“WHEAT BELLY” ~ by Dr. William Davis……. A diet-changing book for 2015

Books drop into my life unbidden. Someone is talking about a book they’re reading, or I see the cover on a coffee table or online, and it’s like, I’ve got to read that.

It’s a new year, and that’s always a good time to make a new start. I was thinking about what I could do, and suddenly, there it was, the inspirational book to get me going in the right direction, health-wise, in 2015: WHEAT BELLY, by Dr. William Davis. Thanks to Brenda for loaning it to me before taking it back to the library.

Wheat Belly

Dr. Davis’ basic claim is that the need for ‘healthy whole grains’ is “pure fiction.” This blog post is my excited and enthusiastic report about what I read, and how my body is responding to not eating wheat anymore.

I started 6 days ago~ no bread of any kind, no cakes or cookies, no chips, or tacos, or pasta. Have I forgotten anything? Yes. Lots of processed foods have wheat in them, so I’m reading labels now. I’ve decided to be careful, and vigilant, not because I have Celiac disease and experience the painful consequences of ingesting gluten, but because my unsightly wheat belly is an indicator of all kinds of potential problems that I will face if I keep going the way I have been. Like many Americans, I’ve been addicted to bread products in all their varied and wondrous forms, and I’m also overweight.

The book made sense to me. All I had to do was look down to recognize the result of my food choices hanging solidly around my middle. The research also scared me into action. I don’t want to become a diabetic like my sister, or have my toes amputated like my diabetic friend at the pool. He’s younger than I am, and I definitely recognized a wheat belly while we were sitting and chatting in the sun. I don’t want to have my knees or hips replaced like one of mom’s friend. She has a wheat belly, too. I know I need to take better care of my bones, joints, organs, and brain, not to mention all the other indispensable parts of me that I love and appreciate and don’t want to lose. I don’t want to eat food that leaches the calcium out of my bones, elevates my blood sugar and sets off an unhealthy chain reaction, throws the pH balance off, or sneaks past the blood/brain barrier and messes with my mind. As Dr. Davis points out, today’s genetically modified and hybridized wheat isn’t really the same food as our forbears ate. He calls it a ‘synthetic’ food, and after reading WHEAT BELLY, you’ll understand why.

I’m feeling inspired to have found a way to improve my health this year, and I’m already seeing the results of making a commitment to living wheat-free. After only 6 days I feel lighter, cleaner, and good about taking more responsibility for my constant companion, my body. After two days I had the best bowel movement in a very long time. Some readers will understand how exciting that is. I thought immediately that this is the beginning of a cleaning out process, and that I’m really onto something here.

The third day, I had a second helping of ice-cream with whipped cream on top, and I noticed that I didn’t feel good afterwards. No more seconds! On the 5th day, I didn’t feel good after a medium-size DQ shake, AND I had terrible smelly gas :( Whew! No more large ice-cream portions. Ice-cream is not a wheat product, so it’s allowed, but I’m starting to see what my body likes, not just what I think I want. I promised myself that next time I indulge in a coffee milk-shake at DQ, I’ll buy the small size and split it with a friend. That probably won’t be for a long time.

I’ve been feeling happy, in spite of the fact that I have no idea where I’m headed or what I’m going to be doing tomorrow or the next day. I left my home and my family, and I’m on the road, and that can be very scary. But it’s what I want and need to do right now, and having the boundaries of a clear eating plan removes some of the decision-making, and provides a sort of anchor, or steadying presence. I’m experiencing less mood swings, and in spite of the fact that my life is in a state of flux, I feel like I’m on an even keel~ I’m calm and happy, my mind is clear, my energy is good, and I’m not on drugs.

For anyone who knows me, that’s a big change. Of course, it’s not ALL about the wheat. I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself lately. But changes in fuel quality and quantity make a difference. I’m not experiencing any of my usual cravings for sweets, especially in-between meals or in the middle of the night. I feel satisfied for 5 or 6 hours at a stretch, just like Dr. Davis promised I would. Food is just not on my mind as much.

I’m eating raw nuts to make up for the breads I used to crave. I carry a bag of almonds with me in my purse, and if I think I need to eat and it’s not a meal time, I just pop a small handful into my mouth and chew on them. It satisfies, and does no harm. I’m using more vegetables when I prepare meals, and finding it’s easy to do. Also, keeping carbs like rice, oatmeal, and beans in the 1/2 cup portion size like Dr. Davis recommends, controls spikes in blood sugar, and I eat less in the process. Fruits are totally healthy, but should be limited because of their sugar content. All of that is fine by me. It’s about downsizing, in every way.

I weighed in at 191 pounds last week when I started ~ almost the heaviest I’ve ever been~ with a waist measurement of 106cm, and the belly 127cm. All I had in my suitcase was my tape measure from home in Belgium, so I’ll stick to centimeters. I’m going to keep track, and I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to my wheat belly in 2015.

I usually take copious notes from books that inspire me, but I don’t own, and are just passing through my hands briefly. It takes time, but then I have something to look back on when I want to re-inspire myself. It’s also a way to share key points with other people. The following excerpts are for the sake of anyone out there who is feeling stuck in a way of life that isn’t feeling quite right, and who is interested in doing something for their body this year. I’m not much of a scientist, so I left a lot of the biological explanations out~ to avoid all the extra copying~ and just wrote down the practical parts that spoke to me. One story in particular resonated with me. It was about a 61 year old woman who weighed 182 pounds, and decided to give up wheat. In 14 months she lost 55 pounds, and 12 inches around her waist. I’m 63, and equally overweight (I almost typed ‘overwheat’) and I have a very distinct wheat belly which I’d like to lose. But more than that, I’d like to gain a better and more healthy lifestyle to protect and preserve this totally wonderful organism that has been serving me so well. I like it the way it is, and I’m not ashamed about how I look, but I want to be healthier on the inside, so I can be around longer, and enjoy my life until the end.

Wheat isn’t really wheat anymore: According to Dr. Davis, “Wheat strains have been hybridized, crossbred, and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions. Genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre~ more than ten times that of farms a century ago. Drastic changes to genetic codes have come at a price. Today’s bread bears little resemblance to the loaves that emerged from our forbears’ ovens.”

“The health profile of a wheat-deficient person: slender, flat tummy, low triglycerides, high HDL (good) cholesterol, normal blood sugar, normal blood pressure, high energy, good sleep, and normal bowel function.” What’s not to want about all that?

The author had a wheat sensitivity, and tested his body’s response to both the einkorn bread (the evolutionary predecessor of modern-day wheat), and modern organic whole-wheat bread. He ate 4 oz of each, on two consecutive days, and documented his blood sugars after consuming each. His starting blood sugar was 84 mg/dl. After eating the einkorn bread, it his blood sugar rose to 110 mg/dl, and he felt fine. The next day, after eating the conventional whole wheat bread, his blood sugar rose to 167 mg/dl, and he had his usual bad reaction~ nausea and a headache~ for the next 36 hours. The difference in his body’s response was a revelation to him. The book documenting his research about wheat and its effects on the human body and mind became a New York Times Bestseller in 2011, and it is my new wellness guide this year.

Genetic Modification: “The science of genetic modification has advanced. New strains can be genetically tailored to be compatible with specific fertilizers or pesticides…Incremental genetic variations…can make a world of difference. Take human males and females…the crucial differences originate with just a single chromosome, the diminutive male Y chromosome and its few genes… Public pressure has now prompted the international agricultural community to develop guidelines, but no such outcry was raised years earlier as farmers and geneticists carried out tens of thousands of hybridization experiments. Hybridization efforts continue, breeding new ‘synthetic’ wheat.”

The cost of carbs: “Wheat is a supercarbohydrate: Whole wheat bread increases blood sugar to a higher level than sucrose. Aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a candy bar. The glycemic index (GI) of white bread is 69, the GI of whole grain bread is 72, and the GI of table sugar is 59. The GI of a Mars bar is 68, and the GI of a Snickers bar is 41 ~ far better than whole grain bread.”

“Wheat products elevate blood sugar levels more than virtually any other carbohydrate, from beans to candy bars… The higher the blood glucose after consumption of food, the greater the insulin level, the more fat is deposited. That’s why eating a 3-egg omelet that triggers no increase in glucose doesn’t add to body fat, while 2 slices of whole wheat bread does, particularly abdominal or deep visceral fat.”

“Wheat is, in effect, an appetite stimulant. People who eliminate wheat from their diet consume fewer calories….A Mayo Clinic/Univeristy of Iowa study showed 27.5 pounds of weight loss in the first 6 months of a wheat free diet.”

In Celiac disease, the one conventionally accepted example of wheat-related intestinal illness, gluten protein provokes an immune response that inflames the small intestine, causing abdominal cramps and diarrhea…Wheat is also unique among foods for its curious effects on the brain, effects shared with opiate drugs. People who eliminate wheat from their diet typically report improved mood, fewer mood swings, improved concentration, and deeper sleep within days or weeks.”

Having read all of the above, I was already determined to give up wheat and lose MY wheat belly. Who wouldn’t want to feel better? Here’s more:

Schizophrenia and diet: “Dr. Curtis Dohan observed that during WWII, there were fewer hospitalizations for schizophrenia when food shortages made bread unavailable. More recently, a Duke University doctor described a 70 year old schizophrenic woman who experienced complete relief from psychosis and suicidal desires within 8 days of stopping wheat.” It’s inspiring to me to read about natural causes and cures to mental illness. When I was in college, I read a book that suggested fasting as a possible cure for mental illness. I immediately put myself on a 7-day fast, and turned my life around. I believe that what we eat affects us. Why wouldn’t it? It looks like we may have to learn that the hard way, though.

The blood-brain barrier: “Wheat polypeptides have the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Once having gained entry into the brain, they bind to the brain’s morphine receptor, the same receptor to which opiate drugs bind…wheat is therefore one of the few foods that can alter behavior, induce pleasurable effects, and generate a withdrawal syndrome upon its removal.”

“Wheat is an appetite stimulant, specifically the exorphins from gluten. Lose the wheat, lose the weight. Foods made with or containing wheat make you fat. Wheat over-consumption is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the US.”

Americans are big, and fat. I realized that after living in Asia for many years and coming back home. It was a shock. And when I walk down the grocery store aisles, I can see why. Here are some statistics from WHEAT BELLY: “According to the CDC, 34.4% of Americans are overweight (BMI of 25-29.9) and 33.9% are obese (BMI 30 or more). Less than 1 in 3 are normal weight. Belly fat is created by bulging fatty internal organs. It is the surface manifestation of visceral fat contained within the abdomen, and encasing abdominal organs (liver, kidneys, pancreas, large and small intestines). Visceral fat is dangerous. The more visceral fat is present, the greater quantities of abnormal inflammatory signals released into the bloodstream. The list of health conditions triggered by visceral fat is growing and now includes dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Waist circumference is proving to be a powerful predictor of all these conditions, as well as of mortality.”

Visceral Fat: I wasn’t sure what the word meant, but I wasn’t in the dark for long. “In the human body, all fat is not equal,” write Davis. “Belly fat is a repository for inflammatory white blood cells (macrophages) and is in effect an endocrine gland much like your thyroid or pancreas. High blood sugar provokes high blood insulin. High blood insulin provokes visceral fat accumulation. Visceral fat is also a factory for estrogen production, stimulating growth of breast tissue. Increased visceral fat has been associated with a 4-fold increased risk for breast cancer.”

The average weight loss of a group of Dr. Davis’ patients who eliminated wheat from their diets was 26.7 pounds in 5.6 months. “If there’s no glucose-insulin cycle, there’s little to drive appetite and when appetite shrinks, calorie intake is reduced, visceral fat disappears, insulin resistance improves, blood sugars fall. Diabetics can become non-diabetics. Where there’s diabetes, there’s wheat. In 2009, 24 million Americans were diabetic. It’s the fastest growing disease (other than obesity). For every diabetic there are 3 or 4 people who are prediabetic. 22-39% of all US adults have prediabetes. More limb amputations are performed for diabetes than any other nontraumatic disease. Diabetes was formerly uncommon. Unhealthy weight gain is exceptionally costly. More money is spent on health consequences of obesity than on education.”

“The average American consumes 133 pounds of wheat per year,” according to Davis’ research. “That’s approximately half a loaf of bread per day. Goodbye to wheat, goodbye to diabetes. Diabetes should be regarded as a disease of carbohydrate intolerance.”

About the alkaline/acidic balance: “Vegetables and fruits are the dominant alkaline foods in the diet. Our natural body pH is 7.4. Acidosis, and its acidic pH, pulls calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate from bone to maintain the body pH of 7.4. The more protein intake from vegetables rather than animal products, the fewer hip fractures occur. Modern eating practices create a chronic acidosis that leads to osteoporosis, and fractures in 53% of women over the age of 50. A decline in bone density begins years before menopause, and is not due to a loss of estrogen after menopause. It is largely due to the chronic low-grade acidosis we create with diet, at any age.”

“Wheat is among the most potent sources of sulfuric acid, yielding more per gram than any meat. Sulfuric acid is dangerous stuff. Although the sulfuric acid produced by wheat is dilute, even in tiny quantities in dilute form it’s an overwhelmingly potent acid that rapidly overcomes the neutralizing affects of alkaline bases. Grains such as wheat account for 38% of the average American’s acid load. In one study, increased gluten intake increased urinary calcium loss by 63%. A chronic acid burden eats away at bone health. Remove wheat from the modern diet, replace the lost calories with vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, and the alkaline balance is restored. Wheat-free people consume 350-400 fewer calories per day. Hunger is curbed, and it’s easy to go for 5 to 6 hours between meals.”

The affects of wheat on the joints: “Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis worldwide. Loss of cartilage resulted in 773,000 knee and hip replacements in America in 2010. The same imflammation that issues from the visceral fat of the wheat belly and results in diabetes, heart disease, and cancer also yields inflammation of the joints. The greater the degree of overweight (i.e. higher BMI) the higher the quantity of leptin within joint fluid, and the greater the severity of cartilage and joint damage. Losing weight, particularly visceral fat, improves arthritis. Cartilage cells are incapable of reproducing. If cartilage proteins, such as collagen and aggrecan, become glycated, they become abnormally stiff, making cartilage brittle and unyielding, eventually crumbling. Remove wheat and reduce joint inflammation, get fewer blood-sugar ‘highs’ that glycate cartilage, and shift the pH balance to alkaline.”

The diet: If you stay away from processed foods, you will most likely find yourself eating differently. I like to think of it as a REAL FOOD diet. If you can grow it, you can eat it. If it comes in a package, it’s probably got stuff in it that your body would prefer not to ingest. Real foods that make up the foundation of this diet are vegetables, nuts, meats (not processed), eggs, avocados, olives, cheese, and beans. Controlling the amount of starches, like rice, potatoes, and oats, keeps blood sugars in a normal and healthy range.

My Wheat Belly, Jan 2015

My Wheat Belly, Jan 2015

This is what a wheat belly looks like. Not very pretty, eh? I NEVER show this part of my body off. Hiding it drives almost all of my fashion choices. But I took some pictures of my body this past year, and it seems appropriate to show this particular reality here. Before and After shots are always so inspiring. This is the BEFORE. I will post an AFTER shot when there’s less to show, and more to report.

Thank you, and Bon appetite!

Tea, anyone?

Tea, anyone?

“When Things Fall Apart~ Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron

My latest guidebook, and the one I turn to for ‘heart help’ in this Time of Trouble, is a book given to me recently by a friend of my mother’s. It fell into my hands at exactly the moment I needed it, as usually happens to me with books. The day before, Mom and I had watched Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday program and Pema Chodron was her guest. It was the first time I had ever heard of her. Mom had never seen or heard her speak. We were both enthralled.

The next day, Sheryle brought the book over for me to read, and I was thrilled. The day after, when I was being turned down for the CPE internship, Miquel Santamaria gave me a slip of paper. “You may want to read this,” he said~ “When Things Fall Apart.” It was the third time in as many days~ I knew it was a special book.

I carry it around with me, and open it up whenever I find myself in the space to receive. I’m reading Chapter 8 today, about the Eight Worldly Dharmas, which are four pairs of opposites: pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame. Basically, when we are caught up in any of the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. In each of the pairs, there is one we like and one we seek to avoid. The fact however is that none of them is permanent, and all of them fluctuate back and forth continually, out of our control completely. As Pema says, “We have all kinds of mood swings and emotional reactions. They just come and go endlessly.” She suggests that when we find ourselves hooked by any of the worldly dharmas, we can let ourselves “feel the energy, do our best to let the thoughts dissolve, and give ourselves a break. Right there in the middle of the tempest, we can drop it and relax.”

Today, I was unable to get up and go about my day as usual. I woke up wondering who I am and what I am doing in my life. I was feeling alone and scared, and I couldn’t seem to move so I just lay there in bed and tried to focus on my breath, saying, “I’m alive. Thank you,” an affirmation I took from HJN. I use it whenever I need to relax, and especially when I feel a great deal of fear~ in the dentist chair, or in a scary relationship. It has never failed to be a comfort. I admitted to myself that although I was in emotional pain, it wasn’t excruciating, and I could bear it without the help of an anxiety pill. That gave me a measure of satisfaction, as I want to learn to experience my pain rather than stuffing it or eating it into oblivion. I want to become less terrified and more familiar with my loneliness and fear, and eventually be able to embrace them as any other part of my life.

I’m at Patty’s house. She’s my other spiritual guide, in the flesh. She arrived last night unexpectedly. Neither of us was expecting the other to be here. I came out into the living room, hesitant and fearful after hearing a soft swishing noise. Was there someone in the house? The sound was coming from her room. I called out, “Patty???” and was deeply relieved to see her bright cheerful smile when the door opened.

I couldn’t get to sleep, and came back out to find her still awake and willing to listen. She sat on her desk chair and gave me the big stuffed armchair, with a blanket between me and the cool leather, and I began to tell her the story of what’s been happening since I arrived here in September. Part One was about Mom and the family drama. I asked her if she had time for part 2 the next day, and she did. We went out for breakfast to Papa’s New York Diner, and I told her that I needed guidance about what my next step is. I feel like I’m in some kind of sticky syrup and can’t get myself out. These are some of her words of advice:

“Listen. God knows. There will be a sign. You won’t have to worry. You need to pray. And you don’t have to pray perfectly either! God is so merciful~ you only have to turn a tiny bit in His/Her direction
to get an answer. Divine Guidance is there for the asking. Pay attention. Rewrite the Headline. Ask, Who’s in Control here? Don’t ask for tomorrow. Think only about NOW. What is this moment intended for? Fear paralyzes right action. Be still. ‘God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil.’” That last was a quote from Mary Baker Eddy.

I dropped her off at the bank and came home to her house still feeling lost and not sure what to do with the time available to me. All I have is TIME, and so often it feels like we’re killing each other. I could call Laura. I could go sit in the sun. I could go eat something. All the usual. I was still trying to run away, to avoid the pain I was trying not to feel. Wait, I told myself. I lay across the bed and looked at the ceiling. Be still. Listen. That’s harder to do than I thought. It’s so much easier to just make myself busy. Old habits die hard. I told myself it was OK not to have anything to do but be with myself. Hand on heart, I let myself just be.

The day is almost over now. I am sitting on Patty’s couch, and she’s in her office eating her dinner and working on her computer. It’s 7:57 pm. I spent some time swimming and talking to Edna in the pool, a little time in the sun, and a little time with Judy hearing about the latest updates. I noticed I wasn’t as engaged or interested as usual. The emotional element has definitely taken a back seat to the concerns of the moment NOW. I took care of some shopping for both Judy and for myself, and came back here to Pat’s, walking down to the water’s edge and sitting on one of the benches looking out over the bay while I listened to some of my recent recordings. Tired, I came back ‘home’ and started to write.

I’ve been struggling and suffering terribly lately. I don’t like pain. Who does? And I’ve been caught up in lots of it~ feelings of loss, criticism, blame, anger, and fear. I’ve felt attacked and insulted by a member of the family, who doesn’t see what a good job I’ve been doing taking care of my mother for the past 9 weeks. I’ve been accused and raked over the coals for next to nothing. My emotional reaction has been to run and hide, and try my best to avoid contact in any way possible~ like a man resisting entering the lion’s den knowing the sharp claws that await~ but that has only made things worse. I’ve been clinging to a concept of myself that has been continually called into question, and I’ve been responding with anger and a desire for revenge (“Let them all just go to Hell!”) But Patty said all the pain has been my own doing. You mean there’s no one to blame but myself?

We all respond with habitual patterns to praise or blame, pleasure or pain. We puff up with pride when someone notices and comments on our contribution, congratulating ourselves for all the goodness we embody. We withdraw when an aggressor steps up and screams into our face, or lash out with our tongue when we can find the strength, if we perceive that something has been taken away from us unfairly, resorting to a tit for tat like children fighting over a toy. I can see that I’ve been childish in my responses to the eight worldly dharmas. Rather than try to eradicate these feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, Pema advises us to “get to know them, and see how they hook us…Then the eight worldly dharmas become the means for growing wiser as well as kinder and more content.”

I wanted to call my sister today and ask her if there was anything I could do to help~ but it seemed so scary, and the coin said no. I still toss it sometimes. Yesterday I wrote her a birthday card but was scared to deliver it. My habitual response to being attacked is to crawl away and hide, hoping to be unnoticed and left alone. But it doesn’t feel any better over in that dark corner. It’s lonely.

Today I tried and was moderately successful at letting go, dropping the drama, and relaxing. As Pema writes, “We want to know our pain so we can stop endlessly running. We want to know our pleasure so we can stop endlessly grasping….We want to know about loss so we might understand other people when their lives are falling apart. We want to know about gain so we might understand other people when they are delighted or when they get arrogant and puffed up and carried away…When we become more insightful and compassionate about how we ourselves get hooked, we spontaneously feel more tenderness for the human race… If we don’t look into hope and fear, seeing a thought arise, seeing the chain reaction that follows~ if we don’t train in sitting with that energy without getting snared by the drama, then we’re always going to be afraid.”

I was able to look at myself a bit more clearly today, and stay with the difficult feelings a little longer. I didn’t do my usual and give into my panic, running blindly into the comfort zone of eating, talking, or jumping into the car and going somewhere, anywhere, just to avoid the pain of my discontent. I stayed on my bed and let myself experience it, breathing through it with my hands over my heart, simply saying, “It’s OK, Robin.”

Pema writes that as our practice evolves, we “start understanding that, just like us, other people also keep getting hooked by hope and fear…Our motivation for practicing begins to change, and we desire to become tamed and reasonable for the sake of other people.”

I love those words ‘tamed’ and ‘reasonable.’ I want to be around people who have become masters of themselves. Tonight I feel better, and more connected to my inner strength. I know Patty would say it’s not my strength but God’s. I feel less shaky and desperate, and more whole and like myself.

As I listen to Patty’s stories of listening to the guidance of divine law, not limiting ourselves to our human expectations, and then discovering God’s ‘over-the-top’ abundance, I don’t feel as out of touch with that kind of experience as I did this morning. I have been there, too, and I know I can get there again if I let go of what I think should be happening here, and let God show me what She has in mind. She has an intention for me this very moment, right NOW. I have to pay attention and listen. It is a big work, and no one promises that it’ll be a bed of roses, but as Patty said when I left, “It’s worth the effort.”

LEAVING CHURCH, a memoir of faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

I like to copy key passages from my favorite books. The practice started about 9 years ago when I first held in my hands “Awakening to the Buddha Within,” by Lama Surya Das. It had been loaned to me by a friend, and I knew I had to get what I needed as quickly as I could before giving it back, so I copied everything that struck me as memorable and meaningful, filling all 127 pages of an entire notebook. I’ve been carrying my little ‘Buddha Book’ around with me ever since. It goes everywhere I go, and it’s helped me through some scary, lonely, and sad times. I open it and read the words that jump out at me, and they invariably give me a new view of the situation, and a way to go through it.

Since then, I have copied favorite lines from many books, especially books I knew I had to return to someone. There have been many, and I’ve noticed that the book I need to read seems to just show up. It’s usually one I’ve never heard of. My most recent discovery is a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, introduced to me by the former Episcopal priest of my mother’s church here in Largo. We’d been talking about my having taken distance from my own faith community, and all the questions that have been surfacing ever since, most still unanswered. She came by the house the next day and dropped off a book for me to read. She loaned me her guitar as well, but it was the book that I couldn’t put down once I had taken it up. It was called, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” and reading it I felt someone had gotten inside my head and heart and told my story for me.

I’m on a second book by Barbara Brown Taylor now, called “Leaving Church.” It’s equally inspiring and affirming of my own experiences, and once again, I feel she has taken the words right out of my mouth. She tells the story of her love of God, her calling to minister, and her experience of leaving her post as an Episcopal priest to become a college professor. I’d like to share some of the passages that have moved me today.

In chapter 17, she quotes a friend and former parishioner, who said, “The good news of God in Christ is that you have everything you need to be human. There is nothing outside of you that you still need~ no approval from authorites, no attendance at temple, no key truth hidden in the tenth chapter of some sacred book. In your life right now, God has given you everything you need to be human”

With this thought in mind, I would like to share some of the excerpts that have spoken to me, and explain why when I can.

leaving church

“It remains possible to see Jesus not as the founder of a new religion but as the exemplar of a new way of being human~ a new Adam~ who lived and died with such an authentic faith in God that he gave his followers the courage to try to do the same thing.”

“Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom, but it was the church that came.”

“The way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we don’t know what to do about it. We proclaim the priesthood of all believers while we continue living with hierarchical clergy, liturgy, and architecture. We follow a Lord who challenged the religious and political institutions of his time while we fund and defend our own. We speak and sing of divine transformation while we do everything in our power to maintain our equilibrium.”

“God does not live at the seminary. God lives in the world.”

“What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church’s job were to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?”

I think of something along these lines when I see a family picture of a small group sitting around the Thanksgiving Day table loaded with all the trimmings. There’s something sad about it, and a cloud crosses my mind as I think of the people that meal could have been shared with~ and the multiplication of joy that sharing it would have brought. In church on Sunday, I feel the same. What are we really doing for God here? Our service is insular~ week after week the same faces, year after year listening to the same message. Why are we all sitting here, passively being fed, when there are so many people out there in need of spiritual life? Once Rev. Moon suggested that we meet as a congregation only once a month, and the other 3 Sundays with friends and neighbors in our home. That makes more sense if we really are all priests, or mini-messiahs.

In the book, Ms. Taylor writes about her father’s death: “I discovered that faith did not have the least thing to do with certainty. Insofar as I had any faith at all, that faith consisted of trusting God in the face of my vastly painful ignorance…Since then, I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.”

It’s comforting to think of ignorance as ‘holy,’ especially when you have lost your moorings and can’t say what the truth is anymore. The more we know, the more we realize that we don’t know. I’ve definitely become less certain about the BIG questions than I was when I was a young missionary, full of zeal and Bible quotes to back myself up. Now, all I know are the questions~ Who is God? Who am I? I’m searching for the answers, and it’s often very scary. I’m looking for people who have been here where I am, and have something good to say about being in the dark.

“In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to the large crowd trailing after him, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.’…I think it was his way of telling them to go home…If he could not shake the crowd off, they were all going to get themselves killed, or worse. They were going to venerate his path in place of finding their own. They were going to expect him to tell them things that they could only discover for themselves.” When I read this I immediately thought of Reverend Moon, and how so many of us spent so long following his vision, when perhaps we should have been out finding our own. It can be a rude awakening to realize that you are still behaving like a child who has never taken the risk of walking out the door and discovering who you are.

When asked, “Tell us what is saving your life now?” these were the writer’s answers:
1. Teaching school.
2. Living in relationship with creation.
3. Observing the Sabbath.
4. Encountering God in other people.
5. Committing myself to the task of becoming fully human.

Let me try to answer the same question, What is saving my life right now?
1. Swimming in the pool, warmed by the sun and looking up at a fathomless sky, being outside and held up by sparkling water, beautiful and blue.
2. Judy’s help, support, laughter, and understanding.
3. Callie, curling up next to me, and giving me love bites.
4. Writing letters, and recording my life to share with myself and others;
5. Breathing~ Deeply. Slowly. Being with whatever I would rather be running away from. Slowing down in order to recover.
6. Books: Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, and Leaving Church.
7. Laura, who’s always available when I need her, and who usually gives me helpful advice along with encouragement about how much I’m growing.

I’m really missing the teaching school part. It was the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I’d like to find myself in that place again, but I don’t know how at the moment. I’m trying to be in this ‘pause’ space without panicking, and just give myself time to look around at the inner and outer landscape. Becoming fully human is a work in progress, and it certainly isn’t easy. Running away from my sister today was a step toward being more honest about who I really am right now, and throwing off any pretense of being anything other than terrified. I don’t think I want to be the ‘good girl’ anymore. I want to be ALL of ME~ the good, the bad, and the ugly :)

I’m not sure how much I am able to experience God in other people. I have no trouble with animals. Gazing into Callie’s eyes is so calming. Stroking her, and receiving her purr-full response, and sometimes a kiss, makes me think of something so much larger than myself. But people? Wait. I just remembered Shallah at Culver’s hamburger place. We connected over the counter. I thought of her the next morning as I was brushing my teeth, that I could adopt her as a second daughter, and visit her occasionally, taking her little treats and words of kindness to help her through her 2 jobs and school.
And Ruthie, in the bed next to Mom at rehab. She is 99, and just suffered a stroke. Her grand-daughter was there visiting, and we pulled back the curtain dividing the room so Ruthie could see us, and observe the pleasurable social contact we were enjoying. Even though she can’t speak, she can see. I bent over to give her a kiss goodbye when I left, and she grabbed my hand. Something passed between us. Is that what Barbara means? Being touched by people, feeling my heart move…knowing you are seen and loved, even by a perfect stranger, who you see and feel love for in return?

I’d like to sleep out under the sky, and feel the night as it passes. Instead, I’m locked in and shuttered tightly against the fears I imagine out there. Maybe I will have the courage to take my sleeping bag out to the gazebo one of these nights. We’ll see.

Writing letters was an idea I got right before mom went into the hospital last week. I thought I would write one a day for a week, sharing thoughts about my life with people I haven’t been in contact with since leaving Belgium behind and coming to Florida. I remembered that only what we give comes back to us. As Barbara put it so well, “…we had nothing that belonged to us but what we gave to God and God gave everything back to us again so that we could share it with one another.”

My sister found and saved a letter I’d written to Dad when I was 14. That letter came back and is so precious to me now, bringing with it fully preserved a piece of my young beautiful heart, loving my father openly and simply, without guile or pretense. When I was a teacher at Kookmin University, I collected many stories from my students and thought I had saved them on my USB when I left. There were hundreds of them over the course of several years, but I only have the ones I sent to people to read, as all the rest were lost. It was a lesson I need to remind myself of. If you love it and want to keep it, share it. What you give will come back.

I’ll be taking the book over to Mom to read while she’s in rehab. A good book is like spending time with a good friend. The time goes by so pleasantly, and you don’t even notice it passing. She read Learning to Walk in the Dark, and loved it just like I did, so I think she’ll also be inspired by Leaving Church. We’ve both never really been church-goers. Even though I spent 35 years attached to one, it never spoke to ALL of me. Now that I’ve stepped out of the safety of it’s confines and limiting-ness, I have to admit that I feel like a piece of shit, with nowhere to hide. However, as Pema Chodron writes (and I’ll tell you more about HER book next time), “We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, and embarrassment and not believe there’s something wrong with that. We can drop the fundamental hope that there’s a better ‘me’ who one day will emerge. It’s better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises.” (from When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

Have I caught your interest?


“If you keep the pouch, it comes with an obligation. Every day you must go outside and pray. The pouch needs to be taken out to greet each new day.” ~Wolf, a Native American who had given a tobacco pouch to the author as a gift. The following are excerpts from CALLING THE CIRCLE, by Christina Baldwin

“Pray? What prayer?”

“The pouch will teach you to pray.”

Calling the Circle is the book that is speaking to me at the moment. And this part of it about prayer is especially important to me and timely. Jean and I just began a special prayer practice, and many questions have arisen. Although we’ve both been attending church for 35 years, neither one of us ever really learned how to pray in an effective way that felt right to us. Christians have the Lord’s Prayer, alcoholics in AA have the Serenity Prayer, and every religion has its standard prayers. But prayer by rote or out of duty is not what we were longing for. We both wanted something that came from our hearts out of our unique experience. 

Some of the prayers Ms. Baldwin quotes:
“Creator of all, thank you for this day.”

“Thank you for the sun that rises and sets, for the air I breathe, the food I eat, the sustenance YOU provide.”

“May all that I do today contribute to the healing of the world, and may my heart be open enough to allow the world to contribute to my healing.”

“Bless the earth and all her creatures. Bless the loved one and the stranger. Keep us safe thru times of danger. Make us ready, hold us steady.”

These are the prayers the author learned from the pouch. They seem so simple, straightforward, and obvious, and yet, how often have we stared blankly at the floor at a loss for a way to start. Maybe one of the keys is just to go out ~ to put oneself in the world, and then to look around. The prayers will come. 

“Then I speak the names of my beloveds and ask direction and holding in all our concerns. I ask for guidance in my own life; I pray for peace, and for the gathering of our kind that we may make the leap before us.”
The author said the pouch and this 10 minute ritual has changed her life in significant ways. She has discovered a spiritual connection she calls “rootedness” ~ something that we each need to discover for ourselves ~ which she explains as “honoring the lineage we come from, and reclaiming what is native about human spirituality in all its variations.”

I recently heard from a friend about the healing power of filial piety. She told me about a Japanese man who was teaching people to express gratitude to their parents for giving them life, and in that one statement they could forgive their parents for their mistakes and shortcomings, no matter how severe. I was inspired. I wanted to heal my relationship with my own parents, as I knew I had unresolved issues that were still creating problems in my life as an adult. Jean and I started a prayer to honor our parents. We put their names on the rim of the circle, along with our children, our spiritual mentors, and ourselves. In the center we light a candle, representing the Spirit of the Heavenly Parents, both Father and Mother. Then we offer a full bow to our parents, thanking them for giving us life, and offering our concerns and wishes for their peaceful presence and guidance. It’s a simple and surprisingly comforting act. In the orient, it’s a common tradition for most of the population to greet their ancestors on the yearly celebration of their death day. Although we don’t offer any special food, or gather as an extended family like they do, we are gathering our family together in heart around the candle, and offering our sincerity, forming a circle of energy that impacts our day. Ideas come while we sit and hold council together, while we tell our stories and ask our questions. The heart makes a connection in some small way, and we arise feeling energized and with our purpose more clear.

Baldwin talks about finding and making an ‘authentic gesture.’ Each of us may find a different way to do that, as it must be a gesture that resonates. The meaningful spiritual gesture helps us find a place in our life, and from there we can derive the meaning we are seeking.  The prayer pouch of the Native American, a bow of filial piety to our ancestors ~ there are many ways. The author uses the word indigenous, meaning belonging to a place. We may never have thought of ourselves as indigenous people. Many of us have moved far from where our ancestors once lived, even from our own childhood homes. We’ve uprooted ourselves again and again in the course of growing up~ leaving to study, or to marry, or to work.

Today while we were talking about this idea, Jean mentioned that it feels good to come back to his father’s house every time we come to Belgium. It’s always in the same place, on the same street, in the same neighborhood~ it’s where he grew up, with the church on the corner and his old elementary school right behind. Although changes have been made, many things remain the same. Some of the old familiar furniture is still there, and so is his father, and his brother, and his niece. Coming here has a feeling of coming back to his roots. It’s a special blessing I don’t have, but I can appreciate its value.

I like this chapter in the book about prayer. I often thought of prayer as a private matter, but in Calling the Circle, Christina reminds us of another dimension. Through the pouch she learned that prayer is a choice and an obligation to the community. When she forgot to take the pouch outside, she felt a part of the web of prayer was torn. And that web embraces us all collectively. 

She suggests three elements of prayer: 1) something that has meaning to us; 2) something that honors Spirit; and 3) something we do consistently. The challenge is not perfection but persistence in the face of the distractions of our lives, and there are always many. Prayer is a kind of centering that we do to settle into being where we are, fully present and attentive; Prayer is where we remember ourselves, naked and unashamed, and reconnect with our roots ~ its a spiritual practice that allows us to become indigenous. Prayer is where we find our balance in the circle of life, and know that we are not alone, but part of something greater~ something WHOLE and something GOOD. 

For someone who has offered many mechanical prayers at church, or found a tearful prayer as if by chance, I know I have a lot to learn and I am searching. I’m grateful to be discovering an authentic gesture that works for me, and for us as a couple. We have committed ourselves to our new practice for a two-week period, while he is on vacation from teaching, gently feeling our way with as little self-imposed burden as possible. We are also being careful not to let it become something of a duty that we do without intention.

Every day we have received some kind of inspiration from the circle. Our first day I got the inspiration to call Jean’s cousin (his mother’s nephew) about doing a photo shoot with him and his horses. He had asked me about it before, but nothing had been arranged. I got up, made the phone call, and we set the date. We’re going next week for two days back to the Flemish part of Belgium from where Jean’s mother originated. We’re leaving on my birthday. I felt happy to be doing something creative that I love to do, and to connect further with a part of Jean’s family we rarely see, and I couldn’t help feeling we were being guided by the unseen hands of his mother, Hilda.

The second day I felt the energy and guidance to arrange for a Debacker April Birthdays celebration. There are 4 of us. It has taken quite a slew of phone calls and a visit with Jean’s younger brother to discuss the plans~ it’s hard to find a date when everyone is free~ but we are almost there. I challenged my fear to ask Michel to cook ~ and I sighed with relief when he told me he already had a menu planned. We will all meet at Bon Papa’s house, and now my thoughts are about how to bring the spiritual dimensions of the circle there with us, to honor BonPapa, and give him a chance to share the wisdom of his life before he makes his final departure from this world to the next. I will ask the council today when we pray…

The third time we offered our bows, I found myself in front of Mom and Dad’s names. They got changed from the left to the right side this time. I looked at my mom and thought of two of my big questions: 1) about embracing the Shadow and 2) about enemy marriage partners vs people who are easy to love. I offered them both to the council. They understood, and I’m sure they will have something to say in time. The next day Jean led the prayer, and I asked for guidance about healing. The next day’s question was, “What are we doing here?” It was Jean’s question this time. I wrote it down and we thanked our parents and the council for listening.

Yesterday’s prayer was for Bon Papa and my mother, Marilyn. They are both alive, and both feeling their time of transitioning approaching. I prayed to create a space for them to share their wisdom with us before they go. And out of that prayer came a plan to interview them both, one on SKYPE and the other at home down the street.

Our prayer this evening was the most inspiring yet. We took turns Jean and I, and it was back and forth, and back and forth as we kept thinking of things to add. I told the circle that Jean had said something today that touched my heart, and made me think about the meaning of our long suffering together. I prayed that we can truly restore the wounds of our ancestor’s marriages, not just our own. Jean prayed for a job where he can use his talents and make better money, and then he prayed for the same thing for me. We prayed for Emilie, and for Joachim to be successful in matters of the heart and soul: forgiveness, gratitude, peace, and love, overcoming the temptations of jealousy, fear, anger, and hatred. We laughed when we got up, both stiff from kneeling, and bowed to each other, and blew out the candle to close the circle.


Habitudes 1

 Habitudes for CommunicatorsHABITUDES FOR COMMUNICATORS: Images that form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, by Tim Elmore

I came upon this book serendipitously. You know how things seem to connect? You are having an experience that matches exactly with something you read about the day before? Jean will be giving a talk in a few weeks, and he was wondering how to prepare~ then this book just fell into our laps. I’m inspired because we have also just started a small group and I’m looking for things to inspire our discussion and help us to create genuine relationships with each other. Here is an excerpt from the first IMAGE given by Tim Elmore. The book is wonderfully designed to be not only inspiring, but easily applicable~ guidelines are given to assess yourself and your personal authentic speaker/communicator skills.

Communicators must use window and mirrors when they speak. When a communicator provides a window for people to see into his/her life, listeners receive a mirrow to see their own. Speakers must indentify with the people. Steve Jobs told 3 stories about his life, taking less than 15 minutes to deliver the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005.

When speakers hold a window up to their soul (their humanity) listeners identify with them and become engaged with their story. Because the communicator is secure enough to pull back the curtain on their own life, everyone feels safe to lean in and examine their own.

Effective speakers identify with the people who are listening. They may tell a story about themselves; they might reveal a fear, a hope or a weakness they possess. Through the raw act of being transparent, they attract listeners to identify with them. (HONY)

Window and mirrors is all about becoming transparent. Being real and revealing. It asks us to go beyond the sterile transmittal of information. It reminds us that what people really long for ~ what is magnetic to most audiences~ is a genuine spirit.

People are looking for a communicator more than a public speaker.

Talk it over:

  1. Is it difficult for you to open up and become vulnerable in front of an audience? Why?
  2. How much should a communicator open up and share weaknesses? How transparent should a speaker be with an audience?
  3. John Maxwell suggests that speakers should be real to the point that the audience doesn’t begin to feel sorry for them and distract from the point being made. What is your take on this idea? Is there a better gauge?
  4. Can you name a time you saw a communicator become authentic and win over a crowd?

 Assess Yourself

Dr. Martin Seligman says that the critical determinant of success in life is resilience in the face of adversity. Awareness, contemplation and a sense of humor are your best friends in attempting to learn from difficult experiences and make sense of them for listeners. Evaluate yourself on how personal your communication is using the following criteria on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being weak and 10 being strong.

 1. I am keenly aware of my own flaws and weaknesses. _____

 2. I reflect on lessons I can learn from difficult experiences. _____

3. I maintain a sense of humor and can laugh at myself. _____

4. I am emotionally secure enough to share my flaws/weaknesses. _____

5. I’m generally good at sharing stories from my life, even failures. _____

6. I can sense if my listeners need more transparency as I speak. _____


There is a rule that works in most social settings: people will only become as vulnerable as their leader. We must be willing to reveal the kind of information that we’d ask of another person. Telling people your background, your likes and dislikes, and your fears and hopes is part of the give and take of genuine conversation. It’s how we get to know people. This week, practice this habitude in conversations and in any speeches, talks or sermons you deliver. Develop two strong personal anecdotes and insert them into your comments to others. Take a risk and open up about your humanity. Then, meet in a community and discuss how it influenced others to be transparent as well.



IN SEARCH OF THE CHEON IL GUK WOMAN:                                                                        Reflections while reading Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN~

by Robin Debacker


“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”(p. 158)

I haven’t always been aware of a gender bias per se. Like Ms. Sandberg, when I was a college student I felt we had been liberated and had moved past all that. I also shied away from any association with the word feminist, as those women seemed like such man-haters.

Now, however, I’ve become more aware of the disparities (in the workplace, and in the culture at large) and the subtle and not so subtle messages that women keep receiving from their male bosses, their partners, and even other women.

I recently offered to give the Sunday message at church, as I was inspired about all the Goddess/Feminine Principle writings out there that I’ve been discovering recently, and thought I could talk about the Cheon Il Guk Woman easily (Cheon Il Guk being a term Rev. Moon coined to refer to the place where the male and female principles are equal, balanced and harmonized.) However, on Saturday night I found myself curled up in a fetal position moaning about not being able to face the audience the next day. What happened? I had not expected to feel so SCARED.

I was surprised by the introduction that the MC gave me (he is a man), about the message today being “a little subversive” and so we best prepare ourselves^^. I wondered, why would talking about the feminine aspect of God or humans be considered subversive, but then I remembered, it IS subversive, and that’s the point. Women have not had that freedom, and we all know it on some level. Women feel scared to speak up, and men feel scared when we do.

The fact is that I didn’t know for sure who or what the Cheon Il Guk Woman is, and that was hard to admit publicly, or even to myself. I am confused and have been for a long time about my own femininity, and what it means to be a woman. In my 20’s I became aware of feeling resentful toward my mother for not being a better example in that department, and later toward my husband for not being a stronger masculine force. I’ve felt more like a man than a woman in the relationship with him, often being approached or addressed first when we’re together, and that is confusing at best, and depressing at worst. 

Part of the program involved breaking into small groups of 2 or 3 people to talk about what the word “feminine” means to each of us, and share what we think is blocking women today. I sat with 2 other elder women like myself. One of them said that her daughter and friends complain that the matching candidates all seem to be more like boys than men. I knew what she was talking about, as it was my experience with my husband, but I didn’t have an answer.

I got through the talk, but I felt sheepish about not having said much more than that we are all still searching for the Cheon Il Guk Woman. Who is she? I wonder if she’s gotten over her resentment, or if I can get over mine. I do know she’s still fighting, and gaining ground, and that I’d like to be her friend and supporter.

Looking back on this experience, and reading Sheryl’s book, I’m reminded how important it is to have “the conversation.” To lean in to the problem rather than avoid the painful part of conflict resolution. We need to examine our church culture, our school culture, our workplace culture, and our family culture in order to identify the barriers that are holding women back, and to point out gender inequalities when they happen. It feels scary, on both sides, but everyone benefits when we do.