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Why I Ride: July 30, 2019

I’ve had sermons I didn’t like before, but a few weeks ago, I had one that I hated with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. I looked at my family over lunch and asked, “Did that, at any point, make ANY sense to anyone at this table?”
In that moment I promised myself to go back to using notes and notebooks to write, no more staring at a computer’s blank screen trying to fill in the blanks of a pre-written outline.

So, last Friday morning, when Tammy and the kids were asleep, I took my note cards and headed north up route 11 until I was ready. Then, I pulled the bike over to the shoulder, put my raincoat down on the wet grass and started writing in an old notebook. I didn’t even think about how odd it must have looked. Not that I was stopped along the road, but that someone was actually using a pen to write on paper.

Eventually, someone did stop. I heard the bike before I saw it, a fully dressed low & loud cruiser with ape-hangers. The rider? A full-patch 1%er. He’s the guy you think of when you think “motorcycle gang.” He stopped because that’s what bikers do. His first question, after he shut the engine off was, “Hey, you ok buddy?”

I told him I was fine, just working on a sermon. He tilted his head like I said I was teaching giraffes to play basketball. Then pulled out a water bottle and we started talking. Eventually, I made some jokes about road-side conversions and that, as a Presbyterian, I could do a baptism from a water bottle. He laughed and said he’d met a lot of pastors on the road and we were always by ourselves. Apparently, none of us mind that he doesn’t believe in God, and make the same road-side conversion joke. But at least the water-bottle baptism was new. Then, his head raised up to the sky and he said, “But I’m starting to think God is trying to tell me something.” I pointed out that statement showed he was starting to believe. He nodded, and started his bike.

Before he was out of ear-shot, what I’d just offered hit me. As a Presbyterian, I’ve taken a vow to uphold our polity and a road-side conversion and baptism are a definite no-no. No proper instruction, no church promise to support him, no public declaration of faith… but after the rumble of his pipes went into the fog in the valley, I couldn’t help but smile. Because I do know, if he’d said yes, we’d talk for a bit, then I’d wipe off the top of my water bottle and douse that guy in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

After all, as a good Presbyterian, it wasn’t luck that put me there, it was God’s providence. And I knew that he and any of his crew that wanted to come to worship would be welcomed at 125 West Main.

 

 

 

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The 11 year old flashlight.

For “legal purposes” I will say that these stories are entirely fictional. Any similarity between this and actual events is purely coincidental.

Once upon a time… there was an altercation @ school.

Boy B was picking on Boy C as he had all year, taking his water bottle and teasing C about it. Boy D told him to stop it. B told him to shut up. D stood up and walked over to B, and told him to give it back. B picked up a ruler and held it out. D stayed between the other boys. B then hit D in the head with the ruler. D stood his ground. He reached out with one hand, grabbed the ruler & with the other hand slapped B’s hand so D now had it. He dropped it.

B then made sure teacher A wasn’t looking, then punched D in the eye. D pushed B to the ground and told him to stop picking on people. B got up and told D he was going to tell on him. D worried about it all day.

When D came home, he immediately told the story to his parent. The lecture & lesson was stressed and he was reminded about the importance of “hockey rules” (the second guy always gets the worse punishment). D was accepting of any punishment he might receive, because B was being a bully, and D was tired of it.

Still, D assured his parent it was over, conditionally. He will defend himself, he will always stand up to bullies when his friends are being hurt. He will always try to use his words first, and he won’t fight on after the other kid has no fight in him. But, he will stand up for “the kids that can’t stand up for themselves.”

In a zero tolerance world, D is the one in danger. He stood up, he joined in, and despite the fact that he was hit & punched, he hit and pushed. He got involved when he didn’t have to be. He didn’t tell the teacher. He went from witness to participant by his actions and his choice. To the school, this may be seen as a “bad” choice.

But, knowing what D can do, knowing that he’s taken kids that are older by three grades, taller by a foot and outweigh him by forty pounds before. Knowing his punches come from his heel and his hips shift at the moment of impact. Knowing his tolerance for pain in the moment is overridden by his sense of what is right… D’s dad was kind of proud.

Knowing that when the boy was down, D knows to drop a knee to the chest, just above the belly to knock the wind out, how to sweep the defending hands to the side and reign down closed fist hammer punches on the nose and eyes and ignore everything else until, someone pulls you off…

Knowing D DID make the choice to get involved, but he also made the choice to stop.

D won’t hold a grudge, because his dad found out about his friend’s older brothers who taught D to wrestle, taught him about MMA and the need to “win,” not just this fight, but all the fights that might come from the crowd. His dad knows, he can’t “unlearn” the techniques, but like any skill, he has to learn to control them. D’s dad had to learn the same lesson.

“It is good to know what you can do, but it’s more important to know what you will do. You have to make that choice for yourself. The anger you feel, whatever is inside you, because of what has happened to you, won’t go away because you hurt someone else. That’s what bullies do. You can tell yourself it’s right and fair, that it’s good. That you’re teaching them a lesson, that you’re showing them there is someone stronger, meaner, better than they are. But when you lay your hands on someone, you’ve become what you think you’re fighting. When you go past them giving up, you’re just a bigger bully.” D’s dad isn’t smart, but he has learned a few things.

Those are the words of D’s grandfather, to his own son, D’s dad. He noticed one morning that his son was wearing long sleeves on a summer day, he saw that his own son’s hands were cut up, his wrists had scratches. He asked him how it happened.

D’s dad let him know, he went to a friend’s house for a party. There was a guy there, dragging a girl out by her hair. D’s dad walked up to the guy and told him to let go of the girl. He pridefully told the story about “saving” the girl. About how words were exchanged, how a punch was thrown, and slipped and how quickly and easily the abuser was put down… how his arms were pinned and how punches were thrown until a friend dragged him off when it was over. D’s dad explained what a good son he was to D’s grandfather. He’d stopped it.

At the end, D’s grandfather asked a simple question. “What happened to the girl?”

D’s dad didn’t have an answer.

D’s grandfather said, “Then it wasn’t about saving her, it was about you looking like a hero. It’s good to know what you can do, but it’s more important to know what you will do…”

He ended with these words, that echo in D’s dad’s mind years later, when his wife was dying of cancer, when his mom became a widow, when he found a new love, “… in situations like this, your first job, is to protect the girl.” And D’s dad would learn, “the girl” is anyone being pushed around, the minority, by viewpoint, race, by size, religion, age, gender identity, your wife, your children, your friends… “protect the girl.”

Do not try to “save the girl” because they ultimately must save themselves. But get them to safety, keep them from harm. It is better to take a hit to the ego, a shot to your pride, a boot to the head, or risk being included in their scorn, because that’s the model we follow.

D’s grandfather’s favorite biblical lesson? When Christ was about to be taken away, beaten, mocked, denied, tried, crucified… He took the time to heal the ear of a man who had come to arrest him. While his own were prepared to fight for what they believed was right, he “betrayed” their human thinking – and protected them with his words and deeds. Even though he had prayed, to the point beyond exhaustion, that it might happen a different way, he suffered for the sake of others.

D’s grandfather had stood, preached and prayed for equal rights in rural Mississippi before and after “they” shot Dr. King. He’d out grown the coal-town fights boys had to establish the ladder. He revamped church literature on a state-wide and national scale to recognize that the “white-way” was not the “right way” for everyone. And there are churches in the South where, regardless of their demographic where his son can preach and have to “live up” to the reputation, and where anyone with his last name can visit, and be asked if they are family. But that was never a goal. And he never cast a shadow, because he was too focussed on shining a light.

D’s dad heard things that are still being understood. “Don’t join the darkness son, the world has enough of that. Always shine the light.”

A few years later, D’s dad was in college and started dating a graduate student. One night, they saw a movie that triggered a discussion on domestic abuse. She told him a story from her own past.

One night, she was at a party with her new boyfriend when her old one showed up drunk. He was always violent when he was drunk, so she decided to go outside with him. They argued, at one point, he grabbed her hair and was dragging her to his car. She wasn’t going, even if he ripped her hair out. It was over, and she was making sure he knew that. He was slowing down, and she thought it would soon be over.

Then some guy playing hero got involved and beat him up pretty badly. She ended up taking him to the hospital where he got stitches. She felt so bad for him, and he was so sorry, she agreed to “just be friends.” After her relationship with the other guy ran it’s course, they got back together.

It was all going fine until one night when she was trying to leave him again and he grabbed her by the hair and slammed her face into the dashboard of his car. That was when she got a her new face. He fractured an orbital bone & broke her nose.

Fortunately, when he kicked her out of his car some of her friends were nearby & rushed her to the hospital.

Their relationship didn’t last long. It ended on Valentine’s day, before the date started, with thrown flowers & a slammed door. Apparently her friend, and part of the scheduled double-date took one look at him as she met him and said, “What’s hero-boy doing here?”

“Don’t join the darkness son, always shine the light.”

The day after the incident at school. D and C had lunch together, because C and D are friends, E, F, & G join them. A few minutes later, B comes over with his tray. There is a moment that passes between B and D. A nod is all it takes to end it. D scoots over and says, “Here, sit by me.”

“Shine the light my son, and the darkness will never overcome it.”

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So – what turns you on?

Me during a conversation about gender & sexuality issues (not really in my cis-gender WASPy wheelhouse) with an old friend who doesn’t “get it.”

Me: “Do you know how an ignition switch works?”
Him: “Not really”
Me: “Yet you use it every day, and you trust that it works?”
Him: “Yeah”
Me: “Well, it’s kind of that.”
Him: “But I can find out how that works”
Me: “True, but you trusted it to work for years without knowing.”
Him: “But I can find out, and then I’ll know.”
Me: “Right, talk to an expert, look it up on line, if you care you can learn right?”
Him: “Right, so it’s different.”
Me: “Not really – If you care enough to learn about it, talk to some experts, you can learn about people who are LGBTQ and then you’ll have an idea of how that works too.”
Him: “And you’ve done this?”
Me: “Not as much as I should, but like the ignition switch, I know that it’s more complicated than I think. But once I accept the fact that it works, I can care more about the whole car.”
Him: “What?”
Me: “I care more about the whole person than just worrying about what turns them on.”
Him: (laughs) “Fine, but what about the people that switch genders.”
Me: “Hey, I used to be a Ford guy and you were a Chevy-head. But now I drive a Subaru.”
Him: “Yeah, I’m still a Chevy guy.”
Me: “Hey man, whatever turns you on… Did I tell you I just bought a motorcycle?
Him: “Harley?”
Me: “Kawasaki.”
Him: (expletive deleted)
Me: (explained my decision, price-style-etc. especially the “dirt look”)
Him: “I guess you got the right bike for you.”
Me: “Yeah, can’t buy a bike because of some one else’s opinion. Have to get the one that fits me.”
Him: “Yeah, but still, I like that low and slow chromed out full-fender fat-boy look.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s not me – I guess you could say I’m trans-fendered.”
Him: “You (expletive deleted)
Me: (laughing) “Yeah but you love me anyway”
Him – more cursing

And that’s how I know he’s thinking about it. He’s trying to figure out how to deal with a family member struggling & accepting a lifestyle he doesn’t understand. But we may NEVER understand. But we cis-gendered WASPy folks can care more than ‘know’ and that’s the point. We are incapable of “hating the sin and loving the sinner” because we are still putting ourselves in a position of pridefully judging ourselves “better” & that.ain’t.love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”1 Corinthians 13:4-8

So – If you find yourself lacking understanding, struggle to love anyway. Put down the pride and protect those struggling with identity and sexuality, trust that God is working within them, hope it doesn’t take long to resolve, but even if the struggle changes – persevere in love. Don’t let your love fail. And remember, when God works, it may not be the outcome we thought we wanted, but it may be the outcome God foresaw and worked toward.

Too many of my friends have self-medicated with drugs & alcohol, committed suicide, been turned away from churches, family and friends – been denied love, while struggling to find where God is in their lives.

So let us each be a representative of God’s love and Love our neighbors, our family members, our friends, because be they gay, straight, lesbian, pansexual, monosexual, asexual, transgendered, cis-gendered, non-gendered, trans-fendered… THEY are US.

Let us trade in our ignorance (lack of understanding) and our hard-hearts (lack of caring) for the bold and persevering love modelled for us in Christ.

“Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

And if you are so ignorant, so prideful, so vain to be sure you know the mind of God to the degree of condemning one of God’s children, throw that rock my way, and I’ll do my best to keep from returning it tenfold – because I’m called to love you too.

Loving people I agree with – that’s easy.
Loving people you can’t agree with?
That’s Godly.

And that’s why it’s hard on “both” sides.

And that’s why most people don’t try.

But that’s how God loves us. All of us. In our pride, in our ignorance, in our contraryness… It’s as if God said, “I have the key, I turn the lock, I ignite the spark, that triggers the battery to turn the starter to…”   You get it right?

We’re not the driver – we’re the car, or the bike. Different brands, different makes, different models, some built for hauling rocks, some for hauling… other things. Different colors, Made in different countries, changing over time. Getting broken, the occasional dent, dirty, scratched up – some of develop smells… And all of us end up totalled (but some donate their parts). But we’re all made by God.

Love is the key.
The Spirit is the fuel.
The scriptures are the map.
And God guides us on the road.
Stop being a pothole.
Stop being a STOP sign.
Stop trying to be a member of the highway patrol trying to enforce the law when God is driving.
Just let God open up the throttle and love.
Don’t put the brakes on God’s love and mercy.
Let God be in control & you’ll discover something. The road will be smooth, but it’s going to have some turns. The straights may be a measure of your strength – but God works best in the turns.

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The unintended consequence…

There is a tent in my living room. Inside it are: my XL sleeping bag (with washable cloth liner) on my inflatable bed roll (for my 49 yr old back) with two pillows (one for my big head, another for my knees – I’m a side sleeper), my mess kit (pot, pan, lid, 2 bowls, flatware, cooking spoon, towel, 2 cups) and my backpack. Just outside, two propane tanks & my burner (with fold-out prongs for pot or pan). Along side, my 300lb rated camp chair. Why? Because I’m going camping and before I pack, I lay everything out & practice setting it up. I want to know that I can set up & breakdown/repack everything on my own.

This is all “new” gear to me because my focus has shifted. I used to pack for “glam-ping on a budget” as a friend called it, but I don’t camp that way anymore.

Gone are the days of bikes and skateboards, pop-ups and screen tents. Now it’s Xbox-x and high speed internet, projectors showing movies on the sides of RV’s, I know I sound old, but I don’t want that. I don’t like rugged camping either (although Blue River has the nicest out-house I’ve ever seen).

I want to go camping. Not pretending to be a member of the Donner party, not driving a land-yacht to an RV park. Just camping. Enough electricity to charge a phone & a couple battery packs. A lake to swim in. Water from a spigot. But there are a few “concerns.”

My son hates camping, So, as I’m staring at my phone, about to pull the trigger on a pre-wired X-Box X carry-case with built in screen, the sheer weight of all I was going to take with me bent my shoulders. “I’m not getting away, I’m just relocating. I’m moving the same stuff around while adding more and more stuff.”

This is not what I’ve been doing with my life lately. Seriously, I’m “whittling” Beau out of Rob. I’ve let guitars go (to friends), I let my slowly-killing-me job go, I let my anger go, I’ve even thrown out perfectly good T-shirts!! I let comfort and stability go. I bet God and me against a miserable life…

Which brings me to concern #2, to make the beautiful woman who will be my wife and her 68 degrees or crying daughter and my son enjoy camping, I’m going to need more than a plastic case of wiring with a 19″ TV glued to one side. I’m going to need an air conditioned/heated camper with a private sound-proof room. I’m going to need satellite TV and high-speed Internet and a private bathroom with a human-sized shower. I might as well buy one of those travel-busses & paint the side movie-screen white.

I mentioned retiring and travelling the country in an RV once – and her response was kind, but questioning. An RV to my specs would run an easy 80 grand and she’s right, We’d have to stay in hotels or cabins more than 4,ooo nights to justify that expense. (Considering she gets 2 weeks vacation every year, it would take us more years than we have).

So, that takes care of that. Can’t go big, but I can’t stay home. So, I went to the garage and started looking at my bins. I’ve got some swag in there. My 14x10x8 instant up “cottage” with the external frame, my dual burner suitcase grill, which was replaced by a tailgate grill with dolly-wheels & can cook 6 steaks at a time, a foldable rack for grilling over fire, 4 sleeping bags that could zip together in pairs, my 7×4 cot, inflatable mattresses (now that the latex powder has been washed off), a good sized igloo that doubled as an air conditioner with a battery powered fan, center-mount ceiling fan with LED lights, my 4 person mess kit, my solar shower bag, my 5 gallon water bladder… Basically whatever luxury I could stuff in the back of my Subie.

I sighed. I hated the “bigness” of it. I can sleep 8, but I don’t know 4 people I’d share a tent with. It was just too much, too much to fool with and honestly – it KEPT me from going out by myself. bringing with me kept me from going. It needs to get – smaller, more manageable.

Like my diet, like my work-week, like my stress level…

When I camp, what do I need?

Something to do: My phone (books, music, maps, audio recorder, contact) and battery packs.

Something to sit in: A comfortable chair (one of my biggest complaints of camping is picnic tables).

Some place to sleep comfortably.

Some food & a way to prepare it.

A clean bathroom/place to shower.

Bugspray, first aid kit, rain gear, clothes… blah, blah, blah.

That’s it?

And that’s why there is a tent in my living room, next to a small burner, next to a chair rated for big people. This is my new rig, all I need.

Funny fact: All of it breaks down small enough to fit into my 40L backpack.

Fun fact: All of it combined weighs less than 20 pounds.

Freaky fact: Wearing the backpack, I am still physically lighter than I was by myself two months ago.

Fitting fact: the pack fits perfectly on the rear seat & mounting plate of my bike & has mounting straps to secure it.

Fantastic fact: That leaves my tank and side bags free for clothing, toiletries, food & water.

Final fact: I’ve already found 3 campgrounds within a 3 hour ride that have WI-fi so I can still catch a small-screen movie… but don’t have cell service.

Cue the music.

Lenny Kravitz, “I want to get away, I’m gonna fly away…”

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… Wait? There’s no WI-fi?…

I used to camp with my parents. We would pack up the van, put the bikes on the front rack, hitch up the trailer, pit the sailboat on top of that and Sanford & son our way to the North Carolina coast. There were a few incidents, like repacking wheel bearings on the road or when my dad’s buddy dropped a trailer on my dad’s foot and dad ended up in a cast, but it was filled with days of playing in the water, riding our bikes around the campground & finding new ways to permantly scar ourselves. It was grand.

At least I remember it grand. That’s probably why I continued to camp well into my forties, bought a few tents, really nice cooking gear, etc. and even figured out how to “air condition” a tent with a cooler, bag of ice & a battery-powered fan. My tent is an instant-up 14×10 two room cabin, my two-burner propane tailgate grill can cook breakfast for 4 while perking coffee. Sure it’s a tight fit for the back of the Subie, but it’s all good right?

It was, until I thought about it.

Blame the bike.

Because it’s a “mini-adventure” bike I had these dreams of riding from campground to campground, popping up my mini-tent, sleeping on my mini-mattress, and seeing America. I admit it – in my heart, I’m a romantic, even if my brain isn’t.

So as I searched for a tent that would fit in my water-proof back-bag, my brain reminded me that, near as I can figure, I haven’t really enjoyed a camping trip since about 1986. I’ve enjoyed the company, the stories, but as for camping, I just don’t have it in me.

I know that because I have a 14×10 tent that, if it wasn’t for the door, I could park my Subie inside it. I can put a 4-5 person tent inside my tent. It has two rooms – and weighs a ton. Why?

Because I once spent a windy 34 degree night in a 36″tall dome tent on an air mattress. I got “chilled to the bone” to the point where I honestly considered wetting myself just to be warm for a few seconds.

That same small tent once tried to kill me in a wind-storm. I was on the ground on a 12 inch tall cot and it kept bending until the fabric covered my face.

The whole time, I’m laying awake thinking someone was stealing our gear.

So I bought a tent that was the size of a suburban house bedroom. I could bring the gear in at night & get one of those queen-sized inflatable beds and really do it right. I can bring the gear in at night (I never have).

Did you know most of the cheap mattresses are either made of latex or use a powder to keep it bendy, but not sticky? I didn’t, until I woke up barely able to breathe. My son, still awake at 3am watching a Jake and the Never land pirates on the DVD player at least looked up from his screen. That same trip? I pinched a nerve in my back going off a diving board & spent hours on a folded out sleeping bag, on that mattress. It was 172.3 degrees and I considered wetting myself just to get cool. OK, not really, just because I didn’t want to try to get up or walk 300 feet to the bath-house.

Which reminds me. Apparently we decided as a culture that campground bath-house technology peaked in 1954. It’s somehow always “more” of the weather outside. If it’s 32 degrees outside, it’s somehow colder on the throne, and taking a shower above 90? Your Deoderant evaporates in the container before your shower is over. And fellas, if you not going to contribute to porcelain fund – find a tree – not the floor. I’m pretty sure that the mixture of hepatitis Z will be created in a campground men’s room & 28 days later, we’re all zombies.

Still though, the view… Is usually of an RV owned by a divorcee who “won” it in court, but is now too busy working to pay for it. It’s little grey satellite calls out to the campground children as the gather around, praying with their little tablets – just hoping there is free WI-fi, but there never is – there never is.

Which is why you wake up at 5am and find little children of the corn leaning on the side of the tent, there little faces pressed up against the netting, watching a 7″ wide screen from the outside. While you try to refocus, one will ask if you have any other DVDs, as if standing outside my tent like little Jason Vorhees at 5am and asking for a favor is perfectly appropriate behavior.

And that’s the another breakdown. When did campgrounds the gathering place of drunk Skynard fans? “Back in my day…” We had our own fields for bonfires, shenanigans & daring do. We didn’t pay $13 a night to howl at the moon next to a dentist that is trying to bond with the kids he never sees. If you’re going to throw .22L ammo into the fire, do it on your own land.

And THAT’s the real problem.

I noticed it yesterday coming in to Louisville. I grew up with my Grandfater’s farm, camping, day trips to the lake and long trips to the beach. I got disconnected from the land somehow. I don’t mean some “mother Gia is angry, so we shall dance to appease her” My mom & dad gave me that (and my first motorcycle). Pulling off on Hurstbourne Lane it took 2 minutes before I got my first honk – for not running a fresh red light.

Living on top of each other just makes us angry, anxious and stressed. It’s a living video game and people lose it. In parking lots, in lines, in traffic, in stores, we now live in a “whatayameanican’tgetfries!!” “Because ma’am, this is a bank” world. Where people pay $8 for coffee & complain about free WI-fi.

People think we’ve “nerfed up” the world with participation trophies and anti-bullying campaigns, while failing to realize it’s an attempt to improve the world. “They’ve taken God out of our schools” – maybe – but they’re trying to bring compassion, mercy, and kindness into the students.

They’re trying to create a world where the Dentist with the $80 adventure zip-off leg pants, luxury SUV and air-conditioned pop-up camper can walk over to a group of drunk Skynard fans and say “Turn it up man,” be handed a frosted beverage and sing “Sweet home Alabama” together at 2 am while some idiot in a mini-tent staggers outside to brave the palm-sized mosquitoes in the campground’s men’s room.

And that’s why I’ll buy a mini-tent, and figure out a way to sleep more comfortably. I’ll buy tiny things and pack them all into a bag that I can strap to the bike and just “go.” When possible, I’ll crash @ the houses of friends, but the preference will be with friends in a field.

Because, while camping hasn’t treated me well – My friend’s always do.

Just give me three steps…

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Faith and Fitness

On January 25th, my fiancé gave me my birthday present a month early (What you just thought should tell you a lot about your faith). It was membership into a fitness program that I’d been thinking about for about a year, but never pulled the trigger because I didn’t want 1) to spend any more money on fitness programs and 2) didn’t want another failure. You see, I’ve failed a LOT in the past. I’ve dropped weight by joining a gym and paying a very fit man to yell at me three times a week. Then, I quit. I dropped more than seventy pounds over four months twice – by liquid diets – and either gained most of the weight back, or ended up in my doctor’s office listening to explanations that the lumps found in my body were “most likely” deposits of calcium. Diet and exercise haven’t worked, so why would this?

Well, she bought it. I read the materials, listened to my inner-voice and realized, this was going to be another failure. It was going to fail because I was going to fail it. There was no way I was going to do three workouts a week and switch my diet to the “stuff food eats” diet again. I liked my chips, sodas, fries… (sorry faded off for a minute imagining fries) … and Krispy Kremes. And I’m right – the program is going to be another failure – because I can’t lose all the weight I need to (almost a hundred pounds) in the next 3 weeks. Well, it’s now been 26 days, almost the end of week four and this is what I have learned.

One – the bathroom scale is not the measure that is important. That “fundamental” element of every program I’ve ever tried is centered around this evil thing. Those numbers are the numbers of competitions, of the past, and frankly, will get my morning started off in exactly the wrong mental state. “I’m up .7 pounds from yesterday, what does that mean? What if I move it over to this part of the floor, and angle it this way, and step on it slowly, or what if I…” In the meantime my kid gets dropped off as school late because I’m obsessively trying to get every single tenth of a pound off that number.” That leads to failure. I know that about myself. I’ll starve to see that number come down, and then immediately run through a drive-thru to “celebrate.” This does not work long-term.

Two – the tailor’s tape is my friend. I have this measuring tape that tailors use, all plastic and bendy. I wouldn’t use it build a book case, but here’s what it tells me. In 21 days, my belly is 8” smaller. My chest is 2” smaller. My hips are 1” smaller. Arms, legs – all the same. My doctor was apparently right (who knew?) I apparently carry all my fat around my heart, lungs, liver… all the really important parts. So, I may have lost “only” fifteen pounds – but my body has lost significant size.

Three – everything I learned about diet was completely and utterly wrong. Did you know there were “good” fats and “good carbs?” I didn’t. Here’s what else I didn’t know. I can have a couple of pieces of real bacon (which I slow down for, just to enjoy the fatty-goodness) every now and then, and enjoy them, just not a pound at a time. I can have a coke, a nectar-of-the-gods coke, but now I drink from a 12 oz bottle, and a few sips is enough to pass the craving before I go back to my trusted water bottle (but not until the taste gets out of my mouth, I want to enjoy that as long as possible). I still probably take in 1200-1500 calories a day, but I don’t obsess over them. The other night, in a little-tiny bowl, I actually took some of my son’s uber-cheesed macaroni and ate some. It was delicious – which made me think of how often I’d shoveled this stuff into my gullet without actually taking the time to taste it. I hated carrots, but put some salt on them (now that I don’t eat fast-food often, my body can handle it) and they’re salty and crunchy, so much for potato chips during the game. Switching to “real” steaks instead of processed meats, yeah it’s a little more expensive, my grocery bills have gone up $40 a week, but my eat-out expenses have gone down more than $70.

Four – can you tell I’m enthusiastic? Usually the first thing to go in one of these things is my sense of humor. It’s still what it was (I won’t say I’m funny – but you’re free to say it). I have more energy (mostly) and I have found something I didn’t have before. I had diet-friends, fitness challenge buddies, but for the most part, most of what I did was on my own. This program has facebook support groups that make me laugh, inspire me, and when I do get down (because every now and then, we all get sad), I post “Hey, in need of some inspiration here.” I get a couple-hundred messages of cheer and support.

Five – maybe this will work? After all, it’s “my” program, I’m making it my own. I’m adapting to it (sometimes the motions are a little close to “why I need my knee repaired again” for my taste) and making it adapt to become something permanent in my life. I can live with it…

This whole program is based on the concept of “having faith in yourself.” But in reality, you rely on the message boards, the owner/guru, the other leaders. I rely on the recipes, the movements, the dynamic resistance, and the charisma of 3-time WCW champion Diamond Dallas Page to get me through this thing that lets me kick my own backside with nothing more than my own bodyweight. I have to buy in, to trust… and the testimonies are what had me on the fence for so long instead of dismissing it.

IN that way, it is a faith, a belief and yes, a discipline. And a commitment to do it for the rest of my life. And now it’s time to bring this home. Do I know if I’m going to hit my doctor’s goal weight for me? (I’m 70 pounds away according to his BMI-based goal). No. I don’t, but I’m at least interested in trying to find out, and strong enough to move on into more challenging sessions.

Many times, we try to exercise our faith without preparing for the strain. In today’s news there was a story about a power-lifter that came upon an accident involving a Jeep and a small child trapped under it. He literally lifted that over-turned Jeep off the kid so the first-responders could save that child’s life. He’d probably been asked more than once, “Why are you trying to get so big?” and now he literally can say, “I saved a child’s life.” That’s superhero stuff (Hulk it up!).

But we don’t often work out our faith. We don’t take in the good things that we need to, like scripture and study. We don’t surround ourselves with a supportive network, like a church that accepts us where we are and cheers for us every now and again, encourages us rather than measuring us on some scale of fitness. We don’t let ourselves commit to it until we try it out for a bit and see if we can see the results, and our ability to measure changes is not realistic – like trying to lose almost a hundred pounds in a week. We look for the perfect program, or book to buy, or short-term fix to a larger problem (like wearing a knee brace because we’re putting off the surgery). But it doesn’t give us the substantive change we long for.

Because we lack two things – inspiration and discipline. Inspiration from hearing those testimonies and being a part of other people’s stories. And the discipline to practice the routines even if it feels like we aren’t getting the results that we want, or we aren’t getting them RIGHT NOW! One has to come from a community, the other has to come from within yourself. If you want a fit-faith you have to be willing to work and seek inspiration.

Now, I know the typical response is, “I get all the inspiration I need from…” and I get it. But let me clue you in on something. On the fourth day of this, I noticed I couldn’t breathe in one of the positions. It was a safe position, meant to lower your heart rate, and I was gasping and panting to the point where my heart-rate shot up until I could hear it in my ears. I was dizzy. So, I called a friend of mine who laughed about it. “Yeah, put your knees farther apart and your ankles closer together.” All that extra body I had? I was pressing it into my thighs, restricting my lungs. Next time I hit the position, “BAM!” my heart rate started coming down and I could breathe. I also dripped a lot of sweat onto the mat (anyone know how to clean a yoga mat?).

I needed the help of an expert. I needed the help of someone who had not only been down the same road, but had taken the time to learn how to pave it and make it smoother for others.

So, feel free to work out your faith on your own. But be aware, if you try to do it all on your own, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. You’ve probably tried many times in your life to do that and may even think you’ve failed. But if I can suggest something? Find yourself a community of people that will support and inspire you, and find some leaders that know what they’re doing to give you some guidance before you really do damage.

In my early faith, I used to believe a lot of things, and I didn’t work them out all that hard. Then life started punching me in the face, and I didn’t know how to take a punch, how to block it, or if I was strong enough to handle it. But I made a decision, to stretch my faith, to test it, to work it, and I’m still doing that – because it’s a life-long goal. I have more questions now than I used to because I’ve stretched it. I used to believe in a very limited God. For a particular people, in a particular time, in a particular place, with particular rules and behaving in a very particular way.

But then I realized something, on my knees, struggling for breath. God is more peculiar than particular. What kind of peculiar love extends to all? What kind of peculiar love involves a sacrifice so thorough? How peculiar, strange and unusual, weird and abnormal is this love God has for people that haven’t earned it, don’t trust it, and question it so regularly?

Those are my workout questions, and so now when life punches me in the faith, I try to remember that faith, that is strong, doesn’t come from me, but with my relationship with the Almighty. And then I remind myself, “I don’t know why – but I can’t wait to see how God is going to work through this.”

It’s not only a faith I can live with, but a faith I will die with.

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The Myth of Control

We don’t control a lot. We can’t. We think we can, and there are definitely people in the world that suffer from the delusion that they are “in control,” but they aren’t. You may have power, influence, wealth… but you are never, EVER, going to have total control. Right now in the US we have a president with enough money to make Solomon blush and control over most of the government – but yeah, even he can’t get the stuff he says he wants done finished. So if THAT guy, in THAT position, who cares so little about what people think can’t get it done, what makes you think you can? He’s “free” of needing money, free of a need of friends, apparently free of his wife’s influence if adult actresses are to be believed. He’s the world’s most jerkiest guy in supposedly the world’s most powerful position, and even he can’t get a fence put up because the HMO says no.

So why do we so desperately seek control? Because before we were two – and we figured out that screaming this way gets us fed, this way gets us changed and that way gets us a toy – we have tried to control our environment. And this goes on in life from “Ok, I had my food labelled in our staff fridge and someone ate all my thin mints!” to “If I rinse out this bottle of salad dressing and place it in the proper bin, I’m saving the world.” We think we have control, and so we stress out over it, but in the grand scheme of things, we don’t. And this is “pouring all the patience out of the bottle.”

I learned this watching motorcyclists and road-ragers. Do you know why drivers are so angry? It’s mainly because we’re doing something that we’re not designed for. When we go fast, weaving in and out of traffic, lane-splitting on a bike, or driving like we’re in a video game, we get amped up. Adrenaline rushes, we get focused (except for morons who still insist they’re good drivers that can text or watch TV while driving) and if we get hyper-focused (which we really should be while hurling a ton of metal around at speed) when that gets interrupted, we pop off. Add to it being late, trying to apply makeup, smoking, adjusting the radio, trying to open a bag of Cheetos… and we’re even more amped up. “I’m a good driver.” Yeah, but you know what you don’t control? The other drivers. They change lanes without signaling. They have blind spots (if they look at all). They think you should let them over, so they just come on over. Traffic, mis-timed lights, school busses, trucks that can’t get off the line because they have to go through 9 gears before they cross the intersection, anyone in a Prius, rental box-trucks driven by people used to driving a car that could be put in the back of what they’re driving with room left over for a couch… it’s not Frogger y’all. In some part of your brain, there is a small part, probably buried deep inside you that has been dormant since you got your permit – and it’s screaming “THIS IS INSANITY!” as you go past running speed and it’s churning away at the stress mill like an Amish woman making butter, and each mile, until our brains eventually shut it down (which makes us more dangerous) it builds, and builds, and builds until someone’s window washer sprays over their car and gets droplets of moisture on your freshly waxed… BOOM! Example: People have been shot over parking spaces and being cut off – YET we will still see people get out of their cars to go back to another car and complain. AND those people will actually roll their window down to shout back. AND then an even smaller percentage of that brand of idiot will get out of their car to directly engage. No one says, “Yeah, I’m so sorry, I’m glad you weren’t hurt.” And the biggest morons are holding a camera saying, “I got that on tape, I got that on tape” because at some point, someone is going to shoot them and take their camera/phone.

Telecomute? Computer viruses. Kid’s get sick. Customer service needs to be called. Pipes froze. The super is super-creepy. Flat tires. Need groceries. Power is out. The internet goes out. The DVR only recorded the first half-hour of Million Little Things. Parents. Homework. Projects. That evil person at work that has become your arch-enemy in some weird office drama/comic book situation that started over post-its and will end in death. We are all wound too tight. All the patience is poured out of the bottle, and we need a good stiff drink (If I EVER go into the bourbon business, my first product sold only in mini-bottles will be called “Patience”).

So relax. Which to show you how bad a shape we are in, is a trigger-phrase for most people. “Just relax.” Is pushing the final button. “What you think you’re better than me because I think this shows I care more, am more professional…” While you stand blinking & thinking “This is not relaxing.” But seriously, lighten up. You’re making it harder on the rest of us, at least until we stop caring, and (especially with Generation X) that’s a point we all get to eventually. And your level of mismanaging stress isn’t really helping anyone around you, “I’m just keeping it real?” Well, in the real world, you’ll notice when someone “unfriends” you. In reality your showing your lack of self-control and making a fool of yourself. “Well, they can think what they want to think.” Exactly – you have influence but no control.

IF you live in “crisis mode” you will eventually burn out and take out the people around you. Ever had a work-a-holic boss? The one that worked nights and weekends (while making 4x your salary) and expected you to do the same? You know the one with the really nice car, who is divorced and never sees their kids. The angry one. With the significant other that has the personality of a golden retriever (friendly, kinda goofy and not really ‘into’ things like the other dogs) The one prone to go off like a shot but then stay and carpet bomb? In other words, snap-reacts without all the information and starts a tirade that makes the employee go from “oh, I should do better,” to “Oh, this really must be important if they’re yelling this much” to “Ok, I got it, you can stop screaming now” to “And we’re still on this? When was the last time I updated my resume” to “Ok, now that I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get fired, does Chicken Palace deliver for lunch?”

Yeah – you can’t control work. If you’re an employee or a boss, or owner. You’re got to answer to someone at some time.

How about at home? When was the last time you got into a “discussion” and didn’t even realize it was a serious discussion until about two minutes had passed by? The “fun” about these is you get to have the same conversations over-and-over and in some cases both parties get to build stress. My first wife and I were together for 21 years. About year 6, I “corrected” her method of putting dishes in the dishwasher – she swore she’d never put another dish in it. 15 years later, in a cancer-induced morphine fueled fog she walked into the kitchen, looked at me and said, “I can’t remember your name, or why this is so important, but…” and put her dish on the countertop. (Important note: I loved her for it). You can’t control other people (see “carpet bombing”) forever. And, other people can’t control you unless you let them.

So – you can’t control “home.”

You can’t control who wins the big game (even if you have stood up and done the circle, wearing your rally hat and sporting the same socks as when they won their last championship).

You can’t control what other people think (even if you bring them Ruth Hunt Mint – Chocolate meltables – which are the single greatest thing every invented). You have influence, but not control.

And sometimes, you can’t control yourself. Look, I don’t just mean your mouth or thoughts, I mean physically. If you could, I would not weigh as much as I do and would still enjoy boxes of Ruth Hunt Chocolate-mint meltables. I’ve switched over to non-processed foods, limited gluten and almost no corn syrup… I drink a 12 ounce coke and my bowels are as irritable as my son when the internet goes down.

So – the first step in reducing stress is taking control of what you can (which is largely things about you), influencing others where possible and learning that HOW the dishwasher is loaded is much less important than if the dishwasher is actually run.

The old trope line (which I’ve yet to find scriptural support for) was “God will never give you anything more than you can handle.” Truth is, we often take on things that are well beyond our capacity to handle and then expect the higher-power to clean up the mess. And that is the height of our arrogance, and the depth of our ignorance. When we want God to take away our trash, but don’t invite God into the house that makes it, and think throwing in a $20 tip every now and again pays God back.

So give it up. Sit down and make a list of all the things you are “responsible” for, and then figure out exactly how much “control” you have over them. You’ll be surprised, and you may find yourself with more patience in the bottle. Sure, some things are going to fall apart – that’s what happens when you buy stuff at Buyabunchmart. But it’s also what happens when you buy stuff at Handmadeexpensiveprimo. But something is always going to fall apart. It’s life. And when you recognize your lack of control in most of it, it will give you focus for the things that you can control, or influence, or eliminate from your life.

But what do I know, I’m just a guy that still occasionally locks his keys in his car, with the spare key locked in a house, for which I have no spare key.