Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 so far

Well, friends, this has been a banner year already. I was fully planning to write lots on my blog this year. I was also planning to finish my book -- and somehow defy all normality in the publishing world by getting it published. I was planning to do a concert for the Great Easter Vigil, with all Pink Floyd music. I was planning this, I was planning that.

And then God tapped the DELETE icon on the iPad of Life, and everything changed.

2014 was just 13 hours old when I found out that my dear friend BobbieJean Baker had died in a car accident on the 580 near Lakeshore Avenue. Perhaps the one point of solace I find from her death is that she was on the way home from church and died with praise in her heart and mind. But I miss her. I miss her terribly. I know that she is singing amazing Gospel music with the saints who have gone before. But here on Earth, the void is painful.

I spent most of January in a daze, coming to terms with the loss of BobbieJean. Then school started.

And God tapped the SENIORITIS icon on the iPad of Life. Ugh.
And then there was the NEED NEW PSYCH MED icon.

Now, to be clear, there has been fantastic stuff too: I made my goal-weight with regard to the weight-loss from my Gastric Bypass procedure. I am working to settle into a "new" body that weighs approximately 174 pounds. By all accounts, it is a dramatic turnaround from this time last year. That's right, it was exactly one year ago this week when I tapped out at the highest weight of my life -- 343 pounds. To have lost 169 pounds in one year is nothing short of a miracle, yet it was a miracle born of intent. My weight-loss seems largely done, although I have been seesawing up and down in a range of approximately 3-4 pounds. Perhaps I will lose just another pound or two... I'm not particularly concerned one way or the other, but I do think it would be cool if I could stay at about 172 pounds because then I could say that I lost 50% of my highest body weight (343 divided by 2 = 171.5). But God has often sought to teach me not to get hung up on being oh-so-close to something. Rather than seeing myself as just not quite "good enough" to make the 50% mark, God is instructing me to focus on just what a success I have created in the last year. I wish I could simply say "lesson learned" but I know that it is one of my personal foibles... yes, I admit it: I am a perfectionist.

And the beat goes on.

I wrote a long piece about knowing God. I was going to publish it as a blog entry today, but I think I will wait a few days. It is time to continue catching up on my schoolwork before Spring Break ends. My last Spring Break before graduation. Sacrée merde: I graduate 8 weeks from this weekend, God willing. Oh, the things I could write about that upcoming experience.

O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
-Job 19:23-27 (NRSVA)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Learning To Fly

Yes folks, this is another post about size & weight. Do not read further if you get triggered by discussion of such topics. Keep in mind that posts like this one are my story about my weight-loss experience. If you don't like it then write a post about it on your blog.

Well, this is just bizarre. I have been tall for very many years so I was expecting to feel that familiar feel -- the claustrophobia which I often feel when in tight cramped quarters. I think we can all agree that a typically outfitted Boeing 737-700 qualifies. It is the so-called "holiday season" so of course the plane is full. It takes forever for people to board. I have a ridiculously long layover in Denver so I was not so much worried about what ended up being a 15-minute-late takeoff, due literally to nothing but people being... well, people.

There is a Southwest employee in the window seat. I -- given my height -- took the aisle seat. This being holiday travel, there was absolutely no chance of getting the over-the-wing seat with the extra legroom. I knew this would likely be the case, but still there was that small part of me that felt myself gritting my teeth and just being glad that OAK-DEN is a 2h30m flight.

As I chatted with the Southwest employee about how awesome her employer is, the plane continued to fill. Soooo slooooowly. Running the concurrent narratives in my head that are always there, I kept looking for the short and underweight small person to lock eyes with and send vibes toward with the "yes, you really want to sit here in this middle seat" message.

Oh but no.

I had seen a young gentleman sitting in the boarding area beforehand. After my brief moment of realizing that I truly am a dirty old man in training, I thought to myself "I wonder what his story is." There was a gentleness there. A humility. The Obama sticker on his Mac probably made me think that, but still. And yes, he ends up needing the middle seat. He asks very politely, and of course I oblige. And then it hits me: he's tall.

Like, me tall.

I did in fact ask him his height. We are exactly the same height. And here's where I realized my place in yet another part of the rabbit-hole my life has been for the past few years... I am an open-book. I have never been good at lying. No, wait, that's not true. I am actually a consummate liar -- in the sense that I am a very good actor. But as I have gotten older, and more able to love myself, I really have come to understand one basic wisdom about living a life based on truth: it's simply easier.

This is not news. It falls along the lines of "if you always tell the truth then you do not have to remember which version of which reality you told to which person and when." This came into my mind anew as I realized that I had been sitting next to this Southwest employee and this adorable young man -- yes, he's in college so I am literally old enough to be his father -- for less than 10 minutes and I had come out to them.

No, not THAT kind of out. I assume that everyone knows I like guys by default. I came out in two other ways which are still settling into my sense of self: I am clergy, and I had gastric bypass and I have lost 162 pounds. These nice people sitting next to me congratulate me. I am still learning how to accept such sentiments.

The young man sitting next to me had an athletic build, unlike me, so I made the assumption that it would not freak him out if I asked his weight. He told me. And it was the same as mine. Holy shit.

So here I am, on this Southwest Boeing 737-700, completely full of people, waiting for the borderline apoplexy of claustrophobia to set in. But it simply DOESN'T. I am sitting next to a guy half my age who is literally the same height and weight as I am AND THERE IS SPACE BETWEEN OUR HIPS. There is enough room for two tall and thin guys, with different builds but with ridiculously long legs, to sit side-by-side with space between us. This is... amazing.

At this point I could wax poetic about the athletic build I will never have. I could lament the fact that if I were in "as good shape as" this young man I would probably weigh closer to 200 pounds because -- let's face it -- muscle is denser than fat. But no, that is not what comes into my mind. Not at all.

What comes into my mind is much more simple. And much scarier. And much more beautiful.

I feel free. Thank God almighty. There is enough room for me and someone literally my height and weight to sit next to each other on this plane. How is that possible? What in the Holy Name of Jesus The Christ have I done to my body? What magic hath God wrought in the nine months of my life since my weight-loss journey began? I am calm. I am... well, I won't say COMFORTABLE because the never-ending boney-ass thing is bugging me. But I am content. I feel like I can breathe. I actually have room to wriggle in my seat. I wriggle and the most amazing thing happens: the entire seat doesn't lurch in enforcement of the equal-and-opposite-reaction law. Suck it, Newton.

A year ago this week I was on a plane flying east from San Francisco for Christmas, and I was perilously close to needing a seat-belt extender. But now, this. It defies analysis. It is just, well, REAL. Yes, that is the word for it.

My thoughts turn back to the beautiful young man sitting next to me. I remember being his age; I remember, oh so well. I remember being insecure about my looks, thinking I was fat, knowing that the world saw me as fat. Not that I actually WAS fat, or that the world really saw me that way, but childhood narrative is hard to overcome -- the scars of the bullying from 3rd and 4th grade live on. I will probably never see myself as a "thin guy" even though I have lost weight to the point that my rib cage protrudes visibly for the first time ever in my life. I know that I still have a LOT of mental work to do with this major change in my life. And maybe there will come a day that I will not be so forthcoming about having had weight-loss surgery.

But -- to adapt Aragorn from Return Of The King -- today is not that day. Today, I am out-loud-and-proud about the blessing that God has bestowed upon me through the hands of my wonderful surgeon at Kaiser. And, like any true evangelist, I want to share this good news with the world.

I congratulate the beautiful young man sitting next to me. He asks why. I inform him that this is my first flight since my surgery and that he is the first person who gets to experience sitting next to my new size. I am not sure how much he understands it. How could he understand what a profound experience it is to be only cramped on this plane, rather than cramped and busting out all over like before my surgery?

I could get used to this. Let it be so. Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

What a week. On Saturday 11/16/2013 I was ordained into Christian ministry under the aegis of the Progressive Christian Alliance. That would've been enough, but on the morning of Sunday 11/17/2013 I finally got to see Howard Thurman's church -- as my dear friend, brother in Christ, and fellow new minister the Reverend Lee Whittaker preached about TDoR. What a statement... literally the next day after being ordained, Lee preached from the pulpit once occupied by Howard Thurman himself. And then there was TDoR. The 4M Ministries service TDoR: an experience in lessons & carols was simply staggering. We knew it was coming together well, but during our walk-through of the service on Wednesday afternoon, it was becoming clear that we had tapped a vein of sacred energy and that something was about to happen. It happened, alright. More successfully than I had even thought possible. I went into the service hoping that people would "get it" but not sure whether it would make sense to them. But it did. And to then find out that none other than Marcia McFee and her partner were in the audience and that they loved the service... that really brought it home: I am a professional minister now. 

But today, amidst all the afterglow of this incredible step forward in my ministerial formation, it is time to pause. To remember. And to reflect on what was never meant to be, what could have been, and the deep loss that this nation will never be able to fill. For me, it is a curious day -- I was born almost 8 years after JFK's assassination. But as I have learned more about the America he represented, seen with my own eyes the memorial to him in the same field where the Magna Carta was signed in modern-day England, and learned more about two of his brothers -- Ted and Robert (-aka- RFK) -- and what they stood for collectively... the more convinced I am that Satan himself went after that generation of the Kennedy clan. Nothing else makes sense to me anymore. I firmly believe that had JFK not been assassinated, this country likely would have seen President RFK... perhaps not in 1968, but possibly in 1972. Watergate never would have happened. Vietnam would have ended differently; maybe not in "victory" whatever that means, but differently somehow. And this nation would be a better place to this very day.

All of that began to end in Dallas TX on this very date exactly 50 years ago. Over the years, there have been lots of shocking twists... was JFK addicted to painkillers? Certainly. Did he ride the baloney-pony with Marilyn Monroe? Probably. Would his presidency -- even if only one term -- have set the stage for a completely different America than the one we have inherited since his and RFK's deaths? ABSOLUTELY YES.

At this point, all I am left with is the prayer that the kind of vision, the persistence of moral strength, and the straight-up courage that JFK, RFK, and Ted inspired in so many liberal leaders, will continue to live on in the up-and-coming generation of liberal leaders.

I think of some of my dear friends... people like Christine Haider-Winnett, who is directly challenging the gender-hegemony of the Roman priesthood... Chris Hockley, who is an unapologetic queer ally who has chosen to remain with his denomination despite its painfully outdated approach to queer Christians... my new friend Karla Pérez-Cordero, who recently encouraged me to never apologize for my belief in liberation theology under any circumstances... and of course friends like Lee, who is himself a mustard-seed revolution in queer and trans-focused Christian ministry... and Sarah Thompson, the most awesome rocket-scientist I have ever been blessed to know personally and count among my friends... and I realize that the flame is still lit.

May it never be extinguished. May it burn eternally, reminding us of one of the most powerful speeches ever given in the history of this nation. I reproduce the text of JFK's inaugural address, in its entirety, below. Its words speak more powerfully now than they did when first uttered in early 1961. That the man was a prophet is never more clear than when you read the words which follow.

I have added bold-emphasis in several specific places that speak directly to my feelings today as we mark exactly 50 years since the death of Camelot. I encourage all who read this post to take the text of JFK's inauguration to heart. Copy the text below, take my bold-emphasis out, then re-bold the parts which speak to you directly; then post it on your own blog. Let the eternal flame at Arlington, marking the grave sites of JFK, RFK, Teddy, and JFK's beloved Jackie, burn anew here on the Internet... world with out end, amen.

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge -- and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do -- for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom -- and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge: to convert our good words into good deeds, in a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support -- to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course -- both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free." [Isaiah  58:6 KJV]

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation," [Romans 12:12 KJV] a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

¡Que viva FSLN!

Oh how hilarious is the God I serve.

Here I sit, on my ass wrapped up in a blanket since I now get cold so easily. I am writing this on my laptop MacBook Pro, and I love my life. There are some very dire not-good-things about my life right now -- mostly of a financial nature -- but overall I am grateful beyond words for God's still-speaking breath-of-life and I know now, perhaps more than ever, that God is not only a transcendent eternal entity but that God is also immanently present in my life and God cares about me personally, to the point that God gave me Jesus so that I might know God as a human can know another human.

By now it should be obvious that I am taking my core theology class requirement this semester, n'est-ce pas? But back to the point: God is one hilarious μοθερφυκερ. Or, perhaps a better -- and less R-rated way -- of stating it is thus... what is old is new again.

Next January will mark 25 years since I moved to California. That in itself is worth a full chapter in my autobiography; however, right now I am focusing on the Fall semester of 1989, my sophomore year at Cal-Berkeley. So many things happened that fall which are foundational to my sense of self as a person who is California-by-adoption. Or a Bay-Area-by-adoption. Or, perhaps most accurately, East-Bay-by-adoption. I'm a little bit 925 and a whole lotta 510. (To my readers from outside the Bay Area: 510 and 925 are the two area codes for the greater East Bay subregion of the SF Bay Area.)

Fall 1989 was the fall of the earthquake, of course, and I could devote an entire other chapter of my autobiography to that experience. But Fall 1989 was also the semester when I took a life-changing class. Introduction To Cultural Anthropology. Anthro 3. It was a survey class, designed to introduce the student to the principles and methods of the sub-discipline of anthropology known as Cultural Anthropology. It is fascinating and wonderful, and it is very-much the way I tend to see the world. But more importantly it was taught by an absolutely wonderful academic giant named Jack Potter. He was a very good lecturer and he knew his material quite well. But more importantly, he was an avowed Marxist. He announced that in the first class meeting. And I was like... oooooookay, I'm a bit scared but whatever... Berkeley, yaknow.

And then, he rocked my world. Professor Potter introduced me to what Marxism actually is. And, as it turns out, God laughed audibly at this point in my life. Of course, I didn't know what I was hearing at the time since I was totally "over that God shit" having run away from the homophobic xenophobic ickiness of my ancestral homeland. But the more I learned, the more I realized just how totally I had been lied to about the Marxist tradition.

But Professor Potter was not just a screaming-left radical Berkeleyite. He was a deeply passionate, deeply compassionate, and deeply loving man who exposed for me the evil at the heart of the military-industrial complex and who showed me how the blueprint for true liberation given to the world by Marx was so evilly sodomized by those who followed him -- Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Min, Castro, the North Korean Kim dynasty, and any number of other "Marxist revolutionaries" through time. What I learned from this professor has stayed with me ever since. Even when I was worshipping the dollar in the software and biotech industries, I could not ignore the greater truth I had glimpsed. And most importantly, Professor Potter didn't just study Marx... he saw for himself how Marxism could blend with religion to truly liberate the poor under the banner of Liberation Theology as it existed in Nicaragua before the Reagan-era Contra death-squads destroyed it in the name of "American liberation from Communism." It was at the hands of Professor Potter that some seeds were planted all those years ago.

And this fall, the seeds have sprouted into a vine. Liberation Theology has come back to me. Thank the God of Liberation, and my comrade Jesus The Christ. As for how this resurgence of Liberation Theology into my life will inform my politics, and my religious convictions, going forward... well, who can say but God. But I can say the following, as an example.

Today in the mainstream press there was a huge story about how the NSA apparently hacked into the backbones of major corporate entities such as Yahoo, Google, and perhaps even Facebook (while also spying on the leaders of our allies such as Germany), in order to mine data about personal behaviors of private citizens using the services of these mega-corporations. Well, with my newly rediscovered Liberation Theology speaking fiercely into my heart, here is my response:

At the risk of offending some of my dearly valued friends in & near Silicon Valley, I must ask: are you surprised? No, really, are you? Beyond that, though, what really gets me hot under the (clerical) collar is the way these companies are reacting to the news. Maybe I missed something fundamental here, but it seems to me that Google, Yahoo, and any other such companies are guilty of the most vile of hypocrisies when they choose to whine to the media regarding how pissed off they are that the NSA might have hacked their backbones to spy on their users. Can we take a minute to review your damn business plans? YOUR BUSINESS MODEL IS PREDICATED ON THE SAME CONCEPT! Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook make their money via targeted advertising. Targeted advertising is a nice neat term invented by capitalists. It's a neat way of describing how companies SPY ON YOUR INTERNET USAGE IN ORDER TO COERCE YOU TO GIVE AWAY YOUR MONEY. Let's not kid ourselves. Such companies do not give a rat's fat ass about our privacy beyond their ability to control how they invade it. That's right. Such companies only care about CONTROLLING our privacy. These companies are bourgeois capitalist entities and their only function is to generate profit from the slave-labor of the proletariat. These companies make money by mining & selling data about what we look at on the Internet to other bourgeois powers that are coercing us into buying shit that overall we do not need. These companies are just pissed off that the NSA is better at stealing our data than they are.

Hello world. Philip Tanner, the revolutionary thinker, has returned to the building. And yes, I am fully aware that I am posting this entry on a cloud-based service controlled by one of my bourgeois masters, the Google Lord itself. The irony of this is not lost on me.

Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
-Matthew 23:31-35 NRSVA

 ¡Que viva el Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A strange thing has happened in the last 4-months-and-a-week. I mean, yeah, as of today I have lost one hundred forty-three pounds and it's an achievement that still dumbfounds me (stop and think about the title of this blog post for a minute), but the strange thing I am focusing on today is my sense of time. It seems as though my sense of time has been affected by my surgery.

It is not necessarily some cosmic thing. I haven't found the elusive proof of String Theory or anything so dramatic. What I have found, however, is just how much time I have reclaimed now that I do not spend as much of my life actually eating food.

One effect of my surgery, perhaps one of the most obvious effects, is that I simply do not eat the volume of food I ate before. I have to be careful -- I have to chew my food a lot more than the average person now, and I have to consciously focus on eating slowly in general. The penalties for not doing these things are quite unpleasant. But the result is that even though my rate of consumption may be lower than before surgery, the amount of time I spend consuming food is substantially reduced.

I have, for many years now, been aware of just how much time we humans in the Global North spend on food. We spend time shopping for food. We spend time preparing food. We spend time serving food. And we spend time eating food. We spend a lot of time eating food. We socialize over food. We mourn over food. We celebrate over food. Food food food food food.

But due to my surgery, my gastric anatomy no longer works like everyone else's in the "normal" world. Again, this in itself is not some amazing epiphany. It's a basic fact, mathematically provable, logically sensible, etc. But it has had a subtle but powerful impact on my sense of time.

When I get up in the morning my first thought is not of food. Lately it has been something along the line of "shit, I'm COLD, what the HELL?" ... but that is another impact of my post-surgical weight loss that I kept being warned would happen. My stomach no longer does that aching "FEED ME SEYMOUR" crap, so my morning come-to-life routine is much more focused on the machinations of morning... feed the cats; take a morning dump; drink some water; etc. Perhaps the only real change is that I have a desire for protein-supplementation and since I get a lot of my protein from chocolate-flavored sources these days, I suppose my life-long demonstrated chocoholic tendencies are front-and-center when I wake up.

But it is not a sugar craving. Of that I am sure. I have reduced my sugar intake so extremely this year that I know I have finally achieved the impossible: I have actually detoxed from sugar. But again, that's another topic for another post.

What amazes me is that I can actually feel like I have more time in my life, literally, because I spend so little time thinking about food. I barely eat, by comparison to my entire life before my surgery, so I often find myself sitting around being confused by the passage of time. Gone -- for now at least -- are the evenings of "going out to eat with friends" that defined my social life for, well, most of my life.

In some ways it is good that my introversion has gotten so much stronger since I started my seminary studies, because I am able to use this reclaimed time for recharging my social-batteries. People -- with the exception of other introverts -- find it hard to believe that I am, indeed, an introvert. Other introverts understand me instinctively along this line of thought; I am "one of those introverts" who is the opposite of shy. But as so many introverts will tell you, being introverted does not mean that we are shy! It means that we expend energy when we are social and that when we reach our turn-point we must retreat to recharge. For me, I do not expend energy steadily; I am a burster. I get wild and crazy, and get loud and gregarious, and when I am done I face-plant.

And yet, because of this substantial reclamation of time in my daily life due to the reduction in my OCD-like food addiction, I find that I have more time on my hands. And this is a good thing... except when it is bad.

There is a paradox about time. Many of us experience the paradox like this: when we have a lot more down-time, or free-time, we become less efficient in how we use our time so at the end of the day we feel just as rushed -- or even mores -- than when we were "busier" beforehand. I have been feeling some of this effect in the last few months, but I have just now reached a point where I can put words to it. It is a curious sensation, and I am feeling it more acutely right now because of the thinning of the Veil. That All Saints / All Souls / Día de los Muertos / Samhain thing, yaknow. But it is intensified this year because -- holy shite -- it is my last year in seminary. And I am just about to be ordained. And I have come out as an addict-in-recovery to my mother. And I am looking at the end of what will likely be the last formal educational experience of my life.

I don't know what the point of this post was supposed to be, or what it ended up being. But what I do know, is that these past few years have been indescribably bizarre, and rewarding, and challenging, and holy. And perhaps that is all I need to know for now.

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
-Exodus 20:11 NRSVA

Saturday, October 12, 2013

137 - 34/34 - 525600

What a week this has been.

The song "Seasons of Love" from Rent has taken on a new-found power in my life. For those who do not know the song, it is the opening number of the second act of the musical. Its opening lyric is "five-hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes..." -- that particular refrain has become very well-known. (And, somewhat confusingly, the song is the opening song of the film adaptation.)

Restating a basic unit of measure in another much smaller basic unit of measure seems to hold more power in the British [meaning, non-metric] measuring system. It just wouldn't be the same if one year contained five-hundred thousand minutes; somehow, the "non-standardized" ratio between years and minutes (1:525600) belies more of the underlying mystery of life. Or at least, it does for me.

Anyway, the song is front-and-center in my heart this weekend because the creators of Glee used it as the opening number of this past week's episode "The Quarterback" which addressed the death of Finn Hudson played by the gone-too-soon recently deceased Cory Monteith. I have written a review of the episode which is possibly going to be published on a pop-culture blog sometime soon; I'll certainly be writing about that if it happens!

But as for me, several other measurements are currently front-and-center in my life and they carry profound meaning for me. First is "34/34" ... this week I bought a pair of jeans which are 34-inch waist and 34-inch inseam. 34/34 was my waist/inseam stat when I was a sophomore in college. To be back to that stat again is a dream come true. Nay, it is a miracle. God has been SO GOOD to me with this surgery and the changes it has wrought in my life. I cannot put into words how much this means to me. As of today, I have lost 137 pounds. And it feels like my weight-loss is going to continue. KNOCK ON WOOD! I do not want to become "married" to the idea that I might hit my dream-weight, but it is looking more possible.

But for now... how does one measure a year in a life? Is it by minutes? By pounds lost? Or should it be by how much we have loved?

Friday, October 11, 2013

About BART

I have opinions about the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. I have opinions about the slow-motion cluster-f*ck that the system and its unions have been foisting on the riding public for many months now. I am generally a strong pro-union voter; however, I am less than happy with SEIU at this point, and with BART -- both its unions and its management -- in general. In addition, I have a hard time supporting demands for higher salary from a group who are the highest paid workers in their profession in the entire world. That said, I am also very aware that BART (as a workplace) has become more dangerous than at any prior time in its 40-plus-year operating history. And that BART's board of directors are corrupt on the scale of Cook County, Illinois ... or San Francisco, California.

But right now, I am going to just vent my frustration, my desperation, and my anger. My regional ABC affiliate, Channel 7 KGO-TV, created a Twitter hashtag (#DearBART) and invited the public to send our thoughts using that hashtag. So I did. Following are my ten #DearBART tweets.

#DearBART > @SFBART is lying to the public: they do not want more riders b/c the system cannot even safely handle its current load.

#DearBART > nobody is innocent in this mess. @SFBART has a culture of lies: let's talk about the parking situation sometime?

#DearBART > nobody is innocent in this mess. @SFBART management is out of touch with the public. RIDE TRAINS SOMETIME DURING RUSH HOUR.

#DearBART > nobody is innocent in this mess. SEIU's heavy-handed tactics are not helping solve any problems with @SFBART.

#DearBART > @SFBART is dangerously overcrowded and public safety is at risk. We need MORE TRAINS and LESS BOARD MEMBERS.

#DearBART > @SFBART is a financially corrupt organization. If you have all this reserve $ then where the HELL are the new trains?

#DearBART > @SFBART does not enforce basic rules like NO LOUD MUSIC ON THE TRAINS because it does not have sufficient policing levels.

#DearBART > @SFBART engages in economic racism by under-serving the Richmond-Fremont line. MANAGEMENT NEEDS TO STOP LYING TO THE PUBLIC.

#DearBART > More facts: board members are more overpaid than rank-and-file workers. ALL of them make good wages and should stop complaining.

#DearBART > stop spin-doctoring. 2 facts: workers R paid very well but work is too dangerous. Board members are politicians. STOP LYING.

Ok, I am done venting. For now. Back to work on papers for school. Because, yaknow, I pay people to grade me; I only wish that I had the problems inherent in high-wage employment. Not that I am bitter or anything.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Three Months Out

This is a post about weight-loss. My weight-loss. I will not judge your beliefs about size acceptance, weight management, health, etc., if you do not judge mine. And let's go further: if you will not yell & scream at me then I will not yell & scream back at you. In short, if you don't like what I have to say in this post then post your truth on your blog. I am speaking my truth and that is the only justification I need. This is an invitation to not have time-wasting online snipe-fests. Comprenez-vous?
Three months ago this week, I went into OR-5 at Kaiser Richmond for my RNY Gastric Bypass. In the past 3 months I have lost 73 pounds. With the 57 pounds I had lost in the 3 months before surgery by strictly following the bariatric diet, this means that in the last 5 months I have lost 130 pounds. But other than the weight loss itself, has anything changed in my life? Well...
1) My sleep apnea is gone. I have not slept this well in 10 years.
2) My knees do not hurt anymore. My feet no longer throb & swell when I walk long distances. I can walk long distances without feeling like I am having a heart attack! Yay!
3) Just the other day I walked up Berkeley's famous heart-attack hill -- the very long segment of LeConte Avenue up from Hearst Avenue to the intersection with Ridge Road and Scenic Avenue that is so steep that even San Franciscans fear it -- while pulling a 25-pound suitcase behind me!
And now for the best news... my primary-care doctor wanted to see how much my "numbers" have changed 3 months after surgery. Following are some things we learned with the blood tests...
4) My cholesterol has dropped approx 25 points. Most of the drop was in my LDL -- the "bad" cholesterol -- as well as the "super-bad" cholesterol. My cholesterol ratio is the best it has been in 5 years. My cholesterol number is now in the normal range. And note that 6 months ago my cholesterol number was being artificially lowered with a statin drug. I am no longer taking a statin!
5) My triglyceride count has NOSEDIVED. It was 170 just six months ago. It is now 94. That's a 76-point drop. I now have the best triglyceride reading in the last 3 generations of men in my family, all of whom have/had diabetes.
But above all else, there were two results that are just, in a word, miraculous...
6) Six months ago my fasting blood-sugar was 120. This week it was 80.
I am no longer pre-diabetic.
7) I had liver issues. They were the kind of issues caused by anything from Hep-C to cirrhosis, fatty-liver disease, or even the beginning of liver cancer; the suspected cause was severe fatty-liver disease. Six months ago my ALT was 119. As of this week it is 15. That is a 104-point drop. In layman's terms, that means I went from severe-risk pre-diabetic to PERFECTLY NORMAL. My liver has always been a risk-factor for my life; I was born with poor liver function, and it was the first organ to start showing signs of damage from pre-diabetes. But, no more.
My liver is the healthiest it has ever been in my life.
To sum things up:
Gastric Bypass surgery saved me from being in the 3rd-consecutive generation of males in my family to suffer the horrible body-destruction of diabetes. Is the fight over? Of course not. Will I have to keep my newly-acquired eating habits up for the rest of my life in order to keep my success alive? Absolutely. And was it worth the effort?
I am so very blessed: so far I have only had one person reject me because of the choice I made. This person told me that I have complete agency to make my own informed medical decisions -- and then turned right around and told me that the "weight-loss industry" conspires against me. It is a funny and curiously ignorant statement, considering that my bariatric program at Kaiser absolutely hates that same "weight-loss industry" and speaks out against it in the strongest terms possible. That's too bad for that person. I wish that person well, and hope that someday a reasonable data-driven consensus will emerge.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Open Letter to Vladimir Putin


Dear Mister Putin:

I write you to as an American who has read your open letter to the American people.

If you want Americans to listen to you about Syria then start with some truth: I call on you to speak the truth. I call on you to admit that your interest in Syria comes from the billions of rubles that your nation has invested in that nation. Admit that you don't give two shits about the Syrian people. Admit that you care about your rubles in Damascus. Nothing more.

And if you really want Americans to listen to you about Syria, then how about you take a minute to speak out against the violent and vicious anti-LGBT murders that are now happening daily in Russia because of your Satanic new anti-queer law. Maybe then I might consider giving two shits about what you have to say. Regime change begins at home, yes, but Mr Putin you are in no place to talk to Americans about moral values.

Let's talk about what your government has done to women who spoke out against the Russian Orthodox Church recently. And while we're at it, let's talk about what you have done to curtail civil rights for Russian civilians during your current tenure as Russian President. Let's also talk about your hopscotch game between the offices of Prime Minister and President since 1999. And while we're at it, let's talk about the last few sets of federal elections in Russia. More people voted for you than were registered to vote? Yeah. This American knows it. It's called BBC-America.

And while we are at it, let's talk about your energy policies. Let's talk about how your amazing success at lifting Russia out of its economic stagnation in the first decade of this century resulted in an inflation on world oil prices. And let's talk about how your policies toward the energy markets you control in the former Soviet states around Russia have absolutely destroyed their economic vitality. Let's talk about your bellicose rhetoric toward the Afghan people on the topic of a certain natural-gas pipeline. Oh, and just in case you think I've forgotten: let's talk about your history with the KGB.

Oh, but wait there's more! Let's talk about how your government treats Azeris and other ethnic-minority Caucasus-groups living within the borders of the sovereign Russian Federation. And let's talk about Ossetia and Abkhazia. Surely you have heard of them? Those two regions within the Republic of Georgia which you claim to so deeply love that it was perfectly acceptable to you to invade a sovereign nation which has existed for centuries longer than the Russian Federation? Yeah, that place. The place upon which you to this day still occupy by force in direct contravention to UN policies regarding the sacrosanct right of sovereign nations to control their own territory? Now, on that specific example I am not exactly on the Georgians side per se, so I understand your heart-felt conflict. But, Mr Putin, the American government was never talking about invading Syria. Why was it acceptable for you to invade Georgia? And do you know that at least some Americans actually do understand just how perilously close the Republic of Georgia sits to the Russian city SOCHI wherein your nation is hosting the Winter Olympics in early 2014?

Oh, but let's look a bit further to the east now. Let's talk about that Muslim ethnic group known as the Uyghurs. Now, we certainly know that almost all Uyghurs live in China -- oh China, that bastion of human freedom -- but the western bands of the Uyghur tribe live in three formerly Soviet states called Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Three other bastions of human freedom, which you certainly have no problem supporting as they attempt to erase Uyghur identity in the interest of spreading a more "ethnically pure" form of Islam? And, wow, while we're at it let's talk about your attitudes toward Russian Jews. THOSE JEWS ARE PART OF THE BEAUTIFUL DIVERSE TAPESTRY KNOWN AS RUSSIANS. THEY ARE YOUR PEOPLE. HAVE YOU LOVED THEM AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF?

Tovarishch Putin, you are a hypocrite. You do not fool me with your diarrheal flow of lies. My name is Philip Tanner; I am a Jesus-freak Christ-follower. And I am also an American citizen. American citizens are provided with a right in our constitution; we call it freedom of speech. Furthermore, this right is codified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the UN in 1948. You might have heard of it? It was a document passed unanimously because certain governments chose to abstain from voting against it -- governments like the USSR, apartheid South Africa, and Saudi Arabia... more bastions of human freedom!? I hold the freedom of speech dearly close to my heart, and I applaud you for exercising your own freedom of speech -- even if you do not grant such freedoms to your own citizens.

I close my letter to you, Tovarishsch, by exercising my Constitutional freedom to call you on your bullshit. FUCK YOU Mr Putin. FUCK YOU a thousand times. Take your Winter Olympics and FUCK YOURSELF with them.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

343 Minus 108

This is a post about weight-loss. My weight-loss. Let's make a deal: I will not judge your beliefs about size acceptance, weight management, health, etc., if you do not judge mine. And how about we take it further: if you will not yell & scream at me then I will not yell & scream at you. In short, if you don't like what I have to say in this post then please post your truth on your blog. I am speaking my truth. And that is the only justification I need. This is an invitation to not have time-wasting online snipe-fests. Comprenez-vous?

You may have noticed a long period of time earlier this year when I did not post any blog entries here. There were many reasons for this, not least of them being that I have been deeply focused on a major transformation of my body -- a major next step in the ongoing healing from the abuse I've put my body through in the past 15 years. (What abuse, you ask? Well, there is a lot to it... if you know me well then you know a major component of it; if you don't, then how about asking me?)

In March 2013 I began a major change in my relationship with food. This change began, essentially, by starting on the Atkins diet. The first few weeks were rather rough -- during the first few weeks I was detoxing from carbohydrate and sugar addiction while beginning to reduce my daily caloric intake. As I began to track my consumption of food using MyFitnessPal, I became shocked by just how many calories I was consuming per day on average before starting the change. Like, in excess of THREE THOUSAND calories per day -- over 50% of it from carbs. As I began to come through my carb & sugar detox, I began to lose weight rapidly. So far so good.

An interesting side-note: men do have some estrogen in our bodies. And it gets stored in fat cells. When a man my (former) size loses weight rapidly thereby "burning" fat cells (they don't get cannibalized per se; they actually just excrete material and end up shrinking in the process), the cells release a number of stored chemicals including the aforementioned estrogen. My brain is not adapted to deal with estrogen; during the first month, I truly was off my rocker. Anyway, I began losing weight, and because I was focusing so highly on protein I was able to cut my caloric intake quite substantially. I got down to an average of 1300 calories per day.

I reached the highest weight of my life in March of this year. 343 pounds. On the morning of the 24th of June, I had lost 57 pounds; on 24 June 2013 I weight 286. On that day (24 June 2013) I had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. The surgery went flawlessly and my body's response was the classic response of men's bodies: I went into full-blown ketosis and lost 22 pounds in the first SEVEN DAYS after the surgery. Since then I have "stabilized" -- meaning that I've been losing somewhere between 0.25 and 1.25 pounds per day since 1 July 2013.

On Friday, 16 August 2013, I reached a major milestone: I hit 235 pounds

That weight -- 235 pounds -- has had a profound impact on me; 235 is burned into my memory from a moment in time when I was 11 years old. Since I was 9 years old I have seesawed weightwise in increasingly large swings. One of the most emotionally painful times in my life happened when I was 11 and during that period -- just as in most of my life -- I ate for emotional protection. I happened to be in a doctor's office and I will never forget the numbers that day... Age 11. Height 5'11" [yes, I was circus-freak tall at a young age]. Weight 235.

I know what folks will say: age, like weight, is just a number. And yes, that is right. But when I was measured at 5'11" 235#, it was the first time in my life that I felt labeled. It was the day I became that "fat kid" and also that "freakishly tall kid" -- and to make it even worse, I had clown feet: I am totally flat-footed and my feet were size 11. At the age of 11. (My feet are size 13 now; of course, they got to that size when I was 13 years old and have not changed one bit in nearly 30 years. But that's beside the point.)

The impact of the emotional damage done to me when I was 11 years old was very profound; I will likely be repairing that damage for the rest of my life. But today -- Friday, 18 August 2013 -- I stepped on my scale and saw that I was 235 pounds. And it was a victory over the past. Today I reached back into time through the blessing of quantum theology and told that poor lonely scared depressed self-hating young boy that there will come a day 31 years later when the number 235 will represent victory, not defeat.

Biologically speaking, I am still deep in the "post-op weight loss freefall" stage. For those who do not know, immediately after bariatric surgery a patient -- particularly a man -- tends to lose weight steadily for 6 to 12 months. I have been somewhat guarded about my ideal final weight; let's just say that the weight I would "ideally" like to be will sound quite low. But, my friends, it is a weight that I have been at before. Just like 235. God-willing I will see that less-than-200 number again, but regardless of the outcome, I sense that something deep has shifted inside me: several weeks ago, when I was at 250, I felt fine with where and who I was. I felt that if I didn't lose even one more pound I would be grateful to God for the opportunity He has given me with my bariatric surgery, and would be satisfied.

That was 15 pounds ago. I am now into uncharted territory with my adult weight-loss journey. I am now at a weight that I honestly thought I would never see again. And it terrifies me, yes it does. But exploration of unknown or long-lost spaces and places carries terror as well as promise.

Because the simple conclusion here is this: I love myself unconditionally. I look in the mirror and I see... well, I see me. I see who I really am. I no longer see a guy who looks like me trapped behind a wall of self-loathing and insulated by over 100 pounds of weight that I never wanted. Sure, I have noticeable loose skin in my belly area now and I don't like it. But, it is just loose skin. I can deal with it; it reminds me of where I was. It is my cross to bear, and I take it up willingly. Because when I look at my lack of a double-chin, my high cheekbones, my angular jawline, and my neck, and see them as they are now, I know what I am seeing. I see the man I once dreamed of becoming, oh so many years ago. I see a child of God. A body with a soul that was redeemed by the blood of my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus The Christ. And I see that my decision to undergo bariatric surgery was the single most profound decision of my life since 17 November 2008 when I turned my life over to my Christ.

The blessings that have come into my life since that night almost 5 years ago are too numerous to count. God is still speaking, indeed; God is still alive, indeed; God is still operating via progressive revelation, and I am happy to lay down my life in service to His only begotten Son.

I close this evening with a profound statement of gratitude to The Christ for strengthening me, for working through the hands of my surgeon Albert Im at Kaiser-Richmond, and for never once abandoning me. I live my life by the model He developed for all time. Let it be so. Thanks be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for delivering me from the hands of the adversary. I ask only for the strength to serve the Triune God more and more as my body continues to re-form itself in God's image.

Let the church say AMEN.