Day 31

Today has been solid. With a little good weather-torture prompting my Pavlovian response toward lighting the grill when the temperature rises, I’ve found that consistency and discipline, whether with regard to food or a devotional schedule or a marriage or any enterprise, are the keys to success. I outlined this thought process to Rev. Rummer today when we met and he responded with a good quote from Eugene Peterson, who described the long haul in a church as “a long obedience in the same direction.”

This enterprise, as is life itself, is a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash. While a fast is a fast and has its benefits from time to time, generally, it wouldn’t be such a good idea to habitually eat nothing for thirty days then gorge, then eat nothing for thirty days, followed by another gorge. Neither is an on going lifestyle of gluttony. A healthy diet of moderation is a good call for the long haul, and excited that I finally got myself caught up on my Psalm reading, I can underscore that it all would have been better and easier if I’d kept up my regime from the start.

We are a selfish lot, humans, and I couldn’t help but connect with a recently read passage from Psalm 78:20–

“He smote the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?”

It goes on and on about the selfishness of God’s people, never satisfied with his bounty. In America, I think we are particularly guilty of this attitude. Thanks for the water, God, but I want some meat, too.

Thank goodness for God’s grace. Not long ago I read Fall to Grace, by Jay Bakker, son of, you know, “disgraced televangelists” Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It’s unfortunate that he must be introduced this way, because he is so much on his own, but I need the reader to know of whom I speak. Tattooed and Social Distortion-loving like me, the outlaw preacher has carved out a niche very different from that of his parents.

Branded a heretic for some of his views, Bakker the Younger’s church meets in a New York bar, and ministers to a population that so many preachers un-biblically shun. Bakker has, better than so many of his criticizers, come to a full understanding of grace, much like the Church’s cornerstone, the one who dined with tax collectors and prostitutes before it was popular to do so, did.

“Grace is the evidence of God’s love,” Bakker writes. “So too love is evidence that we have received and we comprehend grace. We read in 1 John: ‘God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.’ (4:16-17)”

“The opposite is equally true. ‘Anyone who does not love does not know God–for God is love. (4-8)’ If we aren’t showing love, we don’t comprehend grace. Our faith isn’t bearing fruit in our lives…Through love, however, we gain a remarkable, almost superhuman power.”

A week or so into my fast, at the point when not eating became my new normal, I found that I needed to remind myself why I was doing it, rather than the way the tunnel vision focus in my early days spanked me in the face with the awakening of a wet carp swung with force. God wasn’t the sole reason, my honest self points out, but in part, a spiritual tune-up was very much on my agenda. Don’t lose sight, I needed to tell myself.

God’s people did it in the desert back in the day, God’s people do it today and many folks don’t know what they’re missing or are afraid the Church for all the harm it has done in so many different styles of bruisings laid to man over the years.

But even in the Old Testament, God showed grace was on the table: “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by by you.” (Jeremiah 29: 13-14)

Potty breaking a dog or child isn’t much fun. To do it successfully, one must be proactive: “Come on, let’s go potty,” one must initiate over and over. And over. Eventually, the dog learns to pee outside and the child learns to poo in the potty. A little front-end effort carries long term benefits. For example, I have two boys, aged 12 and 14, and I no longer wipe their rear ends. They do it themselves. I can use my time for other endeavors and they can boast a wonderful feeling of happiness and independence.

It is the same with God. He simply requires that you take the initiative. You can mess yourself over and over again, but He will still be there with grace and open arms. Evermore, God is ready and willing. But it takes discipline and effort.

Just like skipping pork chops at the outset of grilling season.

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Day 30

I’m not going to lie. Last night was tough. The sun was up, the temperature climbed and the grass is showing signs of greening after a long winter of cold and discontent. It’s grill time.

We arrived home after work and spent time outdoors with the sun on our faces, lighting the path to a wonderful day. The boys spent time with our dog, Tucson, and I test drove the Adirondack for the first time this spring. With about a half-tongue’s worth of new taste buds, and with a beautiful day on tap, Illuminator has turned a corner for me. While the monogamous relationship has worn me down, I’m back to a true excitement for each pour. It’s a brew of great character, and I’m proud of it, so am pleased to have beaten boredom and found this libation anew.

While my tongue is the bright spot in the day (though Michelle wouldn’t describe it visually in that way–there’s still a lot of unflaked dead crap on it (“Don’t you dare post a picture of your tongue.), the rest of the evening was perhaps my biggest challenge.

It’s freaking beautiful out! You know what that means, don’t you? The grill!

Desperately, I wanted to fire some coals, to ignite our new badmotorfinger of a smoker. The boys and I are itching to smoke some meat, and tonight was the only night where I’ve found myself pacing like a caged tiger. Meat. Smoke. Q. The weather threw down a gauntlet I hadn’t expected.

But I pulled out the intestinal fortitude, to use the words of Gorilla Monsoon, and emerged victorious. That said, I really want some pork. I really, really do. And I will have that pork, and much more. When the time is right.

“He who cannot obey himself is commanded,” said Friedrich Nietzsche. And so I won the battle of the weather and desire. But I don’t like it. The atmosphere is too right for the fruit of animal, smoked with love and happiness.

To change the meaty subject, today has been work, work, work, but I received a pair of motivating emails (in contrasting styles) from Alex from the Benedictine Volunteer Corps and another from Chris from Ohio Wesleyan. Alex is doing a little stateside monastic homebrewing, which is exciting to hear about, and perhaps we’ll carve out an opportunity to meet at some point; Chris dropped a few f-bombs in his description of my championship undertaking as he and some of his brothers in tankards take on a (somewhat) similar project.

With 30 days in the rearview mirror, the light at the end of the tunnel emerges with brilliant clarity. Let’s hope it’s not a train as I work out reasonable details of menu planning, which with 17 days remaining don’t sound so farfetched.

And thank goodness, it decided to turn cold and rainy this afternoon. Tonight will be easier that way.

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142.5 pounds

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CONTEST! WIN! YIPPEE!

I’ve been planning a contest over on brewvana to give away a copy of Beginning Homebrew, and since I’ve been caught up in this project and other obligations, it’s not really come to fruition. Since folks seem interested in my weight, I figured that this might be a great way to give away that prize. Be the first to shoot me an email with my correct finishing weight, and we’ll get you a copy of the DVD as soon as I get my final weight at the end of the project.

(Shoot me an email at jwmongrel [AT] yahoo DOT com or post a comment in this thread.)

Stateside only! And cheers!


Day 29

Score one (two) for beer!

I received a couple of comments today from interested readers that really caught my attention. The first came from Tiffany, who noted that she had also decided to go on a liquid fast for Lent. People thought she was crazy, but now she has me as a crutch to point to, so I’m glad I can be of assistance. What was most intriguing to me is the difference between our experiences:

“I started off VERY hungry. I was drinking tomato soup (and I HATE that soup) every two hrs. the first week. I made fruit smoothies and drank loads of green tea, water and Boost protein shakes. In the first week, I lost 10 lbs. I was grumpy, I was starving, but I wanted to keep to this. My blood sugar dropped four days into the first week. After that first week, I realized I could do this. I stopped being as hungry. I didn’t need tomato or miso soup all the time any more. In fact, I only drink water, tea, vitamin water and a water mix with protein (from Special K) throughout my day now. I’ve lost a total of 25 lbs., and I’m only halfway through Lent and I feel FANTASTIC. My sense of smell is ridiculous compared to that of a dog’s because I can smell someone’s lunch in the office, that’s several offices away. I see a food commercial without wanting to punch the TV. I can talk about food without wanting to run to the first McDonald’s. I can be around people eating their lunch for a limited time, but its still better than quarantining that area.”

We’re both doing fine on Day 29, neither lacking for spunk or energy. But what I couldn’t help but notice at how much better off I seemed to be. I was really only hungry on Day 1, was never grumpy and am trailing on weight loss by seven pounds. Now, look, I know good and well that our bodies and lifestyles are different, but it certainly is interesting, and the only parts of her experience that I can say I envy would be the variety that I’ve denied myself, as well as a little protein that didn’t come from my own body.

The second message came from Yvonne:

“In 1988, I was diagnosed with Lupus–the really bad kind.  I was unable to walk, spent some time in ICU, and many believed I was on my way out of this world.

Over the years, I have had a couple of “incidents” coming out of  remission a couple of times. They blamed it on the sun, stress, etc.  I finally confessed (with much embarrassment) to one of my doctors that I always seemed to be fine when I was drinking beer, regularly.  If I stopped, within weeks, days, I seemed to have a problem. He said, ‘Hmmmm–Maybe it has somethig to do with the beer–the hops or something.’  I think he was right.”

Much has been written about the health benefits of beer (in moderation) recently, and this Lupus story might be a good springboard for further study as to why Yvonne seemed to fair better with a little beer in her life.

I know I fair better with beer in my life, and this delicious elixir seems to be doing its monk-discovered job of providing what I need. It is tasty and nutritious, and while I look forward to a little variety, I can’t complain about this experience.

Someone asked me yesterday if there was a concern that I wouldn’t make it to the end. “I’d have to get hit by a bus to stop,” was my response.

_____

For those keeping track (and they are), I weighed 142 pounds today.


Day 28

“I regard monks and poets as the best degenerates in America. Both have a finely developed sense of the sacred potential in all things; both value image and symbol over utilitarian purpose or the bottom line; they recognize the transformative power hiding in the simplest things, and it leads them to commit absurd acts: the poem! the prayer! what nonsense! In a culture that excels at creating artificial, tightly controlled environments (shopping malls, amusement parks, chain motels), the art of monks and poets is useless, if not irresponsible, remaining out of commercial manipulation and ideological justification.”

-Kathleen Norris

The writing gene first emerged in about the fifth grade. It seemed easy and fun to get a rise out of Mrs. Meyer by writing outlandish short stories with “depth” and hilarity like “Attack of the Alligator People,” probably inspired by too much time watching Commander USA’s Groovy Movies. Unmotivated toward success and un-nurtured, I didn’t press the fun of writing. My creativity problem in school just manifested itself in a smart mouth and pranks on the “Valley Girls” and other people I liked.

I listened to music, the great comforter, and simply soaked up what would be only influences outside of Miss Nook and my Granddad Johnston.

I didn’t realize that all that Zeppelin was poetry flanked by guitars. Not until my third year of college, about a year and a half after I transitioned away from writing comedy to poetry, did I understand it fully. The best stuff I had written was very pissed off. Emotion, that delightful antagonist. Anything contrived sounded contrived. Anything angry seemed to have value. A Victorian literature course taught by Gervase Hittle helped me to connect Robert Browning and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Bob Dylan and Axl Rose.

I began to write profusely and quit changing my major. I stuck with English, finally. I attended poetry readings and released my demons. But you don’t graduate from college and have a rosy cheeked fellow sit across from you and say, “You know, I could really use a good poet like you. Why don’t you start on Monday.”

You have to sort a real job until your lack of utilitarian purpose finds an audience or you crash and burn.

I can identify with the aforementioned quote from Kathleen Norris. We poets and monks live a life of folly. We see the world differently. Thank God. “The world doesn’t make sense,” said Pablo Picasso. “Why should I paint pictures that do?”

I “found God” in a ouija board in college. It’s not that I found him, exactly; it’s just that I realized a spirit world existed, freaked out and jumped on the good side. I then explored God, eventually becoming quite committed, having witnessed many amazing acts.

I’m no monk, but I like more about them than the beer they’re connected to. This weekend I asked myself, “What if we all went to six church services per day?” We’d either get very little done or find a significant shift in our priorities. One of the questions I pondered at the beginning of this project was, “Can one live as a monk in the world?”

Not literally. But can one maintain a deeper connection to the divine and still function in society? There are some committed Christians out there that are overbearing and useless, as well as a few that are downright backward. Can you function and be useful? I’m thinking that the answer is yes, but the path there is different for everybody. What was it that Flannery O’Connor said? “Most of us come to the church by a means that the church does not allow?”

“It is not too soon,” said Henry David Thoreau, “for an honest man to rebel.”

I’m convinced that we are all packed with sacred potential, so go out there and carve yourself a path. God might be there.


Day 27

Top 10 Physical Observances While Fasting on Beer and Water

10. I was only hungry on the first day

9. I get cold easier these days

8. The  osteoarthritus in my neck isn’t bothering me. This is a true miracle, because normally take two ibuprofen per day to avoid pain. I took two at midnight before I started and two on Day 7 [the only solid I’ve taken in]. Nothing since, and my neck isn’t barking at all.

7. My keen sense of smell is even more refined

6. Doppelbock raises blood sugar

5. My tongue feels crappy

4. Back ache=kidneys clogged=drink more water

3. I can make both chocolate ganache for Michelle and bacon and eggs for the boys without freaking out

2. I pee a lot

1. A beer diet does not cause impotence


Day 26

I’ve spent the last two days somewhat cloistered at Conception Abbey, in rural northwest Missouri. Here’s a short video from the abbey grounds. Enjoy!


Day 25

Coincidentally, the youth group at Rev. Rummer’s church had planned a lock-in event this weekend called “30-hour Famine.” Its goal was to teach hunger, awareness and compassion for those in less fortunate parts of the world. The kids gathered donations to send abroad and a little peer-recruiting encouraged my oldest son Jake to participate. I was both happy and proud and knew that the event would carry some enlightenment for him.

I dropped him off at midnight, but wouldn’t have to wait 30 hours before seeing him again. I had been tapped by the event organizer to share my experience. I didn’t hesitate to get involved. How often does a beer drinker get invited to a church to talk about his beer drinking schemes? It was, of course, much deeper than that, and appeared too good an educational opportunity to pass up.

After a short night’s sleep, I arrived at 8 a.m., when a few of the kids were noticing the absence of bacon and eggs in their life. I provided an overview of fasting and my project, as well as its beery origins, and encouraged the kids on their path, for the good they were doing and for the wisdom that sometimes only comes in a hands-on way.

Money was raised and seeds were planted.

A blog post can’t adequately capture the rest of my day. I left the Famine kids and trekked to Conception Abbey in rural, northwest Missouri. For Day 26, I’ll post from on-location to give you a little insight into that overnight experience.

Peace and Pints!

J.


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