Thursday, February 26, 2009

Washing off the Ash

A very good friend of mine e-mailed me yesterday and asked what exactly I'm doing these days. He wondered if I'm blogging while on the treadmill (working on it), writing a novel, and performing some sort of service at my "real job." What struck me is that he referred to my blog postings as "religious." I guess there's no other way to categorize it, but it still struck me as funny. I've never considered myself religious and still don't. Let me explain.

I'm a fairly intelligent person, though I have my moments of self-destructive idiocy. My favorite method of self-destruction is food. Love food. All kinds, man. My wife and I have this fantasy of going to Disney World without the kids and eating our way through Epcot. I can (and have) consumed an entire batch of chocolate chip cookie dough without breaking a sweat. You are now, no doubt, picturing me as a contestant on his first day at the Biggest Loser Ranch..."Why, yes, Allison, I do enjoy the occasional snack of vanilla frosting and graham, no, the whole can...what's that? Oh, all the crackers, baby...are you going to be pregnant every season? Sorry, my blood sugar is any of your prego-stash Twinkies around?"

But it's not quite that bad. I have struggled with my weight since I was ten years old but have never been obese. I have my ups and downs, like most, but I can never just give up and coast along. I've been on various diets and exercise routines and, for the most part, have held together and survived 42 years on this planet.

Stay with me. I'm going somewhere with this. Until groups like Weight Watchers turned the corner some years back, weight loss plans were often very regimented. Rules had to be adhered to, calorie counting followed precisely. It was, and often still is, a religion. I hated it then, I hate it now. That's not living, brother. If a hot piece of apple pie hits my plate, it's go time.

The plans that did work, and still do, are those that give me some freedom. The aforementioned Weight Watchers lightened up some years ago and provide a lot more flexibility in my eating plan. My exercise schedule is fairly loose, but I stick to it. All this means that I'm dieting, but not on a diet. I'm dieting in the way that we were meant to diet, by returning to a normal lifestyle, not the McDonald's mentality that we've attached ourselves to over the last fifty years or so. What we call a diet, our recent ancestors called living.

Let's bring this analogy home. Religion, to me, is a set of rules that I have to follow to gain God's grace. Many of my Christian friends are nodding in agreement. Oh, really? Take a look around, many of our brothers and sisters shout "heretic!" at every one they don't see in a mirror.

But faith, as I prefer to call it, is simply letting go. Letting go of what? I'm not sure. Pride, selfishness, greed, and gluttony...especially gluttony (I recommend Weight Watchers). Faith is more like the diet that is simply a return to normalcy. This is what God wanted from us in the Garden. Just trusting in Him and enjoying the life He's provided for us. Know what happens when we try to improve on the life He's provided for us? Please refer to the newspaper stories in section A on any given weekday. Just like trying to improve on our natural diet leads to reality shows where people actually compete to turn around the morbid results of their eating habits.

I shudder to think that anyone refers to me as "religious." I'm sure it happens because that's the tag society has created for those of us who go to church every Sunday. I don't like rules. I'm still me. But I'm me without the excess baggage. I'm free, unhindered by sin or rules. When I came home last night from Ash Wednesday services and washed the ashes from my forehead, I wasn't any less a follower of Christ. It's just ash. Underneath was flesh, blood, and a spirit I'm still trying to understand.

And I'm looking damn good in my 32 waist Levis.

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