly, it seems that the only option in responding to the horrors of the dead animals, the economic calamity, and the loss of human life is to find someone to blame. As could be expected, most people are blaming BP or the President, or both. But in any case, very few people with the ability to speak out on the matter have responded with anything other than anger and threats towards the party believed to be at fault. As I've processed the situation from afar, my mind has taken towards analyzing this blame onslaught and why it has become such a predictable response to any negative outcome or event in people's lives.

My mind has drifted to my own world, the world of being a follower of Jesus, and how/if blame should fit into my response to anything in the world. I know that I am called to seek justice for the oppressed, and to seek things that are pure and loving. I know that there are obviously bad things caused by people with bad intentions. But I am having a lot of trouble in finding ways that blame can be a kingdom building response.

From my observations, when a Jesus-follower responds with blame, it is mostly tied to anger. For many years of my 'christian life' I was taught that blame was a way to show your disapproval for non-christian things. The high birthrate amongst single mothers was the fault of women being being more promiscuous than they used to be. Issues with gang violence was blamed on the saggy pantsed, rap-music listening young generation. Home foreclosures were due to people being stupid with their money and buying more home than they could afford. Why each of these statements has a degree of truth to them, I believe that blaming people for their decisions is a smoke screen that gives off the appearance of piety and religious devotion, but is actually a cheap substitute for the revolutionary kingdom instituted and described by Jesus.

If we look at Jesus' life and his interactions with people, he undoubtedly came across people that made mistakes. The disciples were idiots at times, he hung around with sinners of all shapes and sizes, and he encountered the results of poor choices/behavior at every turn. And yet, we don't see him responding with blame in these situations. The adulterous woman about to be stoned has always been used as an example of how we have no right to judge another for their actions. But even deeper than that, Jesus' response of grace and renewal shows that his purpose is not in making sure the poor decision maker gets identified. His love for the woman and his desire to see her be all that she was created to be is the underlying theme. What purpose would it have served for him to blame her for being in the position in the first place? I have a sinking feeling that if I were in Jesus' situation, I would have had the urge to tell her that if she wasn't acting like whore she wouldn't have to worry about being stoned. Why is that?

I think that blaming people for things make us feel like we're above bad decision making. It gives us an opportunity to show the world that we are above such things and that being a christian has given us the wisdom to see the results of our behavior. Its almost as if we're saying "How could you do something so awful? Oh right, you're not a christian so you probably to bad stuff like that all the time," with the conclusion being "you need to turn to Jesus because you're obviously terribly deficient in some way." I think we see it as a way of being 'evangelical', of reaching out to spread the gospel. By spotlighting the moral gap between ourselves and non-Jesus people, we are showing others how much they need a savior, right?

But Jesus didn't act this way. He forever destroyed the mistake-blame complex of humanity when he instituted his kingdom. Gone was the need to point out others faults in favor of building people up. His message of true love, regardless of mistakes, is part of what makes it all so revolutionary. He knows that we are prone to doing horrible things, but he loves us anyway. Does he want us to stop doing those things? You bet he does! But he knows that getting to that point requires the individual to understand their real value in spite of the mistakes. He knows that people make mistakes and do bad things because they are trying to fill a hole in their souls. They're missing out on the beautiful being that they were meant to be, and they're settling for a cheap opiate instead. So, blame doesn't fit in with the equation. Blame highlights their faults, and therefore insinuates that without those faults, Jesus will approve of them. If they would only change, they can experience the good life. But the good news says that the hole in their souls can be filled by something pure, perfect and accepting. And the most ridiculous and revolutionary part of it all is the fact that Jesus WANTS to do this for them! Yeah baby!

So why do we blame? I think its because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel self-righteous and it gives off the air of devoutness. It makes us seem devoted to Jesus because we 'stand against' the things that are not of him or his kingdom. We're acting as his purifying agents here on earth, and so Jesus must be pleased with us, right? The only problem with that is the reality that when we are acting this way, we are closing off our hearts to grace and compassion. In saying "what you're doing is wrong and that is why you are where you are", we are closing off the flow of love that Jesus has called us to draw from him and distribute to others with reckless abandon. We simply cannot blame and and understand at the same time. Blame turns the other person into nothing more than the personification of their actions, and therefore makes them evil and wretched beings, undeserving of love. All the while showing us to be the same. I know that many christians have the attitude of "I am showing them love by pointing out their sinfulness. By showing them how bad they are and how far they are from God, they will see the need to come to him." Although this argument sounds logical, it wasn't the method that Jesus used to draw people to him. The sad thing is that, I think, most of us use blame and condemnation as a substitute for the true kingdom life because we don't want to get our hands dirty. Its far easier to condemn from afar than to get into the middle of people's problems and risk losing our own comforts and lifestyle. The best place to understand this is to look at the Pharisees and how they formed a life that looked righteous, but underneath was just as, if not more, messed up than those they claimed to be superior to.

So if we are the messengers of a Jesus who is chomping at the bit to put other's hearts at ease, we should aim to be agents of that good news. When something is wrong, even if it is anti-Jesus and sinful, we have no right to go about blaming and shaming others. In doing that we are delivering a different message, a different gospel all together. Our blame needs to be replaced with a deep understanding of our own faults and our own acceptance at the same time. That will cause us to look deeper at the person who has done wrong. We will begin to see them as Jesus does, with a soul deficiency that has an amazing cure! We will burn with a desire to see them become whole again. We will begin to see their sinful actions as a symptom of a greater problem that is caused by a lack of love and acceptance that WE have in overwhelming abundance! When we treat the sinner's symptoms from the inside out, that is when behavior changes. To think that changing behavior first is part of God's plan, we are guilty of following a false gospel. A gospel in which we are better than others.

So when we encounter something wrong, let us strive to be agents of love and peace. Rather than blaming, lets seek to understand why the other person felt the need to do what they did. Lets look deeper to find the scared and incomplete person that is behind the action. Only then will have the opportunity to show the world what we have. Only then, will the revolution spread like wildfire.

Friday, May 7, 2010

19 Years in the Making

197.4. Who knew a number could make a guy tear up, but it did for me this morning. 197.4 was the number on my cheap, Bed-Bath-&-Beyond digital scale this morning, the lightest I've weighed since I was 12 years old and in the 7th grade. My weight loss story is both typical and unique at the same time. Lets start at the beginning.

Sometime in early middle school (I can't really remember when) I began to add pounds to my previously lanky frame. I grew up with heavy parental restrictions on the kinds of food I ate until I reached middle school, where due to my generally responsible character, my parents began to lift those, and many other, restrictions, rules and curfews that a typical youth would have. I know that my parents had their hands full with my sister, so I think they gave me more and more latitude for no other reason than they needed to focus on her during her difficult times. For most parts of my life, this was a good thing. I became very independent at a young age; a trait that helped me adjust to adulthood much faster than normal. But, when it came to food, it opened up a floodgate. I can still remember waking up in the morning and waiting for my parents to leave for work so I could eat ice cream for breakfast. Or maybe it was an entire 8-pack of waffles, or 4 massive bowls of Frosted Flakes. Whatever my fancy for that particular morning, I loved the taste and comfort that food gave me. I always tell people the stories of how I would come home from school, grab an unopened tub of cake frosting and a glass of milk and eat the entire tub in one sitting! Food was my refuge and it made me feel good. I had no idea the dangerous precedent that this would set up in my life. Because the days of peer pressure and pimples was right around the corner, and as I grew more and more anxious over my perceived level of popularity and coolness, I self-medicated with my old friend food. This, of course, led to a vicious cycle of getting fatter and fatter, which made more kids make fun of me, which made me more anxious, which caused me to seek more food as comfort. I'll never forget being called 'Jelly Belly' by my middle school basketball teammates (and coach for that matter). It killed me. I was a good athlete, but even my youthful metabolism couldn't keep up with the calorie shock and awe campaign that I was waging against my body every day.

The saddest part about being a chubby kid during such a developmental time in my life was that I BELIEVED what those kids were telling me. I took their insults as truth and began to form an opinion of myself that I was destined to be the fat/overlooked/single/miserable person that I had become for the rest of my life. My high school days were filled with hiding my weight and doing everything I could not to draw attention to myself. And for those of you that know my outgoing personality and tendency to run my mouth, that was incredibly difficult! Life was awkward, painful, stressful, depressing and debilitating. By the time I left for college I was in a fog. The heaviest I can ever remember getting is 268 lbs.

When I got to college, the freedom of life was intoxicating to me. I had a fresh start and was ready to put my school years behind me. I had made a couple of attempts to lose weight while still in high school by running compulsively, but nothing ever took hold. Then, in my first semester at Ferris State, I took a required Physical Anatomy course with a professor named Dr Robert Friar. One of our sections of the course was on nutrition & digestion and he introduced me to some eating principles that gave me hope that I could possibly do something about my weight. I'll never forget the dates. One November 7th, 1997 I weighed 254 lbs. On March 7th of 1998, 4 months to the day from when I began, I weighed myself on our old rusty scale in the basement of my parents house and the scale read 198 lbs. I had ran at least 4 miles every single day during that time, while often running 8 miles or more. I was so single-mindedly focused that I even had a few week stretch where I was running 5-6 miles TWICE A DAY. My eating philosophy was to consume whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted, as long as the calories from fat in the food was not more than 20% of the total calories. This was my commandment and I followed it militantly. I ate so much processed and sugar-laden food it would make a diabetic go into a coma just thinking about it, but since I was running so much and was also generally active walking to and from class multiple times a day, the weight just melted off. It was a victory that I had never experienced in my life. The foe that was my weight was so daunting that I never believed that I could overcome it. So when I stood on that scale and saw that the weight-demon was dead, a sense of dignity and self-worth began to creep into my psyche for the first time. Maybe my destiny wasn't to be silently miserable my whole life? Maybe I have the power to change my destiny. Maybe I could even find a girlfriend? Let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Over the rest of college and into my early married years I began to follow a pattern. I would slowly start to gain weight as my motivation for strenuous exercise would wane. I would get injured or grow tired of getting up early every morning, but would still eat the insane amount of carb-filled calories that I had always eaten. Cereals, snack bars, 'low fat' everything and anything. Invariably, I would feel a deep sense of shame when my weight began to creep up. I had worked so hard to get to where I was that those old feelings of inadequacy and anxiety began to creep back into my life. This is where I began to use guilt as a motivator. The deep feelings of despair as I saw my life's grandest victory slipping away to defeat were what would get me up at 5:00 am to take a 5 mile run down to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, WA before I headed off to a 14 hour day of work. The guilt would force me to redouble my efforts to 'eat good' and to stay disciplined. When I missed a workout, it killed me. When I ate a piece of pizza, I felt like human garbage. The shame was the fuel to my fire and I would overcome it all again, returning to my weight of around 210 lbs. This cycle happened 3 0r 4 times until I moved back to Michigan from the west coast in 2006.

Since 2006 I have fluctuated between 225 and 240 lbs depending on whether my fatigue from living life, or my guilt/shame motivation, would win out. I never got any traction and the old motivator began to take an even deeper hold in my life. I began to see it in my work life. Being in insurance sales and trying to build a business is very stressful work. At times, it can rip your heart out and at times it can toss you to the highest of highs. When sales would get slow, or I would lose a big case, or I would fall behind my production requirements, I would use the guilt to motivate me. Regardless of the situation, I would fault myself. "I didn't work hard enough". "I was lazy". Even when things were good, the joy was short lived because there was undoubtedly something bad waiting just around the corner. And if I didn't work insanely hard and perfect, I would probably lose it all. If I didn't give 200%, my agency would fail, we'd lose our house, we'd be homeless, and Brandy would undoubtedly leave me. This is the spiral that guilt-driven thinking would send me down every day. It even seeped into my relationship with my wife. Without divulging our secrets, lets just say that when you are constantly paranoid that you're not doing enough to justify receiving your spouse's love, it makes for a hard and tiring road.

In December of 2008, my son Bauer was born. Our first child, Bauer brought along all the trappings of being a parent. The time and energy requirements that come with an infant are endless. Whatever free time I used to have to devote myself to guilt-appeasing was gone. There was no more 'taking it up a notch' or 'going the extra mile' in business or in exercise. The stress of having to be focused on the boy for hours at a time was too much for me to handle, and my friends can attest to the fact that I HATED being a parent. Although I loved my son, I cringed as the other facets of my life began to slip from my control. Somehow, I was able to recognize the fact that if I was 235 lbs at my son's birth, the stress of the first year of his life was sure to send me to the land of the obese, never to return. A good friend of mine, John Kopecky, had tried the P90X training system you all see on TV and raved about it. He even became a P90X coach. It seemed like the just the thing for me. 90 days of intense training combined with a regimented diet that guaranteed results. I was motivated and determined that I was not going to go back to my high school weight. So, 3 days after Bauer was born, I started my P90X journey. Looking back now it seems stupid that I would start a program that required an hour or more each day to devote to exercise right after we brought our baby home, but Brandy was insightful enough to know my struggle and she was nothing but supportive of me. The 90 days were hard, but they worked. I went from 235 lbs to 208 lbs and became a MONSTER! I could do 18 pull ups (up from 1 when I started), over 50 push-ups and had muscle definition for the first time in my life. It was awesome! But even better than the sexy physique was the unintended way that the program made me look my health. Instead of just tracking my weight and my physical appearance, I began to look at my overall HEALTH. I became interested in things like flexibility, stress levels, digestion and disease prevention, etc. I ended my 90 days with the intention of being a new, healthy person.

If there was one problem with P90X, its that I simply couldn't do it long term. The workouts were so intense, with so many calories burned, that I needed lots of carbs to feed my body. A problem arose when I stopped burning the calories from the workouts but continued to eat the carbs. Was I healthier? For sure. But in the year that followed P90X I started to see that I was slowly starting to lose my physique and gain a little bit of weight. Enter old man Shame! The cycle was starting again, only this time I knew that the demands of my business, marriage/fatherhood and trying to live the selfless life of a Jesus follower had left me with an empty motivation cupboard. And since these stresses were not going to be going away for at least a few decades, I began my final quest; the quest for a sustainable health philosophy. I actually remember talking to God in one of my desperate moments when it seemed I was losing control. I just pleaded with him to help me deal with this entire issue, once and for all. Within a few days I saw a Facebook post of my friend and P90X guru John about something called 'living primally'. I asked him what it was all about and he pointed me to the website of a trainer/nutritionist named Mark Sisson. Mark had just released a book called 'The Primal Blueprint' which was a summary of his 2 decade study into health, exercise, genetics and conventional wisdom. Something inside of me told me that I HAD to read this book. What I learned from The Primal Blueprint has radically changed my life. In a nutshell, Mark's research showed that the single greatest thing affecting the health of human beings today is the consumption of carbohydrates in the form of grains and sugars. I learned that the human body is actually designed to run on FAT, not sugar, and that the reason that fat is considered so bad for you is because when a diet high in fat is combined with a diet that is high in grains and sugar, the sugar is used for energy and the fat is stored away. Heart disease, diabetes and most other common maladies follow soon behind. For millenia, humans existed on the fat of animals for their fuel, along with fruits and vegetables. Grains were not even a food option for humans until a few thousand years ago. This new info blew me away! I had been told the complete opposite! I was convinced when he went on to show how much of our 'Conventional Wisdom', when it comes, to health is BS that has been propulgated by politics, lobbying efforts and a fear of disturbing the status quo. The life of low-fat, whole grain, engineered food requires 'Chronic Cardio' to stay 'in shape' that only exacerbate the problem by causing a craving for more carbs! Your body spends its life in a constant state of inflammation as it fights off the sugar that it is craving but isn't designed to use as fuel. Your joints, muscles and connective tissue take a beating while your immune system is compromised by the constant state of semi-shock your body must deal with. Lets not even get into the way this affects your mood and brain chemistry. REVOLUTIONARY! This had been my story and I immediately connected with it. Now, if you know me, you know that I like to feel like I'm on the forefront of an issue. When I see something that I feel is an injustice or a prevailing lie, I take great joy in rebelling against it and turning people away from it. Upon hearing the truth about human health, and learning that my struggle was due in part to the fact that the information I was going off of was not true, I decided to make the debunking of these mistruths my crusade. Tens of millions of Americans are on the same road that I was on and can't seem to figure out why their low-fat kashi bars, diet cokes and daily 45 minute elliptical trainer sessions are not getting them 'in shape'. They feel dejected and depressed. They feel like they are destined to be 'less than' the skinny people they see around them. They feel guilt because they feel that they're just not doing enough. And they're tired. My heart goes out to these people.

So how did I get to 197.4? I eat the stuff that I am genetically created to eat. Natural beef, chicken, pork and fish. Fresh organic vegetables, fruits and nuts. Farm fresh eggs (with the yolk!) by the dozens every week. My diet takes in about 20 times the amount of fat that it used to. I ate more fat in April that I did in all of 2009 combined! I avoid ANYTHING process like the plague. By body runs smoothly and without sugar highs and crashes. I eat a lot less. I sometimes go an entire day without eating because I don't crave anything. I listen to my body tell me when I'm hungry, but my energy level is through the roof! My exercise involves frequent walks with my wife, occasional sprint sessions to keep my testosterone levels up, and a general life of physical activity (I like to pick up heavy rocks and see how far I can throw them!). No guilt for not having the motivation to take a 5 mile run when I get home from work at 9:00 pm. No guilt for having a piece of apple pie for desert on occasion. No guilt for not being perfect. Instead, I have a sustainable plan to be a healthy person by making the right choice 80%-90% of the time, and to live a long and active life. I strongly recommend Mark Sisson's book 'The Primal Blueprint' for any of you who can identify with my struggles. Things have got to change.

These past few months have been odd for me. Without the guilt slave master controlling my health choices, I've been given the freedom to look at the other areas of my life where I use guilt/shame to motivate myself. I'm just starting to get a glimpse into just how much it has permeated my existence. I'm so excited to find out what a guilt-free life could be like. If its anything like its been up to this point, I'm in for some fun.

All the best to you in your victory over guilt and shame,


Monday, March 1, 2010

Great Blog from Greg Boyd

A great story of how easy it is to get caught up in the 'I am entitled' mentality. Great stuff.

** Sorry for being gone for so long. Lot's of things changing so fast that I haven't had a coherent thought for a long time!