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On a 21st Century Spiritual Breakthrough!

January 15, 2012

Have I shared with you my new spiritual breakthrough? Are you, like so many Christians out there, discouraged by your inability to keep pace with your expected level of spiritual discipline? Is it hard for you to keep to your daily regimen of 5am prayer and Bible reading? I know that I am. To combat these deficiencies, I have developed a brand-spanking-new, yet-to-be-patented spiritual discipline that I am finding is both easy to keep and satisfying. Would you like for me to share it with you?

Of course you would. Everyone is always in the market for the quick-fix diet pill of spirituality. One needs only look at the self-help/religion section of any bookstore to see how much ink (virtual and otherwise) has been spilled over this topic. Who would have thought that some out-of-the way blog on the fringes of the internet would hold the key?

Enough jibber-jabber. Let’s get down to business. This new spiritual discipline is……Fasting from Fasting. Ingenious! As I’m sure you’re aware, fasting is when you give up something, classically food but also other things like TV, Facebook, or other necessities, in order to reinvest the time or resources usually spent in consumption into spiritually beneficial activities such as prayer or charitable giving. Fasting from Fasting, then, is staving off the temptation to spend time and energy in this spiritual activity to reduce worry and undue stress, which then leads to a happy and fattened life.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Is this a joke?” I leave the answer up to you. (Hint: Yes). But before you make a final decision, let’s look at some of the things that I’ve replaced fasting with in my life and see if they add up to a spiritual advance.

1. Hazelnut Lattes. I love hazelnut lattes. At the University where I work, we have a coffee shop. Luckily for me, I have a small coffee stipend affixed to my ID card as one of my many, many perks.* I know all the staff in that place by name and they are all very kind to me. It’s kindof like what Cheers would be, except not at all.

*Did you know that “perk” is short for “perquisite?” Yes, that GRE study really has paid off in spades!

I remember reading somewhere that the leading flavor in coffees among ladies is hazelnut. I think that this must be right, as I’m the only non-female that I know who prefers the flavor. In fact, people trying to brownnose me will sometimes order hazelnut, only to report that it is nasty. Man-favored flavors are caramel and vanilla, if the statistics are to be believed. One of my esteemed colleagues, who happens to be female, prefers caramel. She informs me that it is due to her higher than normal levels of testosterone. I choose not to believe this, as the logical corrollary would indicate that I have a higher than normal estrogen level.

Christmas season has most conclusively demonstrated this problem. Not only did my wife inform me that my sweater, which I had only that day received as a present and which was purchased one size larger than normal, was too small and I needed to take it back. Also, I found that I was wishing every Christmas present contained a Starbucks card.* Perhaps these two events are related.

*Giftcards are a funny thing. As the great cultural commentator Jerry Seinfeld put it, you take cash, which is good anywhere, and convert it into a substance that can be used only at one location. (paraphrase mine.) Usually this giftcard process downgrades the cash, but for some reason, buying a Starbucks card upgrades your money into something better and more exciting. Perhaps Starbucks has borrowed the Colonel’s addictive chemical that makes you crave his chicken fortnightly and applied it to their beverages.

2. Dr. Pepper. One of my friends lives near Austin, and whenever she returns from a trip home, I can always trust that she has an ample supply of Dublin Dr. Pepper in her trunk. Since she’s a brownnoser, she’ll usually share a few with me. For the uninitiated Neanderthals among my readership, Dublin Dr. Pepper is Dr. Pepper made the original way, with cane sugar rather than the high fructose corn syrup one normally sees pumped into sodas these days. It’s delightfully delicious. However, the bottling company responsible for this heavenly confection has decided to permanently fast from production. it is a sad, albeit spiritually motivating, day for us all.

3. Cool Ranch Doritos. I really don’t understand why anyone would prefer Nacho Cheese Doritos to the perfection in taste that is crammed onto every chip inside of a beautiful blue bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Whenever I am looking for a spiritual boost, nothing is finer than a crunch or three of these fine chips. Probably only fasting itself is better for someone’s spiritual growth. Well, that or a steak. Or ribs. Hmm. Could be time to upgrade that sweater again….

OK–so obviously the foregoing was a joke. Hopefully a humorous one, but you never know. The truth of the matter is that spiritual growth is hard to come by and that there is no quick fix. It’s not something that you hang back and passively acquire. It’s a slog; growth is best won through hardship and those same hardships seem to be something we are innately programmed to avoid. Filling the hardship hole with lattes actually works in reverse.

I would be remiss to not point out that feasting is a credible spiritual activity. However, it is totally different to what I’ve described above. In fact, there are a great many disciplines not described above. Allow me to point you towards some resources that might be helpful in your search:

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Authored by a German minister who lived during World War II and who was imprisoned and executed for working against the Nazi regime, this tome is not for the faint of heart. It’s certainly not for someone looking for a surface treatment of discipleship issues. No, Bonhoeffer confronts the reader with the hard realities that grace costs something and that following Jesus is hard. Anyone willing to work through the pages will come through the other side a changed person.

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg. Coming from a successful church in Chicago as a teaching pastor, Ortberg now is a senior pastor in California. Famed for his practical teaching and writings, Ortberg briefly carried the mantle as my favorite Christian author. This book is his best. Tracing the classical spiritual disciplines but offering anecdotes and practical steps, Ortberg helps his readers internalize the truths of these disciplines and move them from abstract ideas to things that you can do on a daily basis.

Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairytale, by Frederick Buechner. Buechner is ordained by the Presbyterian denomination just to write. They know what they are talking about! Buechner takes ideas inherent in our understanding and applies them to understanding the Kingdom of God: the tragedy of human reality, the comedy of redemption, the the fairy tale that God isn’t finished working with us yet. I highly recommend this quick read. See also his Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who.

So I want to hear from you…..what do you do when you’re fasting from fasting? And what are some of your favorite resources on spiritual disciplines?

And I really do want to hear from you this time. Often people read and don’t leave a comment! Gasp! Do you know how that makes me feel? It makes me feel like I am wandering in the blogosphere talking to myself. So help a self-conscious brother out and rate, comment and share. I even got the conversation started for you….

As always, thanks for reading. Unless you didn’t comment. Then nevermind.

J/K and all that.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2012 5:37 pm

    I think I’m pretty conventional when it comes to fasting from fasting. The classic trifecta of beer, pizza and football always seems to fit the bill nicely. You and some of your readers, due to life circumstances, may need to substitute Dr. Pepper for beer*.

    As for resources on spiritual disciplines, I’m glad you covered Bonhoeffer, but on the practical side, I’ve found Ruth Haley Barton’s “Sacred Rhythms” to be excellent as a guide or introduction to the practice of spiritual disciplines. It’s less heavy-handed than say Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline.”

    *Just making sure the HC contingency is covered for you ORU folks

    • January 16, 2012 6:08 pm

      I’m not familiar with Barton; I will have to check it out. Thanks for the heads up.

      I’ve never considered football as a ‘fasting from fasting’ item; many seem to treat it as a religion unto itself. Being from KC, I know that that religion has not treated me kindly. As a Bills fan, I’m sure you feel the same way.

  2. January 17, 2012 11:43 pm

    When I’m fasting from fasting, I go to Target and buy things I don’t need and watch lots of shows on Hulu.
    I don’t have a book to add, but I think I may put The Cost of Discipleship on my reading list.

    Fun fact: in Copenhagen Cool Ranch Doritos are packaged as “Cool American”.

  3. Shannon permalink
    January 31, 2012 1:18 pm

    Hazelnut Lattes do not get put into a category of fast or not fast. They are equated with oxygen. Do I fast from breathing? No. That’d be silly.

    My “fasts” involve a movie on in the background (think Goonies or Charlie Bartlett, light and entertaining. Since we’re self-disclosing anyway, and I’m opening myself up for judgment, I will at times watch movies like the Hangover or Talladega Nights. AND I laugh.), a light fiction book I read when the movie gets slow (George R. Martin, Ken Follet, or maybe even Stig Larsson), and a few of my favorite cookies. OH yeah, and facebook is usually open on my laptop next to me. I like to multi-task fast.

    • January 31, 2012 3:32 pm

      I might need to borrow your Larsson for my next fast.

  4. Kyle H. permalink
    February 4, 2012 4:13 pm

    I always thought of fasting as praying or reading the Bible in place of your time spent eating(on top of more daily prayer). So then, by this premise, if you fasted from fasting, you would still be praying more than usual and it would then help your prayer life(while still feeling full). Here is an interesting book I saw online: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-14996-9/food-and-faith-in-christian-culture

    • February 5, 2012 2:11 am

      This is an interesting book. Do they have an essay about Starbucks?

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