Monthly Archives: April 2011

Gallery is up

Day 43-KCCI's follow up piece shows a leaner machine when side-by-side with Day 1

Michelle suggested taking photos every day of the fast just to track my melting, and so I’ve accumulated a few of those shots and put them up on a Gallery Page, in case you’re interested, which you can find here.

I know some folks are interested to hear about the breaking of the fast and how things are going, so I’ll try to put up a post detailing my first week or so “back.” I have a lot happening this weekend, but will try to do that in the early part of next week.

Peace and Pints!

J.


The weight guess winner

Back on Day 30 , I initiated a contest to see who might be able to guess my final gravity. Though there were two guesses of 134.5 and one guess of 134.8, that winner was Ben, who correctly guessed 135 pounds on April 7.

And he wins!

I’ve contacted Ben, and as soon as I get his address, he’ll have a copy of Beginning Homebrew on the way to his mailbox.

Congratulations, Ben!


Day 46, Part 2

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

-Socrates

Since there have been a few negative reactions to my anticlimactic journey’s final post, I thought I’d take a moment to clarify. Following that, the world is free to agree or disagree with me.

In short, some of my final Day 46 remarks offended a few of my Catholic readers. I’ve read it over a few times and have decided to talk about three areas of the post to clarify my thoughts and language. Clarity  is always helpful–after drinking beer and eating no food for 46 days, I hope folks will understand that fatigue was certainly setting in. That I didn’t get grumpy and blatantly attack the neo-prohibitionist denominations out there during this journey is a minor miracle.

In addition to putting up 46 generally pensive posts, as well as conducting countless interviews and writing a whole lot more on my own time, it’s easy for me to have forgotten what I said, did or wrote where. Further, many blog posts, and certainly all of these, are basically short, first-drafts. On top of this “part-time” project, I have a family and full-time job.

Offensive Statement #1

“Some Catholics have construed the spiritual element of my journey to be my willingness to give penance.”

Reason #1

This wasn’t a broad-brushed indictment on the Catholic church. This was a statement made in response to comments or emails I’ve received in the last few weeks. People alluded to my willingness to give penance in this way. But as I’ve said from the beginning, this isn’t why I took on the project. The second part of the opening paragraph explains why: “my historical study into this beer legend.” As I said, I had an “openness to spiritually-thrust enlightenment.” But that wasn’t the primary reason for the project. The media hasn’t been helpful. I’ve been clear about my intentions, but some TV stations and print publications sidestepped my clarity. Or they used sub-headers like, “and he’s doing it for religious reasons.”

Not exactly. I clarified that whenever I was live somewhere, whenever I could fit it in.

Offensive Statement #2

“I believe that God forgives when we ask it, and not for the number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys we lift up or for simply attending confession.”

Reason #2

I don’t have a problem with Our Fathers or Hail Marys or confession. I think they have value. I simply stated that “I believe that God forgives when we ask it” and that “Confession and forgiveness can happen anywhere.” If someone wants to dispute that “maintaining an open communication line with God” is a lousy idea, I’d like to hear their arguments, though I’ll be honest, I’m not likely to buy them.

One piece of this story that really didn’t make it to the blog was my time at Conception Abbey. It was an amazing, eye-opening experience, and I wrote 14 pages while I was down there. I acquired a new respect for the Catholic church while I was there, but only posted a short piece of video to cover that time. I wasn’t going to post 14 pages on a blog and I didn’t know where to start to distill it down.

Offensive Statement #3

“Confession and forgiveness can happen anywhere, and the key is more about maintaining an open communication line with God, and not in donning a suit and nodding off for an hour on Sundays. Sitting in a church doesn’t make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes one a car.”

Reason #3

Just because this project started with a group of Catholic monks, doesn’t mean that my thoughts are limited to the Catholic denomination. As I’ve said before, I don’t care about denominations. The common denominator among them is Christ. That’s the part that I personally choose to focus on. So it’s important for me to point out that people don suits in all churches and don’t necessarily take Christ seriously in their lives.

I grew up in a small town where everybody knows everybody, and occasionally my mom forced me to go to church. There, I found people who surprised me. I’d seen them in other contexts, and the church didn’t seem to “suit” them. That’s a problem I’ve had with Christians all my life. Some of them are poseurs. And that cuts across all denominations.

Other thoughts

The aforementioned words by Socrates sum up my view on life. I asked a lot of questions about God and the church when I was a kid, and I shied well away from them both for a long time. Not everyone who was brought up Catholic stays there. They call themselves “recovering Catholics.” For some, it happens the other way around. Some come to God having been brought up with no church background at all.

We are all different. Thank God.

I still interrogate life and God and the church. If I’m to crack on this denomination or that, it would be the ones who pretend that Jesus didn’t drink wine (or wine with alcohol in it) or don’t acknowledge that the Bible contains 27 references to wine as a blessing or 20 references to the loss of wine or strong drink as an example of God’s curse.

I’m a nice guy, but some things need not be sugar-coated. During Day 46, I had more in my head than I had contained in the post, and for that, I’m sorry.

Unfortunately, these issues distracted a few from some of the “meat” of the post, in which I challenged myself to continue “always on the path, always growing.” I mentioned that I had discovered as so many from cultures all across the globe had before me, that there is a lot of value to fasting. My experience reinforced my beliefs that today’s culture of excess breeds waste and gluttony. I discovered that my body (and probably yours too) is capable of so much more than I could ever fully realize.

With any luck, I’ll have the good sense to apply these tidbits to my life.

Cheers, all!

J.


Day 46

Some Catholics have construed the spiritual element of my journey to be my willingness to give penance, though for me it was primarily an openness to spiritually-thrust enlightenment during the time of my historical study into this beer legend.

Of course, God will have noticed my sacrifice, knowing my deep-rooted personal self, and appreciate that I would so willingly “endure” it. But for me, penance wasn’t the reason behind this fast. There was history and wisdom to be farmed out of this ground. I believe that God forgives when we ask it, and not for the number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys we lift up or for simply attending confession.

Confession and forgiveness can happen anywhere, and the key is more about maintaining an open communication line with God, not in donning a suit and nodding off for an hour on Sundays. Sitting in a church doesn’t make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes one a car.

In the early days of this journey, I worked through a “Monk in the World” curriculum put out by Abbey of the Arts, and feel compelled to return to a few words that struck a chord for the long haul:

“As monks in the world, we are always on the path, always growing, we never fully arrive and so we always have more to learn… [Being a monk in the world] is not something we simply become and arrive fully. It means being committed to the process of discovery, a transformation of a lifetime.”

As an avid cook, I know that simple, uncomplicated ingredients can open up a world of health and pleasure. Going without food for a time can heighten appreciation for food and many other elements of life, while cleansing and fine-tuning the body and spirit. As many cultures over history have discovered, there is a lot of value to fasting.

Today’s culture of excess breeds waste and gluttony, and if the Roman Empire could fall like so many others over history, then perhaps it isn’t farfetched to consider that ours might too. It is paramount for future generations for us to develop sustainable practices and steer away from our commodity lifestyle of fast and over-processed food.

Maybe I didn’t get all the nutrients I needed these last few weeks, protein especially, but for a short burst of fast-induced focus, proved that one could not only survive, but thrive, on a simple diet of beer and water. Somebody call Myth Busters.

We are capable of more than we will ever fully realize. I walk away alive, well and with a stronger understanding of discipline, focus and priorities. This journey ends, but it’s a stepping off point for what comes next. If I have the good sense to apply it to my life.

Thanks for being a part of the journey.

Peace and Pints!

J.

(yesterday: 132; today: 135)


Day 45

These days, “it’s hard to be mindful of the stuff that’s most important,” said Rev. Rummer as we met for our final Friday–the Good one.

That about sums it up, and that was part of the long-term purpose. To “tune-up” and not allow the hectic-ness of daily life to get in the way of what’s important. Interestingly, Rev. Rummer seems to have latched onto my brewvana tagline, “an ideal condition of harmony, beer and joy.” He’s sited it a couple of times in reference to my general life-search, and encouraged me, as we sought meaning in my peculiar dream from a couple of nights ago, to not hesitate to continue seeking after something beautiful (as I had been with the photograph). “Finding harmony and joy in the universe is not something to give up,” he said.

With or without a beer, I’d add.

God is powerful, and that’s where the buck stops. Perhaps there is a part of me that was subconsciously sensing that the spiritual part of this journey was more dangerous than anticipated. Rummer then turned to the words of Annie Dillard to put this idea in perspective:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake some day and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.”

The ice is thin near the deeper water, Kierkegaard pointed out.

To drive back to the two good parts of life I like so much, Rummer bumped us back toward food and wisdom with a passage from Proverbs 24: 13-14:

“My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”

I know that the hokey-pokey is a pretty big deal, but what if this quote is what it’s really all about?


Day 44

I don’t know if it’s sleep deprivation or a divine light shining down through the windows of the Triple Rock Baptist Church at Jake Blues, but I had a powerful dream last night that woke me up rich in peculiarity.

As the reader has become aware, I hit the bathroom at 2 a.m. Tonight, as happens on occasion, I couldn’t get back to sleep, so lay awake until 4 a.m. when nature called yet again. Sleep was fleeting after that, but eventually I did nod off, and at that point I slept hard. I awoke in what felt like seconds later, weirded out by the intense imagery I had just witnessed:

Michelle at the wheel, she and I pulled into the parking lot of some unidentified country cemetery in the evening. The sun was preparing to set on the day, and it was gorgeous. The orange, pink and purple sky was spectacular. And so was the cemetery. The gravestones where big, rich, beautiful. And so I pounced from the car with my camera in hand working quickly to combine the sky and the right monument into a beautiful photograph. I hurried, I stumbled, I trounced over the top of graves in a reckless fashion.

Clicking fast, I kept working and reworking the scene. I noticed a spectacular stone tomb, dead center. It was the size of a small garage and inside its opening I could see an amazing monument, so I rushed forward, shooting like mad. Inside, captivated by the elaborate stonework, I rushed to the center for a closer look. 

Zap! An intense shock shook my chakras to their very foundations. I hit the ground. The electrical buzz held me down and I struggled to reach my feet, unsuccessful. Michelle arrived, thinking I’d simply fallen, not paying attention in an alarmed fashion. Instead, she began reading from a placard next to the central tomb. This was holy, holy space, the burial site of saints and more. 

Slowly, I reached my feet, still vibrating and now sounding Michelle’s alarm, as something was clearly wrong. At about this same time, a busload of children unloaded and invaded the graveyard with the same level of glee that I had done. They poured past my half-upright frame toward the central stone I had approached, and I called out to stop so they would not face the same consequence, still unsure what had happened.

They touched, maneuvered and crawled over the entire structure without incident. My tenseness relented when I saw that they were not stricken to the ground. I tried to explain to Michelle what had happened, to make sense of it, with little success. I was breathing hard and couldn’t put words to it. Electricity still vibrated in my extremities.

I gave up for the moment to compose myself and turned around to find no children and no central monument. It was blank. Vanished. And the sun was setting.

And then I awoke, with a slightly vibrating, labored breathing.

Children are innocent, and that protected them from God’s powerful discipline. I, however, knew how to act in a graveyard, in a sacred place. To get the amazing photo, I had ignored that law and been reprimanded. When you know, I believe, you are held to a higher standard. And I had just been reminded.

Perhaps this is my only true revelation, my only wisdom to share. This weird dream near the end of my weeks’ long search for something big.

Or not.


Day 43

I’m wearing down. It’s been a busy couple of weeks at work, and since I pee so much, I simply don’t get a good enough night’s sleep. Today is relief from having gotten to the downhill slope of my extra work obligations, but also tiredness from having pulled it off and a profound lack of rest.

I’d say I genuinely feel hunger now and very much look forward to a return to pizza, tapenade, hummus, cheese and pork products, among other delights.

People keep asking me, “What have you learned?” Much like, “Where did you get the idea to do this?” this question is difficult to answer. The answer is, “I don’t freaking know.”

I turn to the words of John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Is that a good answer? It sums it up, so it will have to do. I’ve found that all the thoughts I’ve mustered are all so tied together that it’s nearly impossible to put into words. I also find that when I use words like mustered, I think of other words, like mustard.

There are, of course, specifics, which I’ll sort out in the days to come…today, I just need a nap.

(137.5 pounds)


Day 42

It’s hard to avoid starting each post these days with, “Holy cow! I’ve done this for 35 days!” or “Holy cow! I’ve done this for 40 days!” or “Holy cow, I’ve done this for 42 days!” Each day is a new milestone and the bigger the numbers the more amazing it sounds.

Early on in my research I spent time with a woman who did a 92 day juice fast. With “juice,” one at least gets the benefit of variety: orange, apple, carrot, etc. But with my little adventure, it’s very mundane. And so I’ll happily meet my 46 day goal, but I don’t think I’d want to fool with it a whole lot longer.

To be honest, I’m just plugging away to the end right now. There have been no late revelations or hallucinations that I would consider notable. Has the spiritual element left me? That’s a good question. I’m just doing it to finish my goal at this point.

What I really am at this stage of the ball game is an expectant mother. I have been nesting. Nesting, I tell you. That’s the word for it.

I’ve been puttering about fixing problems in the basement, working in the yard and planning out meals. I’ve been cooking some for the boys, I ordered a pork belly and shoulder to smoke and have been fooling around with spice rubs that I won’t use for a week. “We’re out of paprika and brown sugar,” I tell Michelle, and she looks at me like I’m insane.

I can’t help it. I have a greater appreciation for my bounty, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to getting back to it.

(Somehow, I bumped up to 139 pounds today.)


Day 41

There are, you know, monks that live in the world.

The Dalai Lama comes to mind. I follow him on Twitter and am inspired by his (office’s) posts every time they scroll through my feed. He’s out there in the world, living it, speaking it, being it. And having a positive impact in so many ways.

There’s Bono. He’s selling the records and making the Benjamins, but at the heart, though he belts not only tunes but expletives from time, he’s a guy with his eyes on the prize:

“At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. . .  Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.”

We are all so many fool-headed jack-monkeys, laden with daily “stupid stuff” that only grace can cover.

And then there’s Johnny Cash. He was a bit of a rascal in his youth, but the man in black carved out a life of which he could be proud, well beyond any chart accomplishments that may woo us when we are young. “How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell,” said Cash. “There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.”

I, too, was an unmotivated knucklehead in my earlier years. And then came grace. I have three choices–ignore grace and God, cloister myself and become a monk or “simply” become a monk in the world, living at a higher level whether I am a beer drinker or not. In my visit to Conception Abbey, I learned that the pews were very hard and six services a day hurt my back, and since I’m unwilling to send my cinnamon girl packing, I must trudge forth, goblet aloft, in the world.

I have learned much and nothing during this project. Like my beloved Chicago Cubs, I must simply keep pressing forward. Cub fans are the most forgiving and committed on the planet, and they are nothing compared to God. There are rewards stored up in heaven, and like the Cubs, I, too, will win in the end with my feet firmly planted on the right side of the chasm.

(136.5 pounds today)


Day 40

Holy cow, it’s Day 40! Here’s a quick video check-in:


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