The Fasting Paradox

Nothing says gorge like a modern American Thanksgiving. Which makes it a good time to state the not so obvious: Less is more.

Taking a break from something can bring better results than doubling down one’s practice of it. This fact doesn’t sit well with my Protestant work ethic, but I have found it to be true nevertheless.

If it’s true for many of life’s activities, it is certainly true for eating.

Like other spiritual disciplines, fasting is a challenge for contemporary Americans. Among vending machines, convenience stores and “quick service” restaurants, money is the only obstacle between me and a bite when the first growl hits.

And with big food companies’ driving down the cost of high fat, high carb, high calorie consumables, money is less of an obstacle than ever.

To quote the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church, my god is often in my stomach. As long as it’s full, I don’t have to confront the underlying pain and unrest of my own soul.

Hence, the invitation to fast. Author Richard Foster notes that in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t say “if” but “when” you fast.

Saying no to constant physical comfort means saying yes to much more. When we fast, longings surface, misplaced priorities get exposed and self-control builds.

“Human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels,” Foster wrote in Celebration of Discipline.

When one fasts, he depends on a higher source for a livelihood he can’t deliver with his own grasping hands.

In fasting, there is release. We release control of the things that are actually controlling us. We find real freedom that’s different from the first world freedom to snack at a moment’s notice.

The Apostle Peter helps us navigate the bounty around us: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”

For the spiritual, Foster says fasting is not just abstaining; it’s actually feasting on the word of God.

For the secular, a periodic break for a hard working digestive system certainly benefits the human body. Nutrition supplement stores offer various cleansing aids to maximize the gastrointestinal advantages of a fast.

Of course, fasting from food is one of many potential fasts. We should probably fast from anything we believe, deep down, we can’t live without. Taking breaks from media, telephones, advertising, our consumer culture – all these would do our souls well.

Saying “no” to Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football or Thursday Night Football might lead to saying yes to a more fulfilling pastime, or at least some stronger relationships. Likewise, foregoing a “can’t miss” sale may spark a more special homespun gift idea.

Please hear me: Thanksgiving Day is not the time to fast from food or football. But it is a good time to contemplate a long lost practice.

Though esoteric today, fasting was not always so uncommon. In fact, it was once prominent enough to name one of our three daily meals for it: break-fast.

Perhaps it’s time to give fasting a seat at the table again. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wounded Warrior Saves a Game

The last time the three of us went ninety miles per hour en route to a hospital, his mom was the one in pain. This time, our ten-year-old son was in pain.

Fifteen minutes prior, his tackle football team, the Warriors, faced its fifth loss in six games. That is, until this now-wounded Warrior spun down an end zone-bound opponent at the one yard line. In the process, our son landed awkwardly on his left forearm.

“Dr. Stahl, we need you!” came the call from the field. I was sitting next to Dr. Stahl in the stands, discussing football injury statistics, I’m sure.

The seriousness of a sports injury is inversely related to the amount of time before medical personnel is called. In this case, an assistant coach made the diagnosis within seconds of the fall. “We’ve got a broken arm here!”

That’s when I quit walking toward the field and began sprinting toward the parking lot, keys in hand.

By the time Dr. Stahl splinted my son’s crooked arm, a stadium maintenance crewman unlocked two fieldside gates to let a grimacing free safety lumber through to my amateur ambulance, his mom by his side.

You know you have great friends when you can leave your three uninjured children in tears along a chain link fence while you leave with their injured brother. We knew they were in good hands.

Other good hands retrieved an insurance card and a change of clothes from our house. Still more good hands would bring a condolence tray of Chik-fil-A nuggets before day’s end.

Upon doctor’s orders, we bypassed the ER in Boerne and bolted straight for the operating rooms of Methodist Children’s Hospital. Every bump seemed to jolt the dislocated bones.

“When are we going to get there?” the ballplayer cried every few miles in between groans. “Is that it?” he asked as we passed by the The Center for Athletes located on Spurs Lane. One would think, especially one still in full pads.

Once stabilized at Children’s, other questions arose during the five hour wait for surgery. “Can I have a Krispy Kreme doughnut?” No, son, I’m sorry. “How about a sip of water?” No, I’m so sorry.

All common hydration knowledge goes out the window when an anesthesiologist is around.

The wait gave us plenty of time to be thankful. For as bad as this day was, it was our first ER visit in 43 childhood years of parenting, 37 of which were boy years.

The wait also gave us time to quiz the pediatric ER nurses. It turns out their slowest times are during Spurs and Cowboys games, while their busiest times are the two hours following Spurs and Cowboys games.

Evidently, a lot of parents put off their kids’ emergency medical treatment until after the big game. Maybe I should have stayed for the final minute of the Warriors’ game.

A goal line stand and a “pick six” interception runback gave the Warriors their second win of the season, and some redemption for their first casualty.

A day later, his teammates delivered a signed game ball along with cookies and a multi-tooled pocket knife from The Alamo gift shop. “Tough Guy” was engraved on the side.

It was clearly the thought that counted. Have you ever tried opening a pocket knife with one hand?

Can Trump Pull It Off?

The early voting line at my elections department stretched down the sidewalk and around the building last week.

“I feel for people in the neighborhood,” one friend commented. “People were parked everywhere.”

I would like to postulate who these people might be by resurrecting an acronym from 2008. Remember the ABC voters?

“Anybody But Clinton.” In 2008, ABCs swept the Democrat base to thwart a Hillary Clinton coronation. They anointed instead a first-term U.S. senator with an uncommon name and an eloquent tongue. I think the ABCs are back, though perhaps in a slightly different form.

“American democracy is offering a choice between a crook and a clown,” wrote historian Andrew Roberts in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend. Record numbers of early voters may be choosing the clown.

With all the talk about the American Dream dissipating and the country heading in the wrong direction, I can’t see droves of people getting out early to vote for a relic of America’s political past.

America may hunker down with the known quantity Clinton in the end, but my hunch is Trump, for all his improprieties and insanity, has an early lead – because of the ABCs.

Many ABCs don’t want a pervert in the White House. They prefer interviews with Sean Hannity, not Howard Stern.

But they also don’t want more of the same: debt, spending, regulation, executive orders, selective application of the law, identity-based political correctness, reverse discrimination.

If there’s anything the deluge of concerning stories from the Clinton State Department, the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton campaign reinforce, it’s this: Bill and Hillary Clinton are no Bill and Melinda Gates.

The Clintons’ commingling of money, power and charity makes one wonder about their altruism. Helping the weak doesn’t seem to be their ultimate goal. Power seems to be their goal.

So, given the choice between a candidate who needs the power and a candidate who needs the fame, many will take the latter. Credit may not get shared, but there’s still a good chance some good will be done, they’ll figure.

Late last week, I turned on the conservative Joe Pags talk show on my way home. A man was talking. He sounded like a passionate pundit or an articulate reporter. He had a grasp on the issues and, more importantly, a grip on the discontent Americans feel toward their small-G governors.

It was Eric Trump, second son of presidential candidate Donald Trump. He spoke as one on a mission to restore something great, as cliche as his father’s campaign slogan sounds. “We have to take the country back from the politicians.”

More than a fight for a party or a philosophy, Donald Trump is trying to bring a fight for the people – or at least a fight against the politicians.

You can’t get more politician or politics-as-usual than Hillary Clinton.

Trump is the antithesis. With his tweets and earned media appearances, Trump has turned political campaigning on its side, if not its head. Can he also turn American politics on its head?

Judging from the early voting lines and the drip drip drip of Clinton corruption tales, he may yet pull it off.

A Bright Spot in the Election

 

“Hey, Dad!” my fourth grader announced one evening. “I heard a joke at school: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were on a boat. The boat sank. Who got saved?”

“America!”

Without a doubt, this is a difficult election cycle. The party with which I’ve affiliated for years has nominated an unconventional candidate. I can’t decipher some of his positions and I can’t condone some of his behaviors.

There is a bright spot in the race, however. It’s Governor Mike Pence. For all his question marks, Donald Trump picked a bona fide conservative as his running mate. I might not easily vote for Trump, but I can certainly pull the lever for Pence.

A brief rundown of Pence’s fairly innocuous resume shows a regular Joe American. Growing up the son of a gas station operator and the grandson of immigrants, his is a common man story.

Pence took a stab at public service in the late 1980s, losing two bids for Congress to the same opponent. Recognizing it wasn’t his time, he returned to private law practice, staying involved in policy issues through conservative think tanks.

Describing himself as “Limbaugh on decaf,” Pence entered the conservative talk radio scene in the mid-90s. His show aired on about twenty stations across Indiana, giving Pence statewide name ID for a return to competitive politics in 2000.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence championed many conservative positions during his twelve years on the hill.

On limiting government, Pence opposed expanding Medicaid entitlements and federal encroachment on education (No Child Left Behind). He pushed legislation and a constitutional amendment to reduce government spending across the board.

On national defense, Pence supported President Bush’s efforts in the Middle East as a House subcommittee chairman on the region. After 9/11, he favored the passage of the Patriot Act and sponsored a bill in 2009 to extend several of its provisions.

On economic policy, Pence was a free market defender. He voted against the string of corporate bailouts during the last recession. He consistently advocated for less regulation, a flatter tax structure and sound money.

On social issues, Pence has strongly supported religious freedom as Indiana governor. He unapologetically attributes societal ills to the breakdown of the traditional family, taking stands in a calm and thoughtful way. He is more ration than emotion, even in highly charged debates.

This demeanor makes him most attractive. One gets the sense he’s interested in serving his country, not in political gain. He has no need for a private email server because he believes his official actions will survive scrutiny.

The biggest question of Pence’s judgment comes from his decision to forego re-election as Indiana governor to hitch his wagon to a reality TV star.

After mutedly supporting Senator Ted Cruz in the primary, Pence is fully behind Trump even though Trump’s web site still lacks a Pencebio.

The 2016 Republican primary field was full of Mike Pences – i.e., popular, conservative governors. For some reason, he wasn’t in the field as some thought he would be.

As it stands, Mike Pence could be a heartbeat away from the presidency in a few short months. That’s something to vote for.

 

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Questions in Remembrance of 9/11

“Where were you when the world stopped turning?” sang country music artist Alan Jackson in the weeks after 9/11.

I was at a Chik-fil-A in North Dallas. Then, in my cubicle. Then, in a co-worker’s apartment. We didn’t have a television at the office, and the news sites were jammed.

The perpetrators that day demonstrated certain foresight. They chose planes full enough of fuel to create maximum explosions but empty enough of people to limit resistance.

Their first hit got us all watching; their second terrified in real-time. All on 911, a universal number of distress. Though the terrorists were organized, their plans didn’t fall completely into place.

In Pennsylvania, the courageous passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 scuttled its kamikaze mission. Cell phone calls provide a record:

“We’re going to rush the hijackers.”

“Are you ready? Let’s roll.”

“I have to go. They’re breaking into the cockpit. I love you.”

In New York, the hijackers knew forty-thousand people worked in the World Trade Center. Thousands more visited daily. Remarkably, less than 2,700 people perished in the structures. The Dallas Morning News’ special edition on the afternoon of 9/11 had predicted “tens of thousands” dead.

In the days after the attacks, stories flooded in. Some told of narrow escapes, others of loved ones lost.

Two public address announcements within the towers had life and death effects. One message encouraged workers to return to their offices stating the damage had been contained.

Another Titanic-esque message said the buildings were incapable of collapsing, which actually helped evacuees stay calm during their stairwell descent.

The stories of rescuers going up as regulars came down still put a pit in my stomach. One hero, “the man in the red bandanna,” was an intern at an investment bank. Welles Crowther is credited with saving at least five lives before he fell that day.

As chronicled in a new book by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, Crowther had plans to join FDNY. The department made him an honorary member posthumously, only the second such bestowment in its 141-year history.

On a macro level, we were fortunate to have a principled Texas cowboy riding herd at that point in our nation’s history. It was not a time for gray. We needed black and white, good and evil, us and them – we needed George W. Bush’s resolve.

“Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution,” Bush told Congress in the days after the attacks. “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.”

Countering Secret Service opinion, Bush pushed to get back to Washington, D.C., by nightfall on September 11th. He knew the risks, but he did not fear the enemy.

In the years that followed, tens of thousands of his fellow Americans would take on similar risks, and they would not fear the enemy. Many would encounter Crowther’s fate.

At the end of the day, any day, especially that very long and somber day a decade and a half ago, the United States of America is still a nation of givers, sacrificers. We place service over self.

After the ash settles and the Psalms are read, we still ponder an age-old question: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?

State of Texas v. Yours Truly

“Do you want to play flag football with your coach from last year?” I asked my ten-year-old. “No,” he replied, much to my surprise. I thought he had fun last fall.

“I want to play tackle.”

His friends are playing tackle. A physician is letting his son play tackle. Mom is okay with tackle. Our 13-year-old is on his third season of tackle, after all. I’d still prefer flag.

It felt like me versus the State of Texas, where Friday Night Lights is as much religion as Sunday morning sermons.

I’m conflicted on football. I never played organized ball growing up. Dad got me into soccer early on to keep me distracted from it, I suppose. He never directly said I couldn’t play, but I somehow perceived his perspective.

I loved playing football in the neighborhood – even tackle, especially tackle. The physicality of tackling tickles something in a boy’s development.

For years I regretted never knocking heads and testing strength with pads on. I thought it would have done me some good to take on the next city state with a band of fifty-five brothers.

So which do I want for my sons?

The camaraderie of football is its greatest selling point. The sport is simulated battle, border-lying on barbarism. It is modern, somewhat socially acceptable gladiation.

For me, however, the attraction of football is not the violence. It’s the grace. The streaking, passing, route running and needle threading; not the smashing, bashing and crashing.

Naturally, I like the pad-less seven-on-seven summer passing leagues that teams play in the off-season. I wish there were similar competitive, non-contact options in the fall for high schoolers in lieu of traditional tackle.

Unlike some medical professionals and parents who restrict young boys from playing tackle, saying their brains and bodies aren’t developed enough, I prefer the opposite.

I’d rather them play early when they’re like marshmallows bumping into each other. It’s later on when testosterone starts doing damage.

Stronger muscles create speed, force, impact and contortion that the human body was never meant to absorb. At some point laws of physics take over. No matter how thick the muscles around it may become, the fibula is still less than an inch in diameter.

Today, grown men across the country walk around with disabilities, mostly minor, resulting from high school football. I have a friend who traveled to and from his senior year Cuero High School football games in an ambulance. He needed treatment before and after to rein in the pain.

Despite purported advances in padding and technique, injuries seem to be no less prevalent today. Just ask the Champion High School player who recently suffered a gruesome facial injury or the Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo who went down, yet again, before the season even starts.

I don’t have nagging football maladies and I’m thankful. Others do and they’re thankful, too – for their experiences in the arena, for participating in something bigger than themselves. Football in Texas certainly fits that bill.

As for this fall, the State of Texas has won. My 10-year-old is playing tackle.

Boat Rides Headline Stay-cation

Stay-cation. I first heard the term during the summer of 2008 when gas prices went to four dollars a gallon and I had just bought a used Chevy Suburban, mpg: 14.

The term gained strength through the recession of 2008-2009. It was perhaps more utilized in San Antonio because of our nearby tourist attractions. A stay-cation in Shreveport is still probably known as a family budget cut.

Now that gas prices have ticked down and the stock market up, the term, if not the concept, has generally been shelved. It seemed like every other Texan I called in July answered in Colorado, Wyoming or Montana.

When the better half suggested I use a few vacation days before school starts, I resurrected the stay-cation idea and priced out the usual suspects.

For a family of seven, a day at Six Flags would cost $400; a day at Sea World, $500. And that’s just for parking, discounted admission and a bucket of fried food for lunch.

Throw in a few rigged games, some stuffed or lighted souvenirs and a $25 refillable drink, and a two-day escapade gets you well into the four-figures.

A dusk fireworks display at Six Flags, however, only costs the price of a family meal on Chuy’s patio across the interstate. I prefer “innovative” over “cheap,” please.

After thinking outside the tourism box, I called Crane’s Mill Marina on Canyon Lake. They offered a pretty new 8-seat ski boat with all the accessories for about half the cost of a day at Sea World.

With positive attitudes, fishing bait and half a shelf of consumer packaged goods, we embarked. None of the above lasted long.

The positive attitudes fell in with our twelve-year-old when he got thrown hard from the tube. This, after he asked to be thrown hard from the tube.

Then, a ten-year-old covertly tossed the bait overboard. His sensitive heart couldn’t stand to watch live minnows impaled by an eight-year-old with catfishing hooks.

All along, snacks settled into stomachs like Jonah in the whale, long before the required protein and fiber were consumed. What leverage does a parent have in the middle of a lake?

As time ran out, kids were still wanting tube rides. They still wanted to fish. And somehow they wanted yet another plastic-wrapped cupcake.

We left the marina with plans to return and with our eyes set on a second stay-cation boat ride: a dinner cruise on the Riverwalk downtown.

The better half explained to the tribe that some couples would be on date nights. I explained that “facilities” meant bathrooms and that there wouldn’t be any on the river taxi. No, going off the side wouldn’t be an option.

The kids minded their manners particularly well. They stayed in their seats. They tried what was on their plates. They survived without lemonade. They even listened to the tour guide talk about things older than their dad.

Evidently, someone is listening during those broken-record family dinners at home, the ones where it feels like we’re doing it all, again, for the very first time.

Or maybe they just believed me when I said the annual dredging of the Riverwalk turns up jewelry, cell phones, patio chairs and misbehaving children. How’s that for leverage?

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 


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