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Some Reader Questions

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What is the best way to lose weight around the middle?
 
For men, this is a problem but it can be done.  It is very very difficult to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, so I would focus on one or the other.    You have to restrict calories, that is the key.  I chuckle every time someone brings me a new diet book.  I’ve seen it all and read it all when it comes to food.  Women need to realize that it’s going to be harder for them for many reasons: slower metabolism, less testosterone, less tolerance for intense exercise, and the tendency to eat emotionally is more common in women.  Plus, men store fat around the waist, which is easier to break down and use as energy.  Women store fat more around the hips, and this kind of fat is very resistant to change.  But it can be done.  Severe cases call for extreme  measures.

  • In general, processed food whether it is sugar or animal products or carbs are what you want to avoid.
  • You have to use a food log.  No excuses.
  • Intermittent fasting: Train yourself to go without

 
Why are so many people stressed out and taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressive medicines?
 
We live in a shallow, meaningless culture, and people make up for by making idols of various things-money, sex, romance, entertainment, travel, education, you name it.  Eventually these idols start to consume people and they become disordered individuals.  Traditional values like God, family, friendship, achievement, and community are what make people happy and healthy individual adults.

Here in the US we are all essentially living alone, even if we live with other people.  We live in these great big houses.  We’ve been brainwashed and we have too much stuff, too much materialism.  I mean look at my house.  It’s probably 1500-200 square feet and even though I have another renter living here, it is huge by worldwide standards.  I have rooms and a yard I don’t need and don’t use.  Multiply this by 400 million people.   And there is the constant pressure to upgrade, more and more.
 
If you buy this house, and buy that brand, and have the job, you will be “successful”. But what the hell does that mean?  It’s a joke, a sad joke that so many people have bought into.  You can hear it in the music, and the constant advertising.  No wonder people are miserable.  Our only identity is consumption. 
 
But there is that standard.  Consumerism is all we have left.  Brands- Mercedes, Gucci, or the latest restaurant you name it.  We are consumers in America and that is it.  But it’s a big black hole, an empty hole.  We consume and we want choice.  We want to be “liberated” of everything, our genders, our families, and basically our humanity.  The word “trans”, or “beyond” is where we’re heading.  We are beyond human, basically sick versions of our former selves and we don’t even realize it. 
 
And these drug companies make billions of dollars per year convincing us that it’s not our environments and our social lives that are making us sick.    You can never separate the seed from the soil.  We never look at the soil.  Our seeds are sick and dying because the soil is contaminated.    People are stressed out because they never have enough and never are good enough, and people are depressed because all sources of identity other than as a consumer have been hollowed out.  There are other reasons but this is the main reason in my humble opinion.

Why did you become more interested in religion and theology?
 
Good question but a big question.  They say “Where psychology ends, theology begins.”  This is most certainly true and I have experienced that.  As I was researching and writing my book about mental health and exercise this became very clear to me.  I started to notice while writing that all goals related to health and fitness were utilitarian in nature which basically meant they were all about achieving some random number.  But the number was empty and didn’t mean anything.  For example, to weigh 180 pounds, bench press 250, wear a size 6 or a 34 inch waist, get your cholesterol below 200, etc.  The more I thought about it, the less this made sense.  What about my grandpa, who never did any formal exercise and drank coke every day?  He was still healthy.  What about an inspirational figure like Churchill who drank tons of alcohol and was depressed a lot?  I would still say he lived a healthy life because he lived a meaningful life.
 
Science can tell you many things, but it was never meant to be an ends in and of itself.  Theology is called the queen of the sciences, and it is also highly related to philosophy.  Science can never tell you what is true about human meaning or the meaning of life, and it can never tell you what is good either.   We need a narrative to in order to know what is good.  There is this false idea in our culture that you cannot be a person of great faith and a person of science also.  It took me a long time to reconcile the two.   
 
I learned as an adult to appreciate religion and the Bible specifically as divinely inspired but also not as something that is always meant to be interpreted literally.  Fundamentalist religion gets this backward: it plays down some of the deeper spirituality and narrative and promotes a literal 6-day chronological creation story (among other literal interpretation of scriptures) which in my opinion takes away from the true meanings which God wanted us to understand or at least this type of teaching makes it hard for moderns like us to accept any type of faith at all as a result when we’re confronted with this.  
 
For example, maybe the earth was created in a literal 6 days but more than likely the early Jewish believers were passing down oral stories which told a moral truth.  Not how many days, but the narrative of who am I?  Why am I here?  What is my place in this world?  God tells us these things and this part is 110% true.   I could go on about this but you get my point.  Some parts, like the 2 greatest commandments of loving God and others with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving others as yourself should be interpreted as literal passages but some should not.  This confusion has made it hard for many scientists and rational people like me in general to believe in the God of religion.
 
Plus, our society is overly rational anyway.  The creator can never be explained completely with human language because language itself is metaphorical, is distinctive, and dualistic.  Chesterton was a master at explaining this.  God is beyond distinction or duality and is partly paradoxical, which is where the New Testament teaching of the “Lion and the Lamb” comes from.  At some point we will all have to answer some deep questions and have faith in something.  We will all have to “frame” the world and try to make sense of it.  I studied science for years, biology, evolution, physics, you name it.  God made the most sense to me. I was focused in most of my adult life on mental health and physical health, but I neglected my spiritual health.
 
I had encouragement from my friend Todd who urged me to get my spiritual life in order and I read a book called “The Rage Against God” which was hugely influential and I think describes where we are as a culture.  At least it is where I was.  People have this anger and rage against God, because of misplaced pride, which is another thing.   We want to believe but we can’t because the world has lost its magic and its enchantment.  Pride is the root of all evil.  The opposite of pride is humility.  To me, the essence of understanding God can be boiled down to pride vs. humility.  Solomon writes about this in the Old Testament.  When I re-read the story of the prodigal son in “The Rage Against God”, it helped me understand who I was, who we all are- children of a loving creator who is waiting on us to come home.  Coming home is about humility.  All knowledge starts with humility.  
 
Also, I found an Anglo-Catholic church near my house and and they’ve been a real blessing.   They focus on the first councils and the teachings of the church fathers, who were amazing and left us a treasure trove of inspired spiritual depth and the sacraments.   This idea that a man can save himself by deciding at a single point in time to follow God, like you see in the evangelical circles, though I am not doubting that it happens for some people, is just not accurate for most people.  Following God and “being saved” is more like the story of the prodigal son, or that is how I understand it.  To be with God, we need to be with God, humble and involved in a faith community, experience God, confessing when we go wrong, and admitting our faults, and worshipping together. 
 
For me, I was always a deeply spiritual person, but the faith tradition that I grew up with never completely resonated with me because it was constantly changing and it was not orthodox enough or connected enough to the universal historic church.  At some point Protestantism morphed into a self-help thing in some cases or an entertainment thing in others, constantly changing and quite effeminate in some cases, which never set right with me either.  It became more about what pleased us than worship.  I respect and love my parents dearly who still practice their faith, and do so sincerely, and I respect the many others who do, but it was something that never seemed like the right way for me, possibly because they don’t take communion frequently like the traditional church does.  Again, they are people of great faith whom I admire and who made me who I am and who are probably better people than me, but the tradition itself was not enough (especially some of the more puritanical ideas about alcohol).
 
I see signs that many different branches of Christianity may be turning back to traditional beliefs and practices and I think this is a good thing.  The Eastern Orthodox Church has a lot to teach us in the West as well, particularly in our culture of excess.  It is based on asceticism, fasting, quietness, meditation, and soberness versus emotionality.   It is focused deeply on tradition.  They teach, and Anglicanism teaches this too, that you have to experience God, and not just rationalize God, though of course there is a rational component to doctrine.  So in traditional Christianity, whether it is in the Eucharist (the Communion) or when we are praying, God is actually with us, really with us in the physical and spiritual world.  This can change your life.        

One of the great philosophers wrote that the idea of God causes two responses: awe, and dread.  Some people draw near and some people are repulsed.  I was always that one who wanted to draw near, and I’ve always been in awe, but I can understand both points of view.  Even to be alive is amazing enough and sometimes it is dreadful.  
 
Look at Yoga.  The Yoga self-help industry has totally cornered the market on meditation, which is a tragedy.  As I studied the early church history, I found this great treasure of Eastern Christian meditation on the nature of God, the nature of reality really.  The Christian teaching is that God is love, and meditation needs to be and can be focused on this.  Christians can and should meditate I discovered.  So meditation is a great example of how disincarnate and how disconnected Christian spirituality and practice has become in the US and the west.  It has also sadly lost its connection to a vertical community of ancestors and its great history of wisdom and teaching from the fathers.  Instead we get charismatic TV preachers, and rock bands. 
 
We need to reconnect to the tenets of traditional life, to be closer to God and to each other, to be in real communion.   Then there is also the great community, both the community of the past, as well as the horizontal faith community we live in now, our neighbors, which can allow us to be part of something bigger than ourselves.    The church offers something modernity cannot: traditional practices connecting us to God, and buffering against rampant narcissism through real community. 
 
As Phillip Rieff said in “Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud”
 
“Religious man was born to be saved.  Psychological man is born to be pleased.”
 
I don’t want to be the psychological man.   I want to live a good life and I want to know the truth and live by it. 
 
The world is hurting and I want to help.  I really do care about people and I want them to be healthy and live a meaningful life.   “Healthy” comes from the word “healing” and that is what we need, to be made whole.  We don’t want food, excess, alcohol, drugs, money, greed, gluttony, and other things to destroy us.  The more I studied “Health”, the more theology made sense.  Why are we here? Why are we exercising?  God creates wholeness out of chaos in our lives as long as we don’t make idols and God really can give us the peace and grace to really live, and that is why humbling ourselves is a good thing.  Dante’s Inferno covered this better than I ever could 700 year ago, but I am planning on introducing theology into my writing when it’s appropriate. 
 
I really want to focus in my writing on helping people be healthier and know the truth.  God undeniably plays a role in this.  I stress tradition and religion though, versus self-help Gurus and creating religion in our own image, because often we really do need to change and become better people.   Aristotle was certainly onto something when he left us his pre-Christian idea of the “telos”- we have something in our nature that we are intended for, we have an end we should be striving for, and it involves why we were created and it is healthy to become who we were fully intended to be. 
 
We need to be better, which is something that you don’t even hear people talk about anymore.  People used to confess what they did wrong and try to do better, and now people take a medication but never try to change.  There’s something inherently wrong with that.   But we also need to always be watchful for fanaticism and hate and overly repressive forms of culture.  I think there is something bubbling under the surface hopefully where people will wake up, spiritually.  What started with me trying to help people with mental health by having them exercise more ended with something deeper.   But that is how life works if you open yourself to it.  I have hope.  I choose to.
 
What is the single best exercise to do getting and staying in shape?
 
It’s hard to pick just one but I would say walking, run/walking, running, mixed with a few basic weight training exercises like squats or deadlifts and some upper body rows and presses / push-ups.  We need to get on the ground and stretch more too as we age. So basically:

  • Walk / Run – Walk / or Run Every Day
  • Weight Training – Squats, Deadlifts, Rows, Presses or Push-Ups 2-3 Days per week
  • Get on the floor and stretch every day

 
That’s it. I know it’s not just one but it’s hard to say just one.  Walking is the most important, and keeping your weight low. 
 
Why do I feel stiffer and tighter as I get older?

Our bodies certainly change over time, but we also tend to do less.   We sit more, we don’t move as much.  Our joints get stiff and our posture changes. 
 
As we age, the keys I have noticed to staying fit are:

  • Warming Up More
  • Using soft tissue rolling or massage or stretching pretty much every day
  • Jump and Sprint
  • Lifting Weights
  • Avoiding High Blood Sugar Producing Foods

So we will do that again sometime again soon.  This was a “stream of consciousness” post but it is fun to put into words what people ask me about. 
 
Have a great week!
Scott

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