Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Journey – Breaking the Cycle, Part 5

May 3, 2014, 2014
Day 12 of South Beach Phase 1
Starting weight (4/23/2013): 195
Today’s Weight:  188
Loss/Gain (since start):  -7
Breakfast: Canadian bacon, Feta cheese, Parsley, and onions in scrambled eggs.
Snacks:  cucumbers.

Tradition -- I'm the Man. This Is MY Castle May 01, 2014 6:27am

We learn many traditions as children.  We are not aware of it.  We just accept it as matter of fact.  That's the way it is.

In a household that is traditional American Christian, the man in the marriage is the head of the house.  That gets implemented in varying degrees.  This is a partial list of the “traditional” head of household man as I understood it growing up:
The man is responsible for the income.
The man takes care of the lawn.
The man takes care of the farm animals.
The man washes the car.
The man does the barbecue.
The man paints the house
The man is in charge of any project requiring tools and gadgets (because, tongue in cheek,  men innately understand tools and gadgets).
The man is responsible for all financial planning and controls the budget.
The man is responsible for paying the bills.
The man controls the household schedule.  All activity must be approved by the man.
The man's projects all take precedence over any and all other projects.
The man inspects and certifies all operations in the household and may demand they be done over if he is not satisfied with how they are done.
The man ensures the safety of the household and family with any resource available.
The man may delegate his responsibilities and supervises all projects he delegates.

The Woman is second in command if there are children.  Otherwise, the woman has no power, just chores and duties.
Chores and duties for the woman of the house, as I understood it:
The woman cleans everything in the house, from floor to ceiling, from walls to windows, from lamps to ceiling lights, from tables to chairs, from carpets to beds, from clothes to refrigerators and stoves.
The woman cooks all meals and prepares a sack lunch for the man to eat at work.
The woman washes all dishes used in making the meals, eating the meals, and anything dirty from snacks.
The woman makes sure the kids are dressed, fed, and shuttled off to school with lunch bag or lunch money.
The woman attends all teacher/parent conferences.
The woman prepares meals for announced and unannounced guests.
The woman feeds the dogs and cats.
At the main meal of the day, the woman waits on the man and the children, and keeps silent while the man talks about his day.
The woman mends torn clothing.
The woman sews new clothing.
The woman irons or presses all clothing requiring it.
The woman does all the grocery shopping—with or without a car.
The woman does all the shopping required for the children—clothes and school supplies.
The woman does anything else the man tells her to do.
The evening belongs to the man and the woman leaves him alone.
If the woman works outside the house, somehow she still has to manage the household chores.

There are many. Many more unspoken, unwritten rules that a jerk assumes are universal law.  I believe I subscribed to a majority of them.  More about that in my next post.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Journey – Breaking the Cycle, Part 4

April 30, 2014
Day 7 of South Beach Phase 1
Starting weight (4/23/2013): 195
Today’s Weight:  190
Loss/Gain (since start):  -5
Breakfast: Canadian bacon, Feta cheese, sweet peppers, and onions in scrambled eggs.
Lunch: Salmon patty, and spinach soufflé
Supper:  Fatata .
Snacks:  ½ dark chocolate bar, 30 pistachios, and cucumbers, black bean brownies.

We don’t count calories on the South Beach diet.   As long as one sticks to the meals and portions recommended in the diet, there is no need to count calories.  We have around five South Beach recipe books.  Each recipe comes with a tag that designates which phase of the diet the recipe is for.  So, one can prepare meals appropriate to the diet phase.  We are still in phase 1, the low carb diet.  We feel it.

OK, I have a confession.  I said I would journal this quest to break the cycle of eating and dieting.  I have said that the causes are rooted somewhere deep within my psyche, and I would have to address some things that perhaps were  uncomfortable to address, what’s worse, very uncomfortable to even uncover and talk about.  Well, I had an epiphany today.  This time around is easier than previous times.  Why?  Because I don’t have the same emotional baggage I had in previous years.

Call it old age (I’m 67). Or, maybe, just maybe, my efforts over the past several years are starting to pay off.  The reality is that it is probably a combination of both.  But the process in this quest started many years ago.  It did not just start with the beginning of this diet.

Twenty years ago, I was deeply involved in the Evangelical Christian community.  I call it my “Christian Era” and I call my religion then “Churchianity.”  I did not come up with the tag.  I ran across it many, many years ago in a book wherein the author described the activities of many “Christians” as going to church, getting involved in various aspects of the church activities and outreach, all to gain a social status within that community, but never really building a true spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ.  I was a single parent back then.  I had been divorced nearly eighteen years when I met my current wife, Ruth Ann, nearly nineteen years ago.  Prior to meeting Ruth Ann, I simply was not interested in ever being married again.  I did not do well in my first marriage.  I was a jerk, much to my surprise.  When Ruth had come along, I began to realize that I felt like a solid strong Christian, and I felt I was spiritually advanced, but I also realized that I really had not been spiritually challenged for nearly twenty years as a single parent.  I opened up to the idea of marriage, knowing that it would test the mettle of my spirit.

Listen, if we are not pushed, we simply don’t realize how much garbage indwells us.  All of my jerk qualities began to surface with in the first five years of the marriage.  I wanted out of the marriage very badly.  I was pissed at everything.  Nothing is what I thought I had bargained for.  However, by this time, I had grown enough spiritually to realize we have been assigned guides in the spiritual realms.  Some people call them guardian angels.  But, unlike most modern day Christians, I had developed relationships with those spirits, and I conversed with them about everything, including the fact that I wanted out of my marriage.  They simply told me (paraphrased),  “get a divorce, but your spiritual development will stop.”  By this time, my spiritual growth was extremely important to me.  Also, by this time, because of so many contradictions in the practice of “churchianity,” I had abandoned Christianity and any organized religion for that matter.  My guides were not threatening me with punishment.  They were stating a simple fact, staying in this marriage and working through the problems, no matter how painful, was the prescription for my personal spiritual growth.  I would not grow without it.  I stayed in the marriage and started many, many years ago to get to the root of what it is to be a jerk and work to resolve it.

The reason I do not struggle with the same intensity as I did in previous diet cycles is because I have resolved many of the triggers that send me to the fridge.  The chief among those triggers was anger based in a false sense of justice and injustice.  Jerks have a lot to which we think we are entitled, and if we do not get what we think we deserve, we get demanding, forceful, yes, very bitchy about it.  It makes for a miserable life all around.  Slowly, I have identified many of those “entitlements” and found that I did not deserve or earn them at all, and that in fact, one could not deserve or earn them.  I began to realize that all of my unhappiness was coming from within myself.  If I wanted happiness, I had to develop it within myself.  I could blame no one for my unhappiness but myself.  Therefore, I am the one that is solely responsible for my happiness.  It is a huge development, a huge step in my spiritual growth with an outcome of less frustration, less anger and fewer desperate raids on the refrigerator to mitigate the pain.

But I still have other triggers.  I will deal with those, too, in future posts.      

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Journey – Breaking the Cycle, Part 3B

April 27, 2014
Day 5 of South Beach Phase 1
Starting weight (4/23/2013): 195
Today’s Weight:  193
Loss/Gain (since start):  -2
Breakfast: Canadian bacon, mushroom, Feta cheese, sweet peppers, onions omelet.
Lunch: Salmon patty with baby carrots and Hummus
Supper:  Cobb salad with a homemade poppy seed sauce.
Snacks:  Baby carrots, Healthy Choice Fudge Ice Cream Bar (100 calories), 30 pistachios, and cucumbers.
OK, so I am essentially spirit.  My essence lives forever.  All other things are temporary—including this body I inhabit, this body that literally weighs me down.  I am grateful for all I have and don’t have.  I have a purpose for living.  And last, but not least, I know absolutely that I am loved unconditionally.   As a practical matter, what does this mean?
Less than a year ago, I couldn’t say that I was grateful for much.  Most of all things I have read about happiness are that people that are happy are thankful.  They truly appreciate what they have.  Well, what has changed that now I am thankful?  I learned from Rhonda Byrne in her book, The Magic, a trick.  (I am not recommending the book.  Byrne’s focus is to use the “magic” of gratitude to get more.  Her premise is a total contradiction, but the exercises were worth doing to increase my awareness of just how blessed I am.)  Everyday write down ten things for which you are thankful.  Each day might have a few repeats, but for the most part, each day brings with it a new list of things for which to be thankful.  This morning’s list went like this:
  1. I am thankful for my wife because she has been very helpful and supporting in getting healthy and losing weight.  She’s a fantastic cook, and a great friend.
  2. I am thankful for my financial stability.
  3. I am thankful for my mortgage free house.   That frees up around $500/month for other pressing expenses.
  4. I am thankful for my step-daughter and her son.  I learn so much from them.
  5. I am thankful for my spirit guides who have been so faithful to me in spite of my many, many failures.
  6. I am thankful for my two vehicles so we don't have to rely on others to take us shopping.
  7. I am thankful for our computers and our internet connection.  There is so much we can do with them.
  8. I am thankful for my Nook that holds 237 books that I don’t have to dust.
  9. I am thankful for my dogs that give me so much joy.
  10. I am thankful for the trials that have ground me and honed me into a better person.
I don’t have to remind myself of my purpose.  It is with me 24/7.  I have three lovely people and 2 sweet dogs for whom I am responsible.  ‘Nuff said, there.
Sometimes, when I am dealing with failure, I learn to forgive myself as I have been forgiven by those who love me unconditionally.  I don’t need guilt burdens.  I have plenty else with which to contend.  Right now, my focus is to get to the root of my eating disorder and correct it.  I need energy and time to do that.  I can’t waste time or energy beating myself up.  I will expend time and energy to get back on track.
What other changes have I made in my daily routine?
First, I have stopped watching TV while I eat.  Thich Nhat Hanh notes that people that watch TV while they eat will eat more because they are not aware of their consumption.  I found that the quiet and the pleasant conversation with my wife is much more relaxing.
Second, I am actually trying to remember to take time to chew my food, and be totally aware of what I am doing.  Thich Nhat Hanh calls it “mindfulness.”  Being totally focused on what we are doing.  Our mind should not be romping around in the  fields past memories, hurts, and joys.  Our mind should not be trying to predict what tomorrow will bring.  Our focus should be on eating, tasting, savoring.  And by the way, when I was younger and knew everything, I poo-pooed the idea that focusing on one’s breathing would be useful.   It is now the most useful tool I have in my repertoire of tools for calming myself.  I can even drop my blood pressure by 30 points with a good focused breathing session.
Third, I am blogging.  I am evaluating the reasons for making the blog public.  I have some decisions to make in that regard.
A note about Phase 1 of the South Beach diet:  It is designed to break your addiction to carbohydrates.  It is a VERY low carbohydrate menu of foods we can eat.  Yesterday, I had to clean the gutters and down spouts for our townhome.  I do the neighbor’s unit as well, because she has no one to do it for her.  Her basement floods if the gutters overflow. I forgot how much of an impact a low carb diet has on one’s energy.  It was less than an hour of work, carrying the ladder, and the blower around.  But, it exhausted me for the rest of the day.  A word to the wise: be aware that if you are doing a South Beach Phase 1 diet, your energy level is very low.  You may even get dizzy if you attempt anything too strenuous.
I learned today that carrots have sugar and are not part of Phase 1 foods allowed.  I will definitely rely more on the cucumbers for my snacks.
Be Peace
Be Love

Journey – Breaking the Cycle, Part 3A

The other day, I mentioned that I had identified several reasons, triggers, or habits that bring me to eating more than what I need.  Such information is only interesting at best if you have no plan for changing those behaviors.  But, until I can change those behaviors permanently, I have to do something to stop the weight gain before it gets even more unmanageable.  So that is where the South Beach Diet comes in. Dr. Arthur Agatston, a heart surgeon, developed a well-rounded healthy diet for his heart patients.  Coincidentally, the diet also is perfect for people that are suffering from diabetes.  Over a year ago, before Ruth and I started on the diet, my doctor told me that the blood tests indicate that I was pre-diabetic.  At the time he told me, I knew I would soon be on the South Beach diet.  I did not tell him of the plan, and I am sure he was somewhat disappointed in lack of concern.  The last time I visited him, he was absolutely giddy with my test results.  I had lost 80 pounds, my cholesterol was well within limits, my blood pressure was down far enough that he cut my medications in half, and I was no longer pre-diabetic.

That’s a lot to be happy about.  But, my doctor knows, I know, and Ruth knows, that the job is not complete.  As long as we live, we will have to deal with the same issues that brought me to the brink of being diabetic.  I had done nothing to identify or make the changes internally that would help make the condition lasting.  It would be just a matter of time before my old habits would drag me right back, not to a condition as bad as in the past, but WORSE than in the past.  That is the nature of the untethered beast.  Fortunately, to see this sixteen pound gain in weight was enough to alarm me.  I really, really don’t want to feel as bad as I did over a year ago.  So this time I will take advantage of this period of relatively good health and endeavor to break the cycle that I have submitted to in the past.

I have been on a focused spiritual quest for many years, getting increasingly focused in the last six years.  Much of the foundational work required for internal change has been done to various degrees.  I may be getting down to levels that are going to be the most difficult, the most challenging, and possibly the most dangerous I have ever been before.  It may be at this point that I’m going to lose readers, if indeed, anyone is following this.  Our sojourn on Earth is spiritual.  Some of you have heard it said, and I have read it time and again in many books, we are spirits having a human experience The Tao Te Ching says that all that changes is not real.  Only that which persists is real.  My body will die and return to the ground.  My essence is spirit.  My spirit does not change.

In my first post, I mentioned I have a cadre of spirit guides, teachers, and masters, as well as physical teachers and mentors.  Some of the discussion from this point on, must include the spiritual components of this journey.   I have three things going for me now that will help me succeed at breaking this cycle:

  1. I have gratitude.
  2. I have purpose.
  3. I know absolutely without a doubt that I am loved.

Gratitude.  Not long ago, I started reading a book called The Magic by Rhonda Byrne (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/magic-rhonda-byrne/1107727564?ean=9781451673449).  I absolutely do not agree with her approach to gaining wealth, but she does lead the reader through exercises that are designed to make one aware of the many things we have for which to be thankful.  She insists the results of the exercises are “magic,” but I am convinced, the results are a natural outcome of gratitude.  When you know how truly blessed you are, you won’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself.  The first thing I do each day is identify ten things for which I am thankful.  Each day has to be a new list, with only a few repeated things from prior days.  This exercise puts me into a positive mindset with which to confront the rest of the day.  (By the way, I haven’t finished the book, though I plan on it, and I would not recommend it because of her emphasis on “magic.”)  Knowing how fortunate I am keeps me from despair.  Knowing how fortunate I am, gives me strength to stand up and face the trials of the day.  Knowing how fortunate I am keeps me from slipping into a “victim” mentality.

Purpose.  Believe me, not too many years ago, I began to doubt that I had any reason to remain in this physical plane.   I was not contemplating suicide, but I did petition my spirit guides to let me leave this dimension.  They made it very clear soon afterward in a very emotionally intense dream that I had purpose, and they let me know precisely what it is.  I have accepted that gladly.  Knowing I have purpose makes all the difference in the world on how I look at each day.  (yeah, I know, now I’m getting too weird for some of you.   That’s OK.  Maybe this isn’t meant for you.  You have to choose your way, and I would be the last to try to convince you to follow my way.)

I am loved.   I have struggled with how to explain this.  I have finally decided to simply say that I know that I am loved and accepted 100 percent, unconditionally.  Don’t forget, I am essentially spirit.  That part of me is forever, and the love I receive is, not for the part of me that dies.   Knowing this makes all the difference in the world, too.  Mahatma Gandhi said it this way: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”  Unconditional love is what gives us that freedom.  I am free to experiment and fail, as well as succeed.

Part of being loved, is loving yourself.  I honestly have to struggle with this all the time. I know me, and what I see, I don’t always like, much less, love.  I remind myself that I am spirit.  Even though I may not feel or see the value I have, I know that I am unconditionally loved.  It makes that part of me that I don’t like, easier to swallow.

(Continue to the next blog)

Be Peace.

Be Love.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Journey -- Breaking the Cycle, Part 2

April 25, 2014

Day 3 of South Beach Phase 1

Starting weight (4/23/2013): 195

Today’s Weight:  193

Loss/Gain (since start):  -2

Breakfast: Low fat cottage cheese omelet with a special spaghetti sauce.

Lunch: Romaine lettuce with a homemade poppy seed sauce, and a Chicken sausage.

Supper:  Turkey Burgers, Romaine Lettuce with a homemade poppy seed sauce.

Snacks:  Baby carrots, Healthy Choice Fudge Ice Cream Bar (100 calories)

Well, you’ll notice this morning’s “stats.” Some experts say don’t weigh yourself every day.  Some say it’s OK.   I think it is a matter of attitude.  I expect fluctuations.  I expect days when I’ve appeared to gain, and some days when it appears I’ve lost a bunch.  Our bodies have different things to deal with from day to day.  Some days you hold water for some obscure reason.  Some days you are dehydrated.  Some days you just need a good bowel movement.  Some days you don’t.  I generally weigh at the same time every day, usually stripped, usually after a bowel movement.  That way, I can see trends, and if the trend is down (when I’m trying to lose weight), I’m happy.

On April 23, I weighed myself with clothes on (no shoes).  My clothes weigh just shy of two pounds, so I adjusted the original 197 pounds down to 195.    I’m not going to concern myself with fractions of pounds.  Just the nearest rounded number will work fine for me.

Speaking of dehydration:  I work hard to avoid it.  I drink plenty of water (now that we have filtered water).  It helps with digestion, AND more importantly, it keeps my hunger in check.  That is, at least where I’m concerned, often when I think I’m hungry, I am actually thirsty.  I have learned to drink water when I think I’m hungry.  If the hunger persists after a few minutes, then it could be hunger.

Even so, I’ll have to also tell you that there are times I want to eat even though I know my stomach is full, and I have had plenty of water.  I’ve identified some of those times.  It helps to do that, because it makes me more aware of what is happening. 

I “get hungry” when I’m emotionally stressed.

I “get hungry” when I’ve been intensely involved in something and suddenly come to stopping point.

I “get hungry” when I’m watching TV and the program breaks for advertising.

I “get hungry” when I’ve read too long.

I “get hungry” when I have something to do that I don’t want to do.

You may see a pattern there.  That’s what I look for.  Patterns.  Habits.  I did not teach myself to watch for this.  I learned to do this from one of my mentors, Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/savor-thich-nhat-hanh/1100560154?ean=9780061697708)


Most of my eating is habitual with some triggers.  Emotional stress is a trigger to eat.  I want relief from the stress, and somehow I’m convinced that food can give me relief.  It rarely does, but that’s beside the point.  Coming to a sudden stop with nothing to do is a trigger.  I try to fill the “dead” time with food.  Facing some task I don’t want to do is a trigger.  I take my food and run away.  Advertising on TV: is it habit or is it a trigger?  Doesn’t matter.  I just know I have to be aware that it is a time I run to the fridge.

About today’s meals: My wife, Ruth made the spaghetti sauce from scratch—all fresh veggies, herbs, and tomatoes and some chicken sausage chopped in. It is delicious!!!    Ruth also made the poppy seed salad dressing.  Ruth spends on the average around 30 minutes for each meal preparation (not counting planning).  I wash the dishes.  It’s a fair trade in labor.  She enjoys cooking.  I enjoy cleaning (I’m OCD).

The Healthy Choice Fudge Ice Cream bar is only 100 calories.  Yesterday we both tried a frozen yogurt product with a caramel filling.  It tasted great, but rather than satisfy a sweet tooth, it made us crave more.  I quickly placed the remaining yogurt treats into a freezer bag and stored them away in our freezer in the basement.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We don’t need anything that drives us to eat more.

Ruth makes most things from scratch.  We use some processed foods, but when it comes to veggies, they are fresh from the store.  One tends to think that living healthy is more expensive, but we have found that steering away from processed foods is cheaper because we get more nutrition for the buck with natural foods.  We aren’t driven to eat as much, because the food is better for us and leaves us with fewer cravings.  Our food bill is about the same if not less than what it was before we started eating healthy.  We aren’t health food nuts by any stretch of the imagination.  But we are enjoying healthier lives because of our food choices.
Be Peace
Be Love

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Journey -- Breaking the Cycle Part 1

Look, Mom, I’m a yoyo!  My weight goes up, my string gets wound up, and I toss, and the weight goes down.  That’s the struggle I have with food.  I am obese.  I have dieted, lost weight, and within a short period, put it all back on, time and again.

 I have an addictive personality.  It is easy for me to get attached to things and use them to my detriment.  Many years ago I was a smoker.  I smoked four packs per day.  I tried hundreds of times to stop.  I couldn’t…until my life changed very drastically.  Long story short, I decided to end my miserable life.  I quit my engineering job, sold everything I could except my tent and my motorcycle, gave all my guitars and PA system to friends, and set out for the great Southwest on my motorcycle.  I quit smoking.  I no longer had the money to buy cigarettes; I no longer had all of those triggers that kept dragging me back to “just one more cigarette.” (By the way, I didn’t commit suicide.)  Can I do the same thing with food? 

Well, I can’t stop eating. But…I can change things so I don’t have all those triggers that send me off to raid the fridge.  But eating disorders are much deeper than that.  There are triggers deep down in my psyche driving me.  While I might be able to control some triggers, I can’t control them all.  I have to get to the root of it all.  I need help.

My wife, Ruth, and I started on the South Beach Diet over a year ago.  It was reasonably easy to do, being so overly obese that I had to do something…I was desperate.  Over the next year, we both lost eighty pounds.  We felt great!  For several months, we’d catch our weight slowly going up, and we’d counter it by going back to one of the early diet phases until we could get the weight down, again.  But, dieting gets old.  While Ruth was able to manage her weight to a reasonable degree, I exploded into a subdued feeding frenzy.  I put on eighteen pounds.  I feel it when I tie my shoes.  I feel it when I fasten my pants.  I feel it when I walk the dog.  I refused to weigh myself, knowing that it would confirm what I already knew.  I weighed yesterday afternoon—197 pounds with clothing on.  Fortunately, Ruth had already started us back on Phase One of the South Beach Diet.

I want this time to be different, though.  I’m tired of the cycle.  I’m tired of dieting.  I want change.  But I know that the change has to come from within, way deep down…perhaps in places I don’t even know how to get to, or honestly, maybe I don’t even want to get to them.  But I’m going to do it, none-the-less.

I have mentors and teachers that will help me.  I have Thich Nhat Hahn,  Dalai Lama, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Dr. Arthur Agatston  (South Beach Diet)  available in book form, and last, but by no means least, my wife, Ruth.  They have given me much in the way of guidance over the years as I deal with another character flaw.  I’m a recovering jerk.

I have tools.  I will mention my wife as the first tool.  She knows food, and she knows how to prepare it.  She can make armadillo taste like chocolate ice cream, I think.  She studies and works hard to prepare the healthy foods in great variety, and limited portions.  I could not begin to eat healthy without her dedication and help.

My second tool is meditation.   Meditation helps me order things in my mind.  It helps in ways too numerous to mention here.  I meditate at least 3 times a week, but more than that usually.   I will talk about my meditations more in future posts.

My third tool is my spiritual cadre, my spirit guides, my spirit teachers, and my spirit masters (masters as in masters of the trade).  I consult with them more often than I meditate.

My fourth tool is my dogs.  They exercise me, and they exorcise my bad moods.

Just a caveat.  I don’t pretend to have any answers.  What works for me may or may not work for someone else.  What doesn’t work for me may work for someone else.  More important than methods is the change I hope that comes out of this.  If anyone can take courage from these journals I will believe I have fulfilled the goal.  Obesity is an illness with its roots entangled deep down in the psyche.  This promises to be a revealing journey for me.

By the way, all work and no play makes me cranky.  I'm going to do a little more reading for fun.  I'm starting with the second book in a series written by Billie Jo Williams, Destiny of Dragons.  I have enjoyed her first in that series, and started the second one of the nine novels.  I might also pick up where I left of on the Dresden Files.  Looking forward to this.

Be Peace.

Be Love.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: The Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth By Dr. Reza Aslan (Final)

Some of you may have read my initial comments on this book.  I want to preface these remarks with a few thoughts.  First, in my notes, I complained profusely about lack of documentation supporting Dr. Aslan’s statements.  Let me explain:  When I see a statement that makes an observation of a time or a place that the writer could not have experienced in person, I want to see the sources upon which he bases the statement.  For example:
“Whatever languages Jesus may have spoken, there is no reason to think he could read or write in any of them, not even Aramaic.  Luke’s account of the  twelve-year-old Jesus standing in the Temple of Jerusalem debating the finer points of the Hebrew Scriptures with the rabbis and scribes… or his narrative of Jesus at the (nonexistent) synagogue in Nazareth reading from the Isaiah scroll to the astonishment of the Pharisees…, are both fabulous concoctions of the evangelist’s own devising.”
Such a statement automatically evokes a series of questions in my mind:  1) How can Dr. Aslan know that Jesus could not read or write in any language unless he was there in person, or he has the direct or indirect testimony of someone who was there?  2) How does Dr. Aslan know whether or not a synagogue was in Nazareth without having been there himself, or without the direct or indirect testimony of someone who was there? 3) Without corroboration of the first two statements, his conclusion that Luke concocted the stories is totally unsupported and very probably unfair.

I demand that a writer support his statements with documented research, even if I may agree with his statements.   If I see statements like the one I just cited, and it does not have a footnote for its source, I treat it as opinion at best.  More importantly, it makes me immediately suspicious of the writer EVEN if I agree with the statement.

Secondly, I approach a book on its own merits.  I understand that everything we know, and everything we experience goes through our personal filters and results in interpretations of events and information.  Basically, regardless of evidence we may cite for or against a premise, it ultimately boils down to personal biases and opinion.  I don’t have to agree with the premise of the book to enjoy reading it.  In any case, the writer has to approach the topic with honesty.  I do not enjoy bashing, lying, or any kind of gratuitous slamming of an opposing view.  I will stop reading a book if that occurs.

Thirdly, I will not argue with the writer of a book in a review.  I can legitimately state that I disagree with the author, but I will not burden my reader with arguments for or against the premise of the book in question.  My purpose is to review the book on its content, not on its premise.  I will report the author’s point of view and how well he makes his case.  I don’t try to evaluate the merits of the premise except in my own private thoughts.

All of that said, let’s get to Zealot by Dr. Reza Aslan.

What I like:

It’s easy reading.

It gives some interesting historical and cultural background to the environment that Jesus of Nazareth lived in.

Gives interesting and seemingly valid alternative interpretations of New Testament scriptures.

If (and that is a BIG IF) you accept the background information Aslan provides, the resultant portrait of a “historical” Jesus is not unreasonable.

Aslan defines the term “zealot” in the context of the political and social environment assumed at the time of Jesus’s ministry.  A zealot would be a person who adheres strictly to the Torah and the law, refuses to submit to any foreign master, refuses to serve any human master at all, and has an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God.  Some zealots were willing to resort to acts of violence against not only all uncircumcised people and Romans, but against fellow Jews that submitted to the Roman occupation.  Leaders of the zealots often declared themselves to be messiahs.  Messiah had a meaning that has been somewhat misunderstood in modern times, but in Jesus’s time a messiah by definition would be the King of the Jews, or the king of Israel.  Of course, Rome would accept only one king, and that was the emperor of Rome.  A Zealot, by definition was an enemy to Rome, and a messiah would necessarily be an enemy of Rome, as well.  Zealots and messiahs would be punished by crucifixion, a punishment reserved for rebels or revolutionaries.

According to Aslan, the typical person from Nazareth would have been poor and illiterate.  Jesus would have been no different, Aslan claims.  But this fact would work in Jesus’s favor, because Jesus spoke with authority in spite of his lack of education, confirming the influence of the Holy Spirit in him.  Jesus followed John the Baptist, and after he was baptized, he set out in a ministry of his own, delivering much the same message as did his mentor, John the Baptist.  Jesus was a Zealot, but his focus was on the corruption in the cult of Judaism, specifically, the priesthood.  Jesus, according to Dr. Aslan, was not the least bit concerned with the Roman occupation of the Holy Land.  Rome would not have had any concerns for Jesus’s activities.  But, the religious order, the cult leaders were concerned that Jesus would succeed in forcing the priests and scribes out of their lucrative and corrupt positions in the temple.  The very powerful high priest, Caiaphas, complained to Roman authorities about this Zealot Jesus who was claiming to be a messiah, i.e., a King of the Jews. This guaranteed the arrest and execution of Jesus of Nazareth.

Rather than use the conventional footnote system for citing his sources, Dr. Aslan provided sixty-four pages of notes by chapter.  In those notes, he cites not only the sources he used but a detailed discussion of other sources with explanations of why he chose one source over another.  His copious notes, to me, were more interesting than his main text.  Dr. Aslan did indeed research his information very well using easily obtainable and reputable resources. He understands many issues far beyond the scope of this book.  

Dr. Aslan offers several alternate interpretations of the New Testament texts.  Again, his interpretations are as skillfully supported as any other interpretation of the texts I have ever read – and I have read many, many exegetes of the New Testament in my life time.  This I can affirm, many of his interpretations and conclusions would not be welcomed in a fundamental Christian environment.  Dr. Aslan views the Gospels as highly contrived pieces, peppered with historical inaccuracies,  embellishments, and biased interpretations designed to convince other Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was the much anticipated “Messiah.”  The Gospel of John, being somewhat different in that it emphasizes the divinity of the Christ, as well.  Aslan constantly reminds the reader that the Gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 B.C. Luke an Matthew borrow much from Mark, but add text to answer some of the challenges against Jesus’s messianic role.  Ironically, since there are no extra Biblical references to Jesus of Nazareth, Dr. Aslan has to rely heavily on the Gospel texts, with all of its inaccuracies, to attempt to place Jesus in his historical surroundings.  Dr. Aslan does more to expose the unreliable nature of the Gospels than he does to place Jesus in a historical context.  Never-the-less, Dr. Aslan does provide many fascinating insights into the culture at the time of Jesus, both from what little information is available from extra Biblical sources, and from brief peeks into the culture gleaned from the Gospel texts.

Above all, I appreciate the enormous amount of research and thought Dr. Aslan has invested in this work combined with his relaxed writing style that makes it so much easier to put one’s head around such an overwhelming undertaking.   An open minded reader will gain a great deal of insight into the New Testament texts, the culture, and the Christian religion.  But, I warn the Evangelical Christian, and the fundamentalist Christian that this book will most likely make you feel uncomfortable at best, but more than likely will provoke anger.  In any case, it will force the reader to think. 

What I don’t like about the book:

The book purports to give the reader a non-theological historical picture of Jesus of Nazareth. But, as Dr. Aslan admits, outside of the New Testament and Flavius Josephus’s Antiquities, there are no historical sources that ever mention Jesus.  Even the one mention of Jesus in the Antiquities is believed to be a spurious interpolation by some well-meaning Christian.  It is no surprise, Dr. Aslan fails to present anything but a speculative view of Jesus of Nazareth based on assumptions he has made from the culture at the time of Jesus and, ironically, interpretations of selected texts from the four New Testament Gospels.

The book is just one more of many books that tries and fails to render a historical view of Jesus of Nazareth.  But that is not all bad.  The reader finishes the book with a much better understanding of the issues than one might have had prior to reading the book.