The Fasting Experiment

”The idea had been building for some time.  Several months, actually.  But it nonetheless took me by surprise when it fully revealed itself to me on the Wednesday of Holy Week.  That idea was to fast.  That idea was to honor Jesus/participate in or at least symbolically reflect His passion by fasting from Thursday to Good Friday service.

This idea came from several sources.  One is that I had been thinking about fasting for some time.  I had been thinking about what it was for.  I knew it wasn’t just duty to perform (see Zechariah 7-8) and I knew it really wasn’t a way to manipulate God/put God in my debt so that He does what I want (this is impossible).  But I knew it was something Jesus and Moses and Daniel and a lot of other biblical figures did, something Jesus talked about us doing as if He expected us to do it or at least expected that we would do it, and I was wondering what it was for.  I got at least part of my answer to this sermon in which one of the Bible Project guys says that fasting is an appropriate response to changes in life.  He actually laments the fact that he has never fasted in the way many of the Bible characters did, and I likewise lament that I never have, either.

 

Another was a podcast I recently listened to in which a Christian teacher said that millennials are more interested in the practice of fasting than any other spiritual practice.  I am not one who thinks that Christian leaders should capitulate to anything millennials want; there are other generations out there and other generations to come, after all.  But I was interested in why they were so interested in it.

A third was Daniel 10.  I came across Daniel 10 is some podcast or another, and was really moved when I heard him say this:

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So I had been flirting with fasting for some time, having been influenced by these and a few other sources (some of which were not spiritual at all, were presenting fasting as merely a health-promoting discipline, not one to draw near to God).  And when this idea came to the forefront that Wednesday, I decided to give into it.  I decided to fast for all day Thursday and most of the day Good Friday.  I decided to participate in/at the very least reflect the passion of Jesus by denying myself not only choice food but all food.  I decided to experiment with fasting in this way.  And I did it.  I gave it my best shot, anyway.  As I did, I had the following reflections:

  1. You have to prepare for fasting.  My fast would have been easier if I had geared up for it a week in advance.  I didn’t.  Instead, I fasted on the fly.  And that made it harder.  Since I hardly ate Wednesday (only a couple bowls of cereal the entire day), I was already down several hundred calories.  That made not eating Thursday and Friday very difficult.  While I was able to do my daily workout Thursday before the fast really got going, I was not able to do so Friday; I was too weak to do so.  I also had a couple times when I almost passed out.  I eventually cheated, eating a banana and some grapes late Thursday night and ending the fast Friday at 4 rather than after the Good Friday service at 7 pm (this last one also had something to do with my schedule; I had my daughter whom I had to keep busy for a couple hours, and the playland at McDonald’s is the easiest way to do that).  If I could do it again, I would prepare better, making sure to fuel myself better the days before the fast and get my workouts in before as well.
  2. I was never as hungry as I thought I would be.  I thought I would be starving during the fast, but I wasn’t.  I felt a little empty inside and a little weak, but I didn’t feel the gnawing hunger I’ve felt at other times.  I’m not sure why this is.  But I did want to eat.  Most of that wanting to eat was psychological.  I just like snacking and wanted to snack whether I was hungry or not.  I regarded this as a weakness, the very kind of weakness I believe fasting is intended to combat.
  3. My normal diet made fasting harder.  I couldn’t believe how weak I became after just one day without food.  This was especially so considering Daniel fasted without choice food for three weeks and Jesus fasted with apparently no food at all for 40 days.  I can’t prove anything here, so my conclusion might be suspect, but I did wonder if this was due to my overall diet.  I eat lots of sugar.  I have refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup and gluten and a whole lot of things Daniel and Jesus never had period, much less never had to fast from.  I wondered if this diet, my regular, normal, everyday diet, was just such that it by itself (apart from willpower, apart from wanting to do right and not do wrong) made fasting far more difficult that it was for someone without such a diet.  I further wondered, then, if my daily spiritual diet (my TV watching, my going the mall, my consumerist, disposable, buying-and-selling, always-being-entertained) makes the “to live is Christ” lifestyle the Bible promotes equally far more difficult.  I think it does.
  4. Fasting was hard to talk about.  Jesus teaches that we are to behave no differently when we are fasting.  Because of this, I kind of feel fasting is something I need to keep to myself.  But the way I interacted with people throughout the day, and the way food is often part of such interactions, made it nearly impossible to do this.  I had to tell people I was fasting, and it felt weird.
  5. Fasting was appropriate.  It feels a little self-righteous and deluded to say that I was participating in the passion of Jesus by fasting; I’m fully aware of that.  And yet, to some small degree that is exactly what it was.  It felt right to fast from food, particularly “choice food” during that period as some small reflection of all Jesus did without and all Jesus suffered from during that exact same period.  And it was just fasting from food.  Video games was something else I fasted from; it just didn’t seem appropriate to be playing video games, particularly the bloody kind, during the latter part of Holy Week.  Sex was another; sex just didn’t seem right that weekend.  I had heard of people fasting from such things before, and I always thought it was weird, even legalistic.  I was always glad I was raised in a tradition that didn’t have such fasts.  But this time these fasts seemed not weird but right to me.

So that was my fasting experiment.  Did I do it right?  I’m not sure.  I did participate in the passion of Christ in some small way and/or respect the sacrifice that we commemorate that beautiful weekend, though.  I’m fairly convince of that.  I’m convinced fasting in the flawed way I did was a better way to observe the events of this weekend than not fasting at all (just as feasting is a better way to observe the events of the following Sunday).  Even more than that, I learned a lot from doing it.  My eyes were opened to some other important realities, particularly the reality that the way I routinely live, a way that does not seem wrong to me/seems normal to me, often prevents me from being in the flow of God.  I think that makes the experiment a success.

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

 

I really hope you’re not reading this on Thanksgiving Day.  I hope you are far too busy with friends and family and food to be looking at blogs.  But just in case you are, let me give you a few Thanksgiving thoughts.

The first comes from a book about Thanksgiving by Melanie Kirkpatrick.

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In that book, she describes how some pastors disliked the scheduling of football games on Thanksgiving Day.  These pastors believed the games took away from the church services being held that day.  A rabbi chimed into this debate, saying this:

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Yeah, I’m a football fan, too, and I will be watching portions of all three games being played, so I definitely see things the way the rabbi does (and I agree with his portrayal of God and what a good God enjoys).

But I will be giving thanks on the day as well.  That is nothing new for me; I thank God every day for dozens of blessings.  But I do give special thanks on this day.  There are many Scriptures which fuel this thanks, of course, but there are several songs that do so as well.  I wanted to share a few of those with you:

 

There are a dozen or so others, all of them special to me at this time of year.  I hope you enjoy a few of those if you have the time.  I also hope you eat well, as I said earlier, and that you are well-loved and love well.  I hope you look up to heaven at some time between the gridiron and the table.  And I really do hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

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The Morally Superior and the Intellectually Inferior

While checking Twitter last night (Christmas Eve), I found this tweet:

Now I don’t know what Tyson (or is it “deGrasse Tyson”?) meant with that tweet.  It looks like an insult to me, a verbal shot at people of faith (particularly people of my faith).  It seems to have that snark which is so popular in public discourse today, the sarcastic insinuation, the snide suggestion that something is wrong with the world’s 2.5 billion Christians.  I will admit it might not be that.  I’m not a mind reader.  I don’t know and can’t know what Tyson’s intent was in making this statement, so I won’t speculate on it.  But I will say (and I think it is fair to say) that it seems like a shot to me.  My initial reaction to this tweet, right or wrong, is that it is a shot at Christians and maybe even Christianity on Christmas Day.

Even if it isn’t a such a shot, though, there are plenty such shots out there.  There are quite a few people who have not only rejected The Faith but go one step further to attack The Faith.  The corruption of the Ichthus Fish, a millennia-old Christian symbol, is one shot/attack.  I see these corruptions on cars around my neighborhood quite frequently.   They have become so common they even have their own Wikipedia page.

Funny?  That’s debatable.  Classy?  Definitely not.  There is nothing classy about profaning what someone else regards as sacred.

Beyond this, Richard Dawkins told listeners as the 2012 Reason Rally that “Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt”, and then further challenged those leaders to “Mock [people of faith]! Ridicule them! In public!”  (You can find the full speech here.)

And beyond that, several non-believers have publicly referred to The Faith as “a fairy tale” or “make believe” or “the greatest story ever sold”.  I’ve also heard God called “an imaginary friend for adults”.  These non-believers have referred to The Faith and God in these ways not in a matter-of-fact way (which is one thing), but in that snarky, snide, sarcastic way I mentioned above (which is another thing altogether).

And I don’t suppose that these shots or attacks are all that bad.  “Sticks and stones”, right?  These are just words.  If having someone make a negative comment about me and/or my faith in either an academic or an aggressive manner is the worst thing that happens to me on this Christmas day, then I am doing pretty good.

But I am still left with one question about this matter.  There is still one question I have to ask before I can fully dismiss these words, a question which came immediately to mind as soon as I saw this tweet.  The question has to do with the fact that non-believers or anti-believers, particularly scientific ones like Tyson and Dawkins, are often presented as “more moral” or “morally superior” to believers like me.  I need go no further than the note I presented in the last post to give one example of this.  The young man in that note made this exact statement in no uncertain terms.  He said the people of the world are often “better” than the people of church.  Not only so, but they are often presented as intellectually superior as well.  In fact, those two things seem to me to be put together, i.e., these people are morally superior because they are intellectually superior, while people of faith are morally inferior because they are intellectually superior.

The question I have, then, is why are these morally superior individuals using such morally inferior tactics?  Why are these morally superior ones using tactics which I, the morally inferior one, have never used (I’ve never attacked a Jewish person on Hanukkah or a Muslim person on Ramadan; I’ve never attacked anyone for their faith or lack of it, period; I’ve merely tried to live my own life of faith)?  Why are these using tactics which my morally inferior faith forbids me from using (Paul tells us not to use the weapons of the world, Peter tells us to maintain gentleness and respect in such situations, and Jesus taught us to love our enemies, so my faith repeatedly forbids such tactics)?  Are snark, sarcasm, and snideness morally superior attitudes?  Is attacking someone, particularly someone intellectually inferior to you, for their faith on the high holiday of that faith a morally superior thing to do?

And if it is not, as I clearly don’t think it is and imagine you don’t, either, then why are those who do such things presented as morally superior?  If this tactic is not morally superior, how can these individuals be considered morally superior?  For that matter, how can they be considered intellectually superior?

Upon That Night

I recently had the (probably bad) idea of writing a collection of Halloween-themed short stories.  Hey, everyone else has done it, so I should give it a try to, right?  Right or not, that’s what I did.  I was unsatisfied with many of the Halloween anthologies out there as the stories in them are either way too gory and mean-spirited or don’t have much to do with Halloween at all.  I wanted my short stories to be fully “Halloweenish” and I didn’t want them to be gory at all.  The end result was this work in progress: Upon This Night.

UponthatNight

I’ve got the opening, closing, and two of the eight or so planned stories mostly done.  I’d love to have you give them a look and give me some feedback.  How do I get you to do that?  Um…please?  Or maybe trick or treat?