A “Come to Jesus” with Meat

I do not think eating meat is necessarily bad nor immoral.

It can be both of those things, I think. In fact, I’d probably guess that most of our meat-raising/harvesting practices are both bad (for the environment as well as the animal) and immoral (for all living parties involved).

But it isn’t, necessarily.

Like all good things, though, what was an occasional practice has now taken on an everyday nature in our world of instant access. I remember my grandmother telling me that she was taught that a meal included a “meat and two sides, one of them green.”

What she didn’t realize, though, was that idea was a novelty that basically started with her generation. Previous generations subsisted on far less meet, and far more grains and vegetables. They were cheap, easy to make, and kept you alive.

We’ve switched that all around now, though, especially in the West, and it’s rare that I don’t see meat in most meals, whether in the home or outside the home.

“Can we do a vegetarian month?” Finn asked me the other day. He’s not a meat lover. Oh, he’ll eat it, but he’s not in love with it. He’s just as happy with a good veggie lasagna as he is with one containing sausage. And he’ll happily scarf down salad where the protein is provided by beans or lentils.

We’ll probably end up doing a veggie month sometime this summer. But even if we don’t do a full month, we’re determined as a family to eat less meat (and this is coming from someone who loves to smoke and grill!). And we’ll do it for a few reasons…

First, meat is expensive. And the cheap meat is usually the worst for you, honestly, so even if it’s affordable your body can’t really afford it. We forget that when we eat an animal we are also eating what they ate. This is why grain-fed animals are actually pretty bad for you (and a ton of grain is bad for the animal! Evolutionarily they aren’t made to live off of that, you know?).

Also, too much meat is just not great for you. Balance, like in surfing and tight-rope walking, is key here. Too much of our plate is taken up by that monster steak. You can have one…sometimes, I do! But if I do, I probably shouldn’t have much more meat the rest of the week. Make the meat the smallest thing on your plate, and leave it off most plates you see in front of you.

And another thing: meat is not awesome for the environment. Chicken dung pollutes like crazy, which is why big commercial farms are having to be really inventive to get rid of the stuff. Pork is leading the desertification of land in once fertile areas. And, when you think about it, the more land dedicated to raising meat, the less land we have to dedicate to growing other food, especially food that isn’t food for that meat we’re raising!

This Holy Week we’re going wholly without meat in the house. And, yes, that includes fish because, well, overfishing is a huge problem, too.

I like eating meat. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad or immoral. But it can be both, and probably often is, and because of that we need a little reset here…

Mindlessness and I Miss Hugging People

So, this week’s discipline has been rough.

I mean, it’s not like it’s especially difficult to avoid processed foods. I don’t usually eat much of it on the regular.

The problem is mindlessness for me.

Like, sometimes I mindlessly eat. Especially cereal late at night.

Monday night Rhonda says, as at 9pm I’ve poured a bowl of not-bad-but-not-healthy cereal full of raisins and crunchy flakes: “Wait, I thought you weren’t eating processed foods this week.”


It had totally slipped my mind. I mean, one of the reasons I’m doing this is to be more mindful, right? It just *literally* slipped my mind.

That’s bad enough. I learned my lesson. Not going to happen again.

Until it did: Tuesday night.

Yes, not 24 hours later I, once again, mindlessly brought in a bowl of cereal when I heard Rhonda say, yet again, “Wait. I thought you weren’t doing that this week.”


I’m proud to say I haven’t done that since, and I only have a few more days to go, but it just brought to my attention how often I mindlessly indulge in certain behaviors that I want to curb.

Why was I eating it?

Part of it was I think I wanted to end the night with something sweet. “Have a banana,” you might say (looking at you, Rhonda), to which I would reply, “But I want something crunchy.”

But the real truth is that it just has become routine. An unhealthy routine. A way of filling my time before bed.

I’ve heard the Japanese word, kuchisabishii probably best explains it. “My mouth is lonely.”

Or, maybe, I kind of am, if I’m honest.

I’m fully vaccinated now, and the thing that I look forward to most these days is hugging other people.

Sure, I give my family hugs. But I miss hugging other people. I miss connection and I have the sneaky suspicion I’m filling that abyss with crunch cereal at 9pm.

It’s just a hunch, but I think it might be true.

But I’m resolved to cut down on the cereal.

And, soon enough, to indulge on the hugging (when/if appropriate).

Does it Count as Buying If It’s Not Your Money?

The answer to the above question that I, for better or worse, arrived at is: no.

I had to buy something last week for work. I mean, it was for me, but it was in service of my work and I’ll be reimbursed for it, so…

With all of these disciplines I’m learning that a certain amount of grace is necessary. But when does “grace” turn into “excuse?”

It’s a fine line.

An honest wrestling with the influences that determine decisions is important. So much of our day-to-day is on autopilot. We renew subscriptions, we click “buy” on that item that we don’t want to run to the brick-and-mortar for.

I wonder if maybe the trip to the brick-and-mortar isn’t a good time to evaluate whether or not we need the item at all…

Impulse buying can be fun.

But so can an all night party.

When we do the second too much the family gets concerned. But what about the first?

Henri Nouwen wrote that we all have an “abyss” in our centers, something that longs to be filled. And like a vacuum, we will throw things in it attempting to fill it up…

But it can’t be filled, Beloved. At least, not with stuff.

Because that abyss is shaped like boredom. Things can’t cure that.

That abyss is shaped like grief. Things can’t cure that.

That abyss is shaped like existential angst and a lack of job satisfaction and unfulfilling relationships and…

What’s your abyss shaped like?

The incessant desire to purchase, with all its ease and immediacy and “at the tip of your fingers”-ness might just be a way of escaping, you know? The convenience of online purchasing has made things easier, for sure.

But it has also made it harder to realize when we’re just doing it to do it.

This last week I severed most ties with it for a good while. Most, not all, because, well, I could rationalize a work purchase.

I could rationalize it…but I didn’t like doing it.

And I’m kind of glad I didn’t like doing it. Perhaps that’s progress, yes?

This week I’m sloughing off processed foods. No chips, no cereals, no anything that took a process that I couldn’t do in my own home to make.

It’s actually not as easy as it sounds. Like, what do you do with certain kinds of bread that have more preservatives than grains in them? I’m deciding they’re out. It should prove interesting…

Join me, if you want.

The Cost of Convenience

I remember having the thought, “Who would ever buy something over the internet? That doesn’t seem safe.”

That was, of course, when I was living largely in cash. Before college. Before my first credit card (Discover: the Cadillac of cards <insert laugh track>).

Then I figured out that I’d have to fly from University back to my parent’s house a few times a year, and online ticket engines were more convenient for a busy (translation: lazy) college kid like me.

Fast forward these twenty years since, and cash has largely disappeared from my pockets (which, in all honesty, is severely affecting the homeless population and everyone should carry just a little bit on them to help out there…seriously). I swipe a card for most everything.

Well, I used to.

But in the pandemic that swipe has been replaced by the click of a “buy now” button at the end of a long list of items available for me to purchase without leaving my couch.

I know many who used online grocery sites during the pandemic, which truly saved lives. But for those of us who still went to the physical store, albeit with less frequency, online purchasing became the entertainment portal it always thought it would become in this pandemic. It was just too easy to order a movie, a new puzzle, a new Lego set (for me, not the kids), a new…anything.

Or used. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that in the boredom of the pandemic in between yardwork and work-work, the online wormhole became an escape for itchy fingers and imaginations.

I mean, we didn’t go overboard or anything. But I noticed how quickly certain problems, like, “Hmmm…would be nice to repair the deck. Which power tool could I get to help with the project?” were easily resolved.

Actually, that’s a lie. That’s not how that inner-monologue went. It went more like this:

“Oooh…that’s a nice saw. I could repair the deck with that.”


Online sales went up about 50% in the pandemic over 2019‘s spending. This undoubtedly helped, maybe even saved, many businesses (and lined Bezo’s pockets). But it also eased many into a powerful pattern of purchasing that is hard to break.

We’re not minimalists (though I do have a capsule wardrobe because, who needs another choice in the morning?), but I think we try to be mindful about our buying habits.

Well, we did…and then we didn’t for a while. It’s time to right that relationship.

But, honestly, even in non-pandemic days the escape to the coffee shop for single-origin pour-over, or the post-work-but-before-kids-come beer at the local bottle shop was just a little too regular. It was part social, yes, but also just part playing the part. It was also just part spending culture.

And that’s as much a spiritual issue as it is a financial issue.

So this week’s discipline of not buying anything (except essential groceries) is all about trying to analyze that relationship and move forward with a model that doesn’t use online click-buying as a solution for boredom, but takes seriously the “needs vs. wants” conversation we should all be having in our brains before a purchase.

Sometime we indulge wants, Beloved. And we should.

But just this morning, waiting for physical therapy to begin, I found myself browsing Kelly-green Cubs caps because, well, St. Patrick’s Day, and mine is worn and faded, and…

I didn’t hit “buy” despite the “amazing deal.”

And you know what? I got the amazing deal of saving myself $39.99 and cultivating a moment of self-awareness that I’ve missed these last 12 months.

Shiny Object Syndrome

My week of media fast is over.

To be clear: I didn’t give up media. Instead I just severely limited my access to it through mindfully forgetting my phone in another room, opening only one browser page at a time while working, and consuming just one morning and one evening news program.

I know…that might not sound like much of a fast to you, but in this pandemic year my access to non-stop “Breaking News” scrolls has proven a hard addiction to kick.


Because I like distraction. I have shiny object syndrome.

Actually, distraction is not bad sometimes. In my meditation practice I set aside a block of time to be undistracted. It’s taken a while to get there with ease. In the beginning I would often only clear my mind for five minutes, start to finish, and have to call that as “good enough.”

But now it’s not as difficult to do, largely because I’ve realized that meditation does not require a distraction-free environment, but rather just requires that the practitioner not fight distractions at all. You don’t fight the thoughts, you embrace them, and they go away. You don’t fight the noise, you embrace it, and it fades into white noise.

But my problem was that, because I have this meditation practice that is (mostly) daily, I count that as checked off the agenda for the day. “Distraction free time? Did that…”

This is what happens when we begin to see spiritual practices as a checklist, rather than a lens through which we live life. I knew I should be incorporating these mindfulness exercises more into my daily life, especially my work-life. I write better with browsers closed, certainly you’d think I’d know that I’d work with more clarity.

I can say with certainty that, this week, I was able to get into flow states of work more than once. It resulted in a lightness to my tasks that I didn’t realize I missed so much. Heading into Friday having accomplished most of what you’ve wanted to is a lovely feeling, and one I’d like to carry forward as much as possible.

One downside to this whole thing, though, is that on more than day I lost my phone for a bit, forgetting where I had intentionally forgotten it.

I can live with that, though…

This week I begin six days being purchase-free. No coffee, no beer, grocery store purchases are acceptable for menu items (though I think I took care of most of that yesterday). No Amazon browsing, no movie purchasing. Nothing.

Should be fun.

Video Killed the Radio Star, and Media Kills My Deep Work

illustration by Mark Armstrong

In my mind and in my car (and, quite literally, everywhere else), screens dominate my attention.

Sure, I’m not always looking at them, but more often than not they are facilitating my activities.

Podcasts on my drive and on my run.

News in the morning and the evening.

Social media breaking up the work day.

Even, this: my writing is more electronic than long-form most days.

I don’t say any of this as a grumpy “get off my lawn” rant about how it was better in some yester-year. Honestly, I have no idea if it was or not because while I certainly had an analogue childhood, my adulthood has been all digital.

But I know I consume too much media these days, and it affects my attention span.

Humans are certainly evolving. I can feel myself changing (though, I’m compelled to point out, that is not the same as evolution). My attention span is shorter. Long-form anything seems like an uphill battle most days. And despite my meditation practices, it still takes me a good while to sink into a space of non-thought. This has always been true, but I’m finding it takes longer, even though my practice has remained relatively constant.

Some of this is the pandemic, of course. Screens have become our life-line to an outside world that we see largely through a window pane (unless you live in Texas or Mississippi, and there you’re likely to see it through the pane of a Covid-ward…please wear your masks!).

But even before the pandemic, before all of this, the constant media feed has prevented me from doing something that I find supremely productive, integral even, to quality output: deep work.

I stumbled upon deep work through a podcast, ironically enough, because podcasts occasionally keep me from entering into deep work. It is essentially a state of non-distraction, and this term coined (I think) by writer and researcher Cal Newport is really descriptive of what the state is trying to achieve: a deep productivity.

And I know…I can feel it…the constant media consumption, day in and day out, moment by moment, prevents me from getting to that deep, imaginative attention that I long to put into my work.

So this week will be kind of an extension of last week’s discipline (coming to a new negotiation with my phone usage), only this week I will attempt, more of than not, to enter into some meaningful moments of deep work, to turn off the screens in the evening, and though I won’t be divorcing myself totally from media consumption, I’ll be sampling from a lighter menu of it.

As with all of these weekly disciplines, my goal is not to cut them out of my life, but to get in better relationship with them. And today has been a bit better, honestly: I’ve been mindful of closing tabs, of limiting social media engagement, and making a concerted effort to cultivate work windows free of distraction.

I know my attention span is evolving, and not in a way I totally enjoy. I wonder if I can retrain it, though…we shall see.

wePhone over iPhone. knowGrace over noGrace.

I didn’t hear it happen.

I saw the work out front where the city was modulating the water pressure for the neighborhood, re-chlorinating the system. Water gushed from the pipe into the cul-de-sac and, despite that volcanic water spout, it all seemed copacetic.

Until there was a frantic knock on the door. And my phone rang in the distant room. I’d been trying to live with my phone in the other room for the week, especially when I’m at work and have other screens to dull my brain wrinkles.

It’s interesting: when the phone is in the other room, I don’t feel compelled to answer it. I’m not sure if it’s just the inconvenience of getting up to get it (I haven’t felt that need since childhood and the phone anchored in the den!), or perhaps it’s because lately so many people have been concerned about my car warranty (“God bless their hearts,” as we say in the South).

But, for whatever reason, I didn’t get the phone. Or the door (it’s a work day).

Until the knocking continued, frantic.

I come downstairs to find my neighbor and her dog at my door. She’d been out walking him and noticed that our front yard had become Lake Gaston. Finn’s basketball floated in the center of it, mocking my inattention to the second largest body of water in North Carolina forming amidst our naked rose bushes.

“What happened?!” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said, dumbfounded at the water gushing up from the ground like “a’bubblin’ crude” just under our Japanese Maple.

And then I remembered the city doing the water work today and, through some pretty simple logic, figured the pressure modulations had burst our pipes.

I reached for my phone…but it was upstairs.

I thanked my neighbor, ran upstairs and called the city water department.

“We’ll have someone out to you soon,” she said. “Stay by your phone.”

In a week where I was practicing not staying by my phone, I was now being told to stay by my phone. And, sure, it was an emergency, but the dilemma felt real in the moment.

I took it as an opportunity to make some other calls: to my spouse and my parents. And then to Google repair cost averages. And then to Google how much selling a kidney would bring in to pay for said repairs.

I had a hunch the city would not be footing this bill (spoiler alert: they won’t because it’s on our property between the meter and our house).

I put the situation on social media in a humorous way, asking for shipments of “beer and fruit snacks.”

And then the texts started to come. I was “staying by my phone” as the city instructed, and texts of love and support and, yes, offers for beer (from our great neighbor) came in. Offers to house our children overnight if needed. Offers to get us dinner.

The offers haven’t stopped, continuing to this morning.

In the end we’re getting the water taken care of on Monday. And, though it’s an expensive repair, we’ll be alright. It did, however, bring me a renewed empathy and passion for electing officials who understand how tightly families live, and the reality that most of us are a major emergency away from having our savings wiped out.

But, more than anything, it was a moment of true grace for me. I was kicking myself for having to be by my phone in order to get this done. But in the midst of my irritation, I was getting offer after offer of grace far and wide, and I wouldn’t know that grace had I not had that blasted device in the moment.

Being addicted to the phone is bad. But, when in right relationship with it, it can be a medium of grace.

I’ll tell you, honestly, that when I left parish ministry I was concerned we were severing ties with our “village.” I really don’t know how to cultivate community except through a congregation, and we have not landed in a new one as of yet (pandemic, ya know?).

But after this I am not worried we don’t have a village. It was there all along. And in this moment of pinch, the iPhone became a wePhone, and that made a lot of difference.

No iPhone. No iFunction. iAddicted.

Banksy’s sketch of iPhone addiction

This week’s discipline, severing my ties with my iPhone, is a miserable failure so far.

On Sunday I did put it away. Far away, in fact. Took whole trips without it: on a walk, to visit family, to the store.

I found myself reaching for it. Often.

I sat in the car and waited for our order at St. Bucks of the Stars to be fulfilled wondering what I’d do while I waited…cause, you know, I always have to “do” something. We’re always “doing” aren’t we?

Shamefully, I found myself reaching for it at red lights.

I even found myself reaching for it while doing other things! Like, while watching TV, believe it or not. Absent-mindedly reaching for it, as if my brain now says, “Nope, you’re not overstimulated enough. TV won’t just do it, we have to have something else…”

As I walked out the door I checked my pockets: “Keys? EDC (Every Day Carry) Stuff? Pen? Mask? iPhone? Wallet?” and, when it wasn’t there, a small panic arose in me.

What if I got lost? Or stranded? How would I handle it if I couldn’t call someone?

I mean, it’s not like people didn’t get lost before iPhones, right? And somehow they survived…but my mind and heart races just thinking about the sheer inconvenience of it all.

It’s only Tuesday, but I’ve realized two things about my iPhone:

  1. I realize how much is on there that I use everyday: credit cards, bank apps, music, email. It has replaced my wallet, my radio, my pen and paper, my camera, my map, and (ironically) my phone…because I rarely call anyone on it except for work.
  2. I have a subconscious, learned-dependency on it that is just really unhealthy. It’s part of why I’m doing this whole thing.

So far, I’m crashing and burning though. Sunday I did pretty well, but yesterday and today I find it by my side. I’m literally looking at it right now, sitting there as I’m typing this, begging me to pick it up. Caress its virtual buttons. Explore its connectivity possibilities.

I mean, I don’t mean to sound sensual, but that’s kind of how it is almost. All addictions touch that nerve in us, don’t they? And yes, I can say it: I’m addicted to this thing.

Which is a spiritual issue. All addictions are. They cloud the mind and keep us from clarity.

Be honest with yourself: are you addicted to your iPhone?

I resolve to do better with this. In fact, I’m going to go put it up right now…as soon as I check the weather app.


Who Needs Sleep? Be Happy With What You’re Gettin’…

So, this week the Lenten discipline was a 10pm bedtime. In case you’re not familiar, the titles of each of these posts was from a song produced by one of my favorite bands, The Barenaked Ladies off of their album _Stunt_. You can find the song “Who Needs Sleep” here.

In answer to that question, though, it is clear that I need some sleep. And, as honestly, I don’t need as much as I claim I need.

Because here’s the truth: a sleep schedule is both gift and discipline combined. If I want to rise at a certain hour, sure, a 10pm bedtime helps. And is good to keep, in most moments.

But honestly the rising part of that equation takes discipline, not an early bedtime. Because, well, no matter when I go to bed, I can rise whenever I will myself to rise.

Bedtime, as with running, lifting, and most physical practices, is more about the discipline than the motivation. Motivation certainly helps, Beloved; I’ve found it easier to rise at 5am when I get to bed at 10pm.

But it’s merely sufficient, not necessary.

What is necessary is the discipline.

Yet, knowing that it is sufficient is surely helpful. My heart intends to keep this bedtime more regularly than in the past, knowing that it aids in keeping my early-rising goals.

But it is not necessary. I’ve risen at 5am when going to bed at a later hour. The trick is discipline.

And maybe that’s the larger realization I should carry with me. Because sometimes a later bedtime is necessary, depending on the season of life I’m in. And though I do believe a more regular retiring hour plays into my current stage in life, I need not be bound by it.

Instead, I must be bound to my rising time with more regularity.

I will be practicing an earlier bedtime in the coming days. It’s been a blessing.

But my resolve it, whether I retire at 10pm or midnight, to rise at the 5am hour. When I get off-kilter, the 10pm deadline will help me reset the schedule. In the in-between, I’ll be grateful for what I’m gettin’, as the song rightly says, knowing it’s sufficient for rising early, but not necessary.

This week I’m practicing keeping my phone at bay. Today I started the practice by intentionally leaving it at home on a few excursions I took.

Suffice it to say: it was not easy.

I encourage you to practice this with me. More soon.

Who Needs Sleep? Tell Me, What’s that For?

I read that Dolly Parton wakes up around 3am to start her day.

I remember reading something about Al Roker and Tom Ford doing the same, around 4am each.

I kinda want to be that person, you know?

The Blessed Martin Luther said he used to rise at around 4am to pray because he didn’t know where else he’d fit it in his busy medieval day.

The hours of the morning feel very fruitful to me, but also very inaccessible if they follow too quickly on the heels of one another.

I’ve spent the week calling it quits at 10pm. I wasn’t always *asleep* by then, but I was in bed by then: no screens, maybe a book, but that’s it.

It was actually freeing to have a bed time. One of the struggles in adulting is figuring out what time it is, you know? I mean, not chronologically, but in that Kairos sense of time, that “time out of time” state that helps us figure out important patterns and rhythms that allow us to move well in our stage of life.

I might be in the stage where I need a bedtime, as much as I hate that idea in many ways.

But there’s a reason that monastics stick to a pretty strict schedule: it frees them. It frees them from having to figure out what time it is. I’ve heard people in the military say something similar.

Like being on a regular diet, like living out of a capsule wardrobe, having a bed time (and a corresponding time of rising) is freeing for me.

The closest I ever came to living like that for an extended period of time was when I was a camp counselor in college. There we had no cell reception, few clocks except for the watches on our wrists, and pretty simple living. There was no snacking except those given to us by the kitchen. There was time for rest and fun, adventure and quiet.

And when the sun came up, you rose. When the sun went down, you retired.

It was the most natural rhythm I’ve ever lived in. I envy that most days.

This week-long Lenten discipline is reminding me of that time in my life.

I know I am instinctively a morning person; I always have been (much to the chagrin of my partner). But I find when I can’t rise as early as I need to in order to feel like my day is full, and fully mine (we give so much of the middle of our day away!), I get off-kilter.

I’m not in a right relationship with myself, others, or the work at hand.

I don’t know if moving forward I’ll keep a strict 10pm bed time, but my plan is to make it the norm rather than the exception.

I mean, that’s what Lenten discipline’s are for, right? To come back into righteousness and exit the wilderness different than you entered it?

What about you? How is your relationship with sleep? Are you righteous in this corner of your life?

If not, what will you do about it? I’ve found that it affects every aspect of my being, including my spiritual self. In fact, that’s one of the things I’ve noticed most: taking the time in the twilight hours to meditate, center myself, and connect with the Divine has opened up my work, my parenting, my health, and the wisdom within.

Rhythms are freeing.