Sunday, July 30, 2006

Being reconciled to God

If you are a parent whose child has died, being reconciled to God is hard. It gives a different twist to Paul's "being reconciled to God through Christ" (Romans 5:6-11). Parents who have buried children start with the feeling that the relationship is already ruptured.

That difficult starting point is what I found interesting in twelve-step programs. In those, people who have prayed over and over again have to find a way to pray to God again, and they do. This time it works, where prayer failed them every time before -- which makes the initial hurdle of faith so hard. The entire process tells a great deal about God's willingness to touch and help his children -- if they honestly seek him -- and what it means to be honest.

This need to be honest is especially true in the later stages where to keep sober an addict or alcoholic must become willing to lay aside their sins and defects. They start with inventories, then confession, but neither requires any change, just internal honesty. Then they face a willingness to change and a willingness to let God help them change.

This is far more than "God, deliver me from alcohol (or drugs)." It is, "God, I'm going to trust you and let myself follow where you lead." There is a lot of fear there, but for most, any place that God can take them is better than where they are.

In grief, that isn't so. The places you might go are not necessarily better than where you are.

God has already taken you through the death of a child. Maybe more than once. As you recover, there are many more worse places you can go than "just" one death, after all, you probably have more children who can die. I did.

For me, after three deaths, then came news that my Dad's cancer had been treated improperly. My brother's boss had a father with the same diagnosis. They had buried him within six months of that discovery, and three months was the expected survival horizon. Then was the push to move to Dallas and for my wife to go to graduate school. That was very hard.

There are worse things. ConsiderJob, who after everything else, including boils, then had "friends" visit him and tell him it was all his fault and berate him for his sins that caused such things to happen. My wife survived graduate school, I survived working downtown, Job survived friends.

Instead of the alcoholic's steady pace of things being better than they looked, in grief things keep turning out harder than they look, and more painful. Over and over and over again. Everyone is ready to tell you which behaviors in grief make you a monster, ready to be mocked and deserving only of ridicule, deciding which of your sins make you beyond the bounds. Everyone is a judge and jury -- and they and their coterie are self-righteous and very pleased to be so.

In many ways it is as hard, or harder (at least so I am told by those who have experience) as many other of the terrible pains people can suffer in this life, innocently, at the hands of others. Those have similar problems, similar barriers, in their lives, in trust, and in hope. From serving as an ad litem, on the boards of crisis centers and advocacy centers and in dealing with hospices, my heart goes out to those who have sufferred, and who have barriers of pain between themselves and God.

Those barriers I have just described, those terribly hard steps, make returning to prayer, being reconciled to God, hard. An alcoholic in remission feels positive (some times at least, I've known a number of them. I've missed the experience myself, but the positive theme that this time things can only get better is very common). God is hearing and answering and responding to prayer.

The twelve step program is a program of teaching someone to understand God, to believe in God, to repent and seek God and to find God so that a very specific miracle happens. Those who can find honesty and who stick with it, are healed, be they atheists, or anything else. They find a sense of security and hope and serenity.

In grief, God never takes the pain away fully, because the love endures. David O Mckay's wife reported that in her eighties, the pain of her son's death was still with her.

I've yet to read a case study or know an alcoholic who, in following God's will, fell back into the abyss. I've known parents who have buried a child who had that experience again. Instead of gaining a feeling of security, you lose that sense of trust.

Not that you can not rise beyond the lack of security. While Paul notes that if this world was everything, we would be of all humanity the most miserable, he also preaches of the restoration that comes through Christ. We find a reconciliation with God through Christ and a path to God in prayer through his son.

It is not deliverance from the perils and trials of mortality that God offers us, but a promise of restoration and healing once we have passed through those experiences. Not that we will not encounter pain, but that through Christ, in the end, we will be made whole.

Which is why after the death of a child we can still find reconciliation with God through Christ.

I should note that my father's treating doctor's diagnosis was as bad as the treatment plan, and my father survived and served out another mission or so, until he came down with Parkinson's. But cancer hasn't killed him yet.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Memories in July

Weight loss posts here: [latest SLD post]

With the diet I've been on, I've quit submerging emotions with food. I've lost more than sixty pounds, started Judo again, and my life is much better, but I'm much more emotionally friable than I was. My six-year-old is not only six (Jessica died just before she turned seven), but she cut her hair herself, and the resulting "repairs" at the stylist ended up with her hair looking much too much like Jessica's.

Miscellaneous things include a project to redo our master bathroom, my parents buying a house just down the street from us, and the usual turmoil.

I made it through Robin's birthday this year (she was born on July 5) which always hits harder than we expect, as was the aftermath period, and put in some good work at work -- which I enjoy.

But it has been a rough month. I'm glad to have pretty much survived it. At least Pioneer Day went well (and I got to shave the beard off).

My real hope is that as I get through an entire year cycle, and as Rachel survives to turn seven, I will have been able to work through many residual grief issues. It is always tempting to put things off another week, another month, another year, but if I do that, I will put off living life forever.

It is just work to go the other way. Not to mention, the year seems filled with land mines. With three deceased children I have three birthdays, three death anniversaries, lots of holidays, and lots of benchmarks. My oldest leaves for college this fall, going where I had hoped Jessica would go, and we keep hearing from Jessica's cohort with wedding announcements and more.

Every-so-often I wonder what happened to people I knew. Old mission companions, friends and people I met during law school, people I corresponded with, people I wrote with, worked with and for, people I knew. The Internet lets you find them, even after they've quit writing or you've moved, though some times there are just too many names, too many people. Other times, it appears they have moved on. As I've turned fifty, I've just wondered what had happened to all the people I knew, where they were, what they were doing.

Some are retired and enjoying life (think John T. Sapienza, Jr. and his almost career of world con promotion). Others are still prolific (think Gary Gygax) or making good moves (Greg Stafford). Some have a kid dating my kid (Sandy Petersen). Others have their offices end up in magazines (Cliff Bridwell, a true prince among men) or end up dating (on and off) co-workers of my wife (Charles Perry).

But I wonder. What happened to Ray Acuna, who found Christ again in a Philosophy of India class? Did Robert Greathouse find the ethos he was seeking? Did Elders Kelsey and Peterson ever meet in Las Vegas after they got home? Or Bill Woodard, who I played chess and war games with and who almost joined the church, and then got burned by his girlfriend.

In the end, as so many people drift away and are lost at the end of frayed tethers of letters, all that seems to remain is family, and some friends as close as family.

So many moves in my life, so few roots in so many ways. How does the song go, "slip sliding away ..."

Guess it is a long hot day in July, filled with nostalgia.

There are places I remember

For more on how I'm doing with the diet: sld message board thread.

Friday, July 28, 2006

May God Bless You

May God bless you four-fold, with every blessing I have received.

May He bless you with his understanding, with his care, with his knowledge and with his grace.

May He bless you in this generation, in your children, and your grandchildren and to the fourth generation.

May you be blessed four-fold, with every blessing.

Stealing God

I had the good fortune to run across a post about folk culture and the rhetoric of stealing God. The author describes the habit some people have of claiming that when something terrible happens to someone else, all of the bad things are the fault of the person experiencing them (kind of like Job's friends, who made me think "with friends like these, did Job really need enemies?" -- obviously his friends were the last and the worst curse satan was allowed). Such people would answer the question "who sinned master, that this man was born blind, the man or his parents" with "both" rather than the "neither" answer Christ gave.

The author also talks about how some people also ascribe anything good that happens to the righteousness of others (if something good happened, it must have been because someone else was praying for you or practicing some sort of austerity for you). In a way, they claim credit (either directly or indirectly) away from anyone else. The author, P. G. Karamesines, calls that kind of behavior "stealing God."

She then explains "stealing God" in the context of the desire that people have to create a protective barrier between themselves and misfortune by using "magical thinking" folk culture superstitions that they express in order to create a "firewall" (in quotes only because that is P. G.'s term and I think it is a good metaphor) between themselves and misfortune.

That such behavior actively harms and causes pain to people in distress isn't even on the mind of the person doing it. They do it because they are blind to the harm they cause and because they are blind to anything but their own fear and or self-centeredness.

She had a good insight and wrote a very good essay. I recommend her essay: Folk Culture/Criticism: The Rhetoric of Stealing God.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Confession, 12 step notes, politics

Weight loss posts here: [latest SLD post]

It would seem that grief and twelve step programs part ways at step five, where one makes a complete disclosure to both God and another person.

In many ways, however, this is where they come together. One of the most important part of Compassionate Friends is the chance to share, to talk and to vent in private -- at least in a place without anyone present who has not lost a child. All sorts of unthinkable thoughts, feelings and fears are communicated and shared and exorcised.

By talking about things, they are laid to rest, and a great reality check occurs. Once I talk about my fear that my child will quit breathing and the way I need to listen to my baby's noises in order to sleep at night, and hear other parents express the same things, I feel more normal, more valid and less afraid.

In a twelve-step program, following inventories, people share the "faults" part of the inventory with at least one other person, who provides an audience and feedback -- a reality check.

The big difference, as far as I can see, is that in a grief group people tend to tell themselves lies where they take blame they do not deserve, when I read about people in twelve step programs who have shared on the topic of their faults it tends to be about not taking blame they should have.

But involving other people, or groups of other people, seems to help us see where we are blind. Inventories are a start (which is why I blogged on seeing where we are blind), but feedback from others is essential and often does more for us than a thousand lonely inventories would.

Consider Seth Roberts and his post on "the wisdom of strangers" -- where he writes about an editorial he wrote with the take-away line "It made me wish I had solicited comments before I posted my reply."

A quorum, a family, a spouse, a friend, a group of friends, all of these can help us see where we are blind and take us beyond a typical confession to true reality.

On politics.

I have an interest in conflict resolution and negotiation. My political sense in general is not the best (when I was a kid I predicted Yugoslavia would be there forever and Spain would be overwhelmed by civil war, and regretted going to Yugoslavia instead of Spain). But I've found the following interesting:
I can't tell you who is right, or if any of them are right. I wish I knew, all I feel is sadness.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Problems with the Shangri-la Diet?

Some people have contacted me about problems they are having with the diet.

If you've read the Best Practices thread and visited Seth Robert's FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Forum, then I have the following advice:
  1. Try reducing the amount of oil slightly (e.g. if you are using three tablespoons of oil, go to two and a half) and adding two tablespoons of sugar in a cup of warm water. Drink a sip, drink the oil, drink the rest of the sugar water. For some reason, some people seem to do much better if they have this combination.
  2. Make sure you are taking "extra light" (that is oil without flavor) rather than "extra virgin" (oil with clearer, crisper flavor) oil. Those who use extra virgin oils all report that the oil eventually quits working in a month or less. People have used extra light oils for years.
  3. Keep records. I've had someone tell me how they had lost ten pounds, then a month later complain that they had lost fifteen and been on a plateau for a month (they had actually lost five pounds during that month -- when most people only lose 2-3 pounds a month) and a month later talk about how slow it had gone and how they had lost only twenty pounds. Record keeping really helps when you start to forget where your weight is.
  4. Slowly add appropriate excersize (such as gardening or active stretching or swimming).
  5. Be patient. Most people only lose 2-3 pounds a month, most people experience plateaus over and over again. Unlike a "normal" diet, a plateau is only a plateau, not a sign that the diet has failed.
  6. Be consistent. It takes consistency before you get results for most people. Give yourself a month of consistent practice on the diet with record keeping before you decide that ...
  7. Realize that the diet just doesn't work for some people. Everyone is trying to figure out why, but everyone acknowledges that it just doesn't work. If it isn't working for you, let Seth know. There is a forum just for that and for discussing it.
Usually I hear from people who have had a lot of success with the diet. Four months of three pounds a month of weight loss (that's twelve pounds) here, twenty pounds lost there. I see myself every morning (over sixty pounds lost, suddenly wearing size 32" waist pants). But, it doesn't work for everyone, and sometimes even when it used to work, it takes some tweaking or adjustment.

Wish you well. Feel free to leave a comment on the blog instead of e-mailing me.

Patricia A. McKillip

This post is about a favorite author of mine, Patricia A. McKillip.

A long time ago a writer put a fable down,
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Magic Carpet Books)
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974) (Winner, World Fantasy Award, Best Novel 1975). She had written The Thome of the Erril of Sherril the year before (and you can still find it buried in some university stacks -- that is how I found it), but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was a major fantasy work at a time when there was really nothing like it.

Since then she has written many enchanting novels that reach deep, human themes.

The Riddle-master's Game (Fantasy Masterworks S.)
The Riddle-master's Game (Fantasy Masterworks S.) by
Patricia A. McKillip (Paperback - Jul 12, 2001) -- the closest
to classical fantasy that she has written;

and, one of my favorites:
The Changeling Sea (Firebird)
The Changeling Sea (Firebird) by Patricia A. McKillip (Mass Market Paperback - April 14, 2003)

I just wanted to share a bit about a favorite author of mine.

For more, see and

Feel free to share the names of your favorite authors here.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sudden Enlightenment

What do EST, Psychocybernetics, Primal Scream, Rolfing, Silva Mind Control and many self-improvement/communication systems have in common? They are all systems of "sudden enlightenment."

These systems have specific things they have in common.

  1. The message that the key problems in life are a singular key problem -- that of having (at a very young age) acquired the wrong perspective.
  2. That correct perspective will result in success and dramatic changes in life.
  3. Reliance on invoking a change in perspective by overwhelming the person's existing internal logic by use of a narrative to induce or create an "ah hah" moment where perspective changes (creating sudden enlightenment).
  4. Meditation programs or systems (they all seem to have one).
  5. Miscellaneous flavoring or trappings created by the narrative and context of the system.

They create as sense of control over life by being a part of the system.

Many of us have moments of sudden enlightenment. The systems are all about creating such moments and keeping them, using a very specific methodology (think of when President Jimmy Carter's sister converted the owner of Hustler into a born-again Christian pornographer -- that was the use of the tools of sudden enlightenment in action).

These systems contrast well with conventional religion or with twelve step programs, which are systems of gradual enlightenment. Life itself seems to be a cross between gradual enlightenment and punctuated equilibriums. More anon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pictures, free copies of book, etc.

Back about '93 or '94 is when I joined up with USA&M and this publicity photo was taken. I've been involved with mediation since the mid-80s, but got serious about it in the '90s. I was certified with USA&M after Jessica died, but before Courtney died. This picture was taken after I certified with them.

Then I gained a lot of weight and this picture was taken here in Dallas at a Christmas party in 2005 -- after I'd lost about twenty pounds on the SLD.

Then, after I'd lost about 63 pounds, this picture was taken:

Finally, this is me at 65 pounds lost and just finished with vacation (where I grew a beard).

My wife likes my beard and reading glasses look (I'm wearing a work-out shirt, I'd just done three miles in this photo, but it is one that I have). You get older, you realize that you aren't going to get any younger or any better looking (though on the SLD you can get thinner).

Anyway, for anyone who is interested in how the diet has worked for me, these are some reference pictures to go with my story.

What is strange, the "fat" picture is one where I thought I really looked good and that it hid the weight ... and in the promotional picture I'm not that much younger than I am now. I just seem to have lost all the color in my hair while I was in the midst of my family getting smaller. The beautiful blond in the picture is my wife, who actually looks better than that.

I just encountered some more people this week who know me, but haven't seen me in a while and who did not recognize me. It was fun.

Hope these answer the questions people have had.

If you have questions about the diet, which doesn't cost anything, has no membership fees and you can do without buying the book, go here:
Shangri-la Diet Information. For the newsletter I did on mediation from 1997 to this week, try Mediation On-Line. A Mediation Newsletter. Final Issue 2006. If you are interested in a review copy of the book about the diet I'm on -- they are giving away copies to bloggers with the information here: Message from Seth's editor.

I wish you well and all the success in the world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fire Rainbow -- Stumbling on Happiness

A friend sent me this picture of an upper atmosphere rainbow in the clouds.

I love clouds and light. They give me hope and joy.

May the day bring you hope and joy as well.

BTW, for more on happiness, visit this blog:

Happiness is easier to find than you might think, and found in different places.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Seeing where you are blind

"We begin with the premise that there could be many things about us which need to change, only some of which we are able to see at any given time."
To take inventory, to see where we are blind, is difficult. It takes several things.

First, it takes a willingness to be humble, a willingness to change where God feels we need to change, not where we want to change.

Second, it takes a belief that we still need to change, will always still need to change, to grow, learn and improve. That change is a permanent process, not a single goal.

Third, it takes desire sufficient that change is worth the effort and the cost.

If you have those three things, you can see where you are blind, and by pondering and paying attention, continue to improve yourself.

While there are many useful tools and methods and habits that aid us each in taking inventory, the important core is: will, belief and desire. With those three elements we will continue to overcome. Without all three elements, we will continue to be blind, not to hear, not to feel the guidance of God.

That is how to take inventory and to see where you are blind -- one of the topics that I've promised to visit.

There is more than this starting point (after all, it is all a starting point), but it starts with will, belief and desire.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Interview with Seth Roberts (author of the Shangri-la Diet)

QUESTION I'm talking with Dr. Seth Roberts, author of The Shangri-La Diet. Good morning, Dr. Roberts.

ANSWER Good morning.

QUESTION It's been three months since the book was published. What's happened that since publication?

ANSWER Well, it's strange. I've been learning about weight control for a long time. I started self-experimentation about it, trying to lose weight myself, sixteen years ago. The discovery that led to the book -- my experience in Paris -- was six years ago. You might think six years of experience would be enough to make the diet perfect, or close to perfect. At least for me. Well, no, not at all. In the past three months I have started to do the diet differently. And it's made a big difference -- not on my weight, which was fine, but on my sleep. My sleep has gotten better. I never thought that writing a diet book would improve my sleep, but that's what's happened.

QUESTION How did that happen?

ANSWER The most important thing since publication of the book has been growth of the forums at These forums are an online community where people ask questions, answer questions, tell their progress, and give encouragement. It's a support group without the inconvenience, someone said. Right now there're about 10,000 posts and 1,000 members. Anyone with a question about the diet or a problem with the diet should visit the forums and ask for help. It's very likely that someone knows the answer or has had the same problem. I call it Shangri-La Diet University. The address, again, is You can learn a lot about the diet that isn't in the book.

I've learned a lot from the forums. One thing I've learned is that the diet often has surprising positive side effects. One of these positive side effects is better sleep. Lots of people reported this. I was fascinated by this because that hand't happened to me. My sleep didn't improve when I started the diet. I wanted to see how common this was so I posted a poll. It turned out that two-thirds of people drinking oil for the diet said their sleep had improved. So better sleep wasn't just a surprising side effect, it was a common one. I wondered if the reason my sleep hadn't improved was because I mostly used extra-light olive oil, which is low in omega-three fatty acids. So I switched to walnut oil, which is high in omega-three, and also started taking 10 flax-seed oil capsules per day. Flaxseed oil is high in omega-three.

My sleep improved right away. And it has stayed that way. I'm getting the best sleep of my adult life. Every night when I go to bed, I know I'm going to wake up feeling really good. I'm not sure it is the omega-three that caused the improvement because people have reported better sleep with olive oil and coconut oil, which have little or no omega-three. So I don't know what causes the sleep improvement. But there it is -- it's a great side effect of the diet. And I suspect that any food that improves your sleep also improves your brain in other ways. At the same time my sleep improved, so did my balance.

QUESTION What have been other positive side effects?

ANSWER Most of the positive side effects have come from drinking oil. As one person said, it turns out that fat is not poison. The oil is obviously good for your skin. Many people, including me, have gotten softer skin and hair. Several people have had skin problems, such as eczema, clear up. One person's acne improved, which is kind of amazing because acne is supposedly caused by oil. A few people have said the oil has made them more flexible, less stiff. A few people have said that being on the diet helped them quit smoking and quit drinking coffee. Omega-three is supposed to improve mood; maybe that's what's happening in these cases.

QUESTION Most people do the diet by drinking oil?

ANSWER Yes. If you do the sugar water, you need to drink it slowly. And the sugar water sometimes causes hunger. The oil is a lot faster. You don't have to drink it slowly. Sometimes the oil causes indigestion. If you have that problem, just reduce the dose for a few days to give your body time to get used to it. Your body needs time to make enough of the right enzymes to digest the oil.

QUESTION But isn't it difficult to drink oil? When I tell people about this diet, and about drinking oil, sometimes they say "I couldn't do that."

ANSWER Yes, that's a common reaction. One good idea from the forums is that it helps to drink the oil with water. If you add enough water, it's more like drinking water than drinking oil. And the water reduces the flavor of the oil, which is also good. Some people find it helps to add sugar to the oil/water mixture -- about 1 teaspoon of sugar for 1 tablespoon of oil.

Speaking of improvements, another improvement from the forums has been in what times of day to take the oil. Lots of people have good results taking it late at night, right before bedtime, and early in the morning. I myself have switched to taking my oil right before bedtime instead of during the day. I haven't seen any difference in my weight, but it's easier.

QUESTION Which oils are best?

ANSWER I don't know. I'm not sure what causes the positive side effects so I can't say how to maximize them. I think right now on the forums the favorite oils are extra-light olive oil, refined coconut oil, and refined walnut oil. But with more experience this might change. What is clearer is which oils are the worst. I did a poll asking about negative side effects. Half of the people who used canola oil had some sort of problem. The other oils I asked about, which included olive oil, walnut oil, and coconut oil, caused fewer problems. So canola oil seems to be the worst.

QUESTION What have you learned about who the diet will help?

ANSWER When I wrote the book, I wasn't sure whether it would help people who suffer from emotional eating -- people who overeat when they get upset. But many people have posted that the diet has helped them with this problem. On the other side of the ledger, the diet doesn't seem to be much help to people who are thin and who exercise a lot. Some of these people have tried the diet because they feel hungry and think about food too much. If the diet helps them, its effects are subtle and take several weeks to become clear.

QUESTION That reminds me to ask: How long do the effects of the diet take to become apparent?

ANSWER In most cases, the appetite suppression becomes clear in a few days or a week. In a few cases, it can take much longer than that.

QUESTION What do other people say they have learned from the forums?

ANSWER Well, many things, some of which I have already gone over. One I haven't mentioned is a spirit of self-experimentation. The diet is not rigid, unlike most diets. The forums are full of people talking about how they switched oils, varied how they took the oil, many other variations. This is all very reasonable; I think all this self-experimentation will eventually help everyone.

QUESTION What about the emotional effects of the diet?

ANSWER Yes, that's another big change since publication. If I wrote the book now I'd say much more about emotional effects. From reading the forums I've come to see that the emotional effects are very big and very important. Of course everyone is happy to lose weight. I felt that way. But there are two other effects of the diet that I didn't feel that are probably more important. One is a feeling of control. Lots of people feel out of control around food. Not all the time, maybe, but often. They can't keep from eating junk food, they can't keep from eating chocolate, they can't keep themselves from finishing the whole package of cookies once they start. They don't want to be this way, of course. The diet has given them control. They are able to eat the way they want to eat. "Now I see how normal people think about food," someone said.

The other big emotional effect is less guilt. It's bad enough being overweight; it's even worse being blamed for it. People who are overweight are told that it is their fault -- if only you would exercise more, eat less, et cetera, et cetera. It starts with their parents, but it continues throughout life. Nutrition and health experts say this sort of thing all the time. When this advice doesn't work -- and it almost never does -- the natural reaction is to think: What's wrong with me? It's really horrible. One effect of the Shangri-La diet is to make it clear that the reason the standard "eat less, exercise more" advice didn't work is that it was the wrong advice. The fact that you didn't lose weight doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you -- the problem is that the advice was wrong. Today, somebody doing the diet wrote in the forums: "It feels as if a great burden of guilt . . . has been lifted off me." Many people feel that way.

QUESTION Can you sum up what you've learned in a few words?

ANSWER Yes. First, don't be discouraged if the diet doesn't work quickly. Sometimes it can take weeks before the effects become apparent. And don't be discouraged by plateaus. Just because you haven't lost weight for a month doesn't mean you aren't going to lose more weight.

Second, try different things. If you read the forums, you will see what a wide range of things have worked for other people. Different oils, different ways of taking the oil, and so on.

Third, if you have a problem or a question, go to the forums. Ask for help. Someone else has had the same problem or question as you. They will be happy to help you.

Bathos, exploitation, death of a child

When a child dies, or is dying, certain things happen, even to the shallowest and most facile of people.

First, they cease to be completely sane, at least in a normal sense. Coping skills break, perspectives change, a deeper level of emotion occurs, and fault lines are exposed.

Second, the state is exploited by others, who generally have no idea of what is going on. Most of the comments are "see, something terrible, which I can exploit for bathos" (well, they intend pathos, but you know how it is) or "see, people in the grip of soul wrenching grief, acting soul wrenched or out of complete control."

Third, they tend to find more contact with reality.

Which is why I was rather harsh in comments regarding the play On the Romance of a Dying Child.

In that play, two parents have a child they think is dying. In the play they have various emotions and discussions, appearing to come to embrace, in a shallow way, pity and self-absorbed views ("But now I have a dying child. That’s better than a big nose."), when they discover the child might not die. That leaves them with the closer: "(The doctor nods and exits. Pause. They look at each other. They look away. Pause.) What if he doesn't die? "

I only remark because the play is a good example of the typical use of the death of a child (real or fictional) as a way to exploit bathos for shallow, inauthentic and manipulative ways -- which you will see over and over again.

So, the play noted not because it is unusual, tripe, but because it is typical tripe, of a kind you should be aware you will be assaulted by continually, for the rest of your life, once a child dies.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Quick links

Shangri-la Diet Information

BTW, a funny thing did happen today. Ran into someone I had not seen in a while and they did not recognize me. I both have a beard (I grew it on vacation for my wife, she loves beards) and I've lost about fifty or sixty pounds since I saw them last.

I know, I could look a lot better (this is me, just after working out), but I thought it might amuse people to see this picture. The beard comes off pretty soon, a beard in July isn't my idea of fun. Gives you a lot more sympathy for guys in the days without air conditioning who did hard work in the sun, beards and all. Pioneer day is coming, and they sacrificed a lot more than just not shaving.

Really easy-to-make bread
(makes two one pound loaves)

by Suzette Haden Elgin (Ozarque)

LDS Recovery
A Twelve-Step Blog

By John Anon

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Guest Post by Juliann: crafted narratives

Most people live their lives by narratives. Juliann writes about the way the narratives of many believers and apostates mirror each other and are matters, at a deep level, of choice, and are not unique nor all encompassing. If grief has made you lose your faith, I hope this helps you in finding it again.

Juror #10: Most of 'em, it's like they have no feelings! They can do anything! What's goin' on here? I'm trying to tell you... you're makin' a big mistake, you people! This kid is a liar! I know it. I know all about them! Listen to me! They're no good! There's not a one of 'em who is any good! (quoting from the movie)

Mormons are an example of a group that has never known a time when they were not on trial or dealing with "angry men." Some Mormons ignore the "Twelve Angry Men", some dispute the angry men but almost all of us are puzzled by the angry men which we see on the web, over and over again.

One of the lures of the internet is that it gives a participant an arm's chair view of the angry personality, a free anthropological romp through the career of a vocal apostate. However, it was not until I was introduced to the sociological perspective that I began to make sense of the dispute and the narratives.

I learned a new way to look at the problem from Sociology. Sociology of religion has undergone a paradigm shift. A quarter century or so ago, to be religious was to be irrational if not crazy. Everyone was certain that religion would soon disappear. But when religion didn't go away, the thinking had to be revisited.

Now sociologists treat religiosity as just another subset of social behavior that drives how humans react with their world of reality. Market theory has been used to explain why some religions succeed and others fail. But the interest for those believers put on trial by angry men is in what the researchers of New Religious Movements (NRM) are finding. The jurors fall on a spectrum. We have the "leave taker" and the "apostate" on opposite ends of the spectrum -- they are not the same.

The "typical leave takers whose responses range from indifference to quiet disenchantment."

Daniel Carson Johnson, "Apostates Who Never Were: The Social Construction of Absque Facto Apostate Narratives," in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 109.

The apostate role is understood to be one in which a person exits, either voluntarily or involuntarily, an unconventional or "new" religious group or movement (hereafter NRM) and then becomes an outspoken, visible critic of the latter.

Anson Shupe, "The Role of Apostates in the North American Anticult Movement," in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 207.

What becomes apparent is that believers and apostates are not as different as the apostate wants to believe. Sociology now illustrates that conversion and deconversion are similar processes and we convert ourselves. As a result of that theory, many sociologists have dismissed the Pauline conversion experience in favor of a self-maintained process of converting ourselves.

We can convert ourselves into something or out of something but we make the choices. It is a process with active not passive participants, whether we realize it or not. Conversion and deconversion are not an event, both are a process we choose. The idea of choice seems like a desirable end, but the current science is not popular with "apostates" from any group.

This is because, for many, the sociological perspective removes the heart of the exit narrative in which the ex-member has been "deceived and manipulated by a conniving church so that they were unable to see the "truth"." The narrative usually includes a moment of enlightenment or blinding realization that cannot be denied. It is the so-called "captivity narrative."
The archetypal account that is negotiated is a "captivity narrative" in which apostates assert that they were innocently or naively operating in what they had every reason to believe was a normal, secure social site; were subjected to overpowering subversive techniques; endured a period of subjugation during which they experienced tribulation and humiliation; ultimately effected escape or rescue from the organization; and subsequently renounced their former loyalties and issued a public warning of the dangers of the former organization as a matter of civic responsibility. . .

Emphasis on the irresistibility of subversive techniques is vital to apostates and their allies as a means of locating responsibility for participation on the organization rather than on the former members. This account avoids attribution of calculated choices that would call for invoking the label of traitor. Further, a broad allegation of subversion allows a diverse array of opponents to unite under a common banner and formulate a variety of claims in terms that will mobilize or neutralize a broad spectrum of interests.

David G. Bromley, "The Social Construction of Contested Exit Roles: Defectors, Whistleblowers, and Apostates," in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers), 37.

Are the plaintiff and defendent so different? Not really. Believers have their own crafted narrative. We call it a "testimony" and Mormons, for example, express it in a very formulaic manner during Fast and Testimony meeting. I continue to think the believer and the apostate can find common ground if the apostate can acknowledge that leaving a religion does not change their worldview or personality and if the believer realizes that defectors are going through the natural process of conversion. Mauss said it well,

[T]he potential recruit makes an implicit cost/benefit analysis of the consequences of accepting the new role and engaging in the activities expected in that role, including the new biographical reconstruction. . .The process is not, of course, irreversible, for on the same cost/benefit basis, a convert might move through a series of counterpart roles (such as "doubter") eventually to the "apostate" role, which has its own demands for the defector, and its own mandatory "account" of the process of defection.

Armand Mauss, "Research in Social Movements and in New Religious Movements: The Prospects for Convergence, " in Religion and the Social Order: The Handbook on Cults and Sects in America, eds. David G. Bromley and Jerffrey K. Hadden (Greenwich, CT:JAI Press Inc., 1993), 139.

Will we ever be able to set aside our differences? I am hopeful that a more scholarly approach to our behaviors will provide assistance.

Thanks for the guest post. I'll be having more guests, from time to time. As for me, in addition to grief and faith and related issues, I'll be writing more on seeing where we are blind (though in a different context completely -- addressing inventories again) and on sudden enlightenment (a reprise from more than twenty years ago).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

What is it to be poor?

"Ties That Bind: Hopi gift culture and its first encounter with the United States," by Peter M. Whiteley (on pp. 26-31 of the 11/04 issue of _Natural History_). online at

"Hopi leaders are supposed to be materially poor, and a wealthy individual is often criticized as _qahopi_, un-Hopi, for failing to share. Wealth and status among the Hopi is thus phrased in ritual terms; a poor person is one without ceremonial prerogatives, not one without money." (page 28)
That is an interesting statement. Has made me think, on a day I'm thinking. When are we poor, what is it to be poor?

More, later, on inventories and seeing where you are blind: how to find yourself where you are not.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Inventories, healing your heart

The rhythm of my life is a rhythm of inventories, reviews and reports.

Every night I have prayer. Every Sunday the sacrament. Every month a period of fasting. Easter, Christmas and New Years, each with different types of inventories, reflections, goal setting and personal reformations.

Work is similar, with time lines, forms and reviews.

Any member of the LDS Church has had interviews, goal setting and personal inventories as a part of the circle of life. But loss and grief catches us without a period or a ritual or an inventory that fits.

In grief, people rarely take stock or review, unless they are early in grief (where they inventory themselves to blame themselves) or in full recovery (where self-assessment is a part of appreciating the good in oneself and life).

To compare, in a twelve step program taking an inventory is a part of moving past the next level of denial. Often the fourth step is the first honest look a person has ever taken of themselves, with an effort to avoid both sugar coating and downgrading themselves. Honest, not positive or negative.

I admit, the thought of people who did not consider inventories and self assessment a normal part of life's rhythm was a real surprise to me. I have since discovered that the hustle and bustle of life, its demands and limits, cause many, many people to limit their self-assessment to depths so shallow it doesn't even reach to denial.

In that light I ran across: -- one of many posts on opening your heart and finding Christ again.

I recommend it and the other posts in the series: -- I needed the reminder and the new perspective.

May you find perspective that leads you to comfort, peace, and happiness and may your heart be healed.

Shangri-la Diet Update

I've been following the Shangri-la Diet forums a good deal. It is where I got most of the concepts for the best practices thread. The people are friendly, there is a lot of information, and a lot of innovation.

However, I find that some of the changes I made in following the best practices have not worked well for me.

Taking oil in the middle of the night was effective once. After that, as time went on, taking it at night first worked ok, then a good deal less well than taking it at 10:00 a.m. and then finally started to quit working at all. 10:00 a.m. works better for me than 3:00 p.m., which is "ok" but 10:00 a.m. is better.

The various protein powders in water were ok for a while, now they don't seem to work well. They are great for getting more protein, but they don't work at all as flavorless calories for me, though they do work well for others. If they work for you, you can't beat them as a source of nutrition and loss of hunger. As it is, I use them to make sure I am getting enough protien if I end up short on protien in what I eat during a day.

Grapeseed oil is a lot easier to swallow, but doesn't seem to work as well for me over time. Some walnut oils, which is reputed to be a better oil, has too much flavor for me. ELOO works very well. I'm going back to it, I think, probably blended just a little with a flavorless walnut oil I found.

What convinced me that I needed to change is that I've basically had a month or so of experiments where my weight loss went flat (well, it slowed down to gaining a half pound for the thirty day period) and my hunger and eating were up just a little. It was a huge difference to follow two months of two pounds a week to go to a little less than two pounds a month. Instead of making my target weight a month early, I'll be lucky to make it on schedule. On the other hand, by the end of the day, I'll have lost eighty pounds.

So, while most of the tweaks work better for the people who are reporting, many don't seem to work that well for me. As I observed in the FAQ thread: the diet needs tweaking but if you find something that works, seriously consider just sticking with it instead of changing it about. You need to adjust the method to you, not you to it.

For more: Shangri-la Diet Information

I strongly advise mild exercise when (and if) you are up to it. Gardening and stretching are both good, as are swimming or just treading water. A lot of people have started doing DDR (Dance Dance Revolution -- a video game) as a sort of interactive jogging replacement. For many people, DDR or walking are not options because of their weight or physical problems. At the same time, weight lifting isn't aerobic enough (and costs too much money).

But Wharton method stretching is aerobic, you can get the book for free through your library or interlibrary loan and learn the method that way, and it helps with flexibility. Gardening was used in a test of seniors and found to be effective exercise. It has a learning curve, but many people enjoy gardening a great deal. DDR is usually started by borrowing a child's game machine bought at a garage sale and going from there.

It is hard, but it is possible to get mild exercise once you've started to lose weight.

And losing weight is possible, not a dream or a mirage.

All things are temporary

A quote:

People always think good news will continue. I guess it's in our nature to think that whatever is around us while we're here is what will continue until we're not.

And then things change, and you're surprised. I guess surprise is in our nature too. And then after the surprise we burrow down into ourselves and pull out what we need to survive, and go on, and endure.

But there's something else, and I am thinking of it.

I knew for many years a handsome and intelligent woman of middle years who had everything anyone could dream of--home, children, good marriage, career, wealth. She was secure. And she and her husband had actually gotten these good things steadily, over 25 years of effort, and in that time they had suffered no serious reverses or illnesses, no tragedies or bankruptcies or dark stars. Each year was better than the previous.

It was wonderful to see. But as I came to know her I realized that she didn't think she had what she had because she was lucky, or blessed. She thought she had them because she was better. She had lived a responsible, effortful life; of course it had come together. She had what she had because she was good, and prudent.

She deserved it. She was better than the messy people down the block.

She forgot she was lucky and blessed!

You forget you're lucky when your luck is so consistent that it confounds the very idea of luck. You begin to think your good fortune couldn't be luck, it must have been . . . talent. Or effort. Or superiority.

That is the new neo-calvinism. To quote Jane Galt "You can phrase the sentiment in a cynical wasy: "[Censored] happens". Or you can phrase it in a cheerful way: "Count your blessings". But either way, they add up to the same thing: the universe is not here to make you happy. That's your job."

Remember, happiness is your job, to find and create in spite of everything else (and sometimes because of it).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Temporary ...

On the web, everything is temporary.

However, for a brief period, here is my oldest daughter, at Judo:

Sumi Gaeshi

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Ok, that is what my six year old called it.

We went to Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort - New Braunfels, Texas.

On a rainy day it was perfect, and the spray-on sunscreen worked like a charm. Home of the best rated water ride in the nation (Masterblaster -- the wait is usually over two hours), there were top of the line rides that had waits of less than ten minutes (from the time you started the ride to climbing all the way to the top of the stairs and getting in the ride again -- e.g. the Black Knight which shares the stairs with Masterblaster). My favorite was which was fun with or without a tube.

If you are a guy and are trying to communicate with someone, I'd recommend two books:

We only part to meet again
Though mighty boundless waves may sever
Remembrance oft shall bring thee near
And I will with thee go forever
And oft at midnights silent hour
When brilliant planets shall guide the ocean
Thy name shall rise to heaven's highest star
And mingle with my soul's devotion

A bit of arabic poetry, translated and attributed to Edgar Allen Poe as a literary trope.

Still, in memory of Robin Elizabeth Marsh, July 6, 1997 to August 31, 1997. I miss her still.