Think “Fast”!

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“Fasting is that weird thing religious people do where you don’t eat so that you can go to heaven or something. I dunno. Pass the bacon.”

Or it’s a way to focus your mind, body, and spirit, exercise self-control and channel your energy away from cramming things down your foodhole and towards other things you may be trying to accomplish.

I’ve already written about the religious aspects of fasting, and won’t go into that again save to say that, at least in Christian tradition, there are no hard-and-fast fasting rules in Scripture; it’s all based on ancient traditions. If I had to boil the practice down to a sentence, it would be this:

A little humility does a lot of good.

First, let me acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:16-18

But I’m not doing this for reward or accolades. I’m just trying to pass along an experience that’s worked for me in the event that maybe it’ll work for you.

So why am I fasting, even though Lent and Easter finished months ago?

Am I trying to lose weight? Who isn’t? Intermittent fasting is a thing that many say helps achieve your fitness goals. And while this is a part of why I’m fasting now–it’s nice to not feel stuffed and bloated, weight down by all the garbage we tend to eat!–that’s not the only reason I’m fastinjg.

Am I trying to accomplish something? I was. I was working furiously to finish the second draft of my book, which I did last week a little past the deadline I set for me, but it’s done regardless. Still, there are always other things we want to accomplish in our lives.

Am I trying to commune with The Spirit? Yes. This one is a bit more subtle, but there are things in my life that need work, and I’m taking a page out of Jesus’ book: “. . . this kind [of demon] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Continue reading “Think “Fast”!”

Travels in Greece, Part III: Why It Matters

So why go on about my trip? What purpose does this have beyond sharing some photos and stories of a voyage to one of the most interesting countries in the world?

I think travel is good. It’s beneficial to anywhere new to you. It is especially good to get off of Planet America once in a while, not to bash the USA, but just to get some perspective about how people in other parts of the world live, act, and think.

See, America is a huge country. Which is great! And while there are regional differences–think New Hampshire versus Kentucky versus California (in a three-way fist-fight, my money is on the Bluegrass State), there is much more similarity between the states than there is between the U.S. and other countries.

Okay, you can argue that Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Australia are all quite similar, but you get my point.

Spending a length of time in another country makes you think about your home. I had some particularly interesting thoughts and feelings, given that I and my entire family is Greek, and so is my wife’s. I’ve written about the changing nature of America and what being an “American” even means anymore, This was underscored in Greece, which has a cultural cohesion we just don’t have in the United States.

It’s interesting, because the United States has historically been billed as “A Nation of Immigrants.”

Or has it? This is actually more of a modern conception. The first few great waves of immigration, including the one my family came to these shores during a century ago, were actually tightly controlled affairs. And the integration was not as smooth as we’re lead to believe.

And of course you have the African-American population, who were brought here as slaves and then, even after the abolition of the slave trade and then, finally, the institution of slavery, had difficulty integrating into the wider white-dominated society. And they were here from the founding!

So going to any monoethnic, monocultural nation is a bit of an eye opener.

And it was kind of nice! Being Greek in America, you don’t exactly stick out like a sore thumb, at least from a visual standpoint (though most people guess my ethnicity on the first or second try). But there are only about a million of us here, we are a minority religious denomination, and not everybody understands the glory of moussaka, souvalki, roasting lamb, pig, or goat on a spin, spanakopitabalkava, or bougatsa.

People in America do get gyros. But I digress.

Anyway, I liked being around people who got the food, the music, the dancing, the religious traditions, and all of the other cultural touchstones.

And it got me thinking . . . it’s good to keep places what makes them unique, that keep Greece Greek, Japan Japanese, Saudi Arabia, Egypt Egyptian, Brazil Brazilian, and so on.

We see this sentiment to a degree here among the states as well. “Keep Austin Weird” comes to mind. Or how New Yorkers want to keen New York NEW YORK. The South doesn’t like the Damn Yankees moving there. Some in Oregon and Washington claim that Californians irrevocably changed their states. Hell, people in New Hampshire get pissy when Massachusetts residents pack up shop and move to the Granite State.

How do you preserve these state cultures then? Discourage people from moving there? How?

It’s a weird thing, but it really makes you wonder. We like to believe in freedom of movement, but there are also issues of national sovereignty. Obviously, nations can do things that U.S. states cannot. But do they? Should they?

Tough questions, and interesting ones. Do I have any answers. Absolutely not. But travel just makes a guy think about these things.

Anyway, that’s why this whole experience is important. Not my experience. Just travel in general. I highly recommend that if you have a chance to visit a foreign country, you take it.

In my life I have been to Canada, England, Greece, Austria, Germany, and South Africa. Each have offered insights into not only my life, but my homeland of the United States. Each have been worthy experiences. I only wish I had the time and the resources to travel more.

Where would I like to go next? That’s an interesting question. There are places in the U.S. I am yet to see. I’ve spent time in most of the coastal South and parts of the Midwest. But I’ve never been to California outside of L.A., never seen the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or the rest of the mountain west.

As far as other countries, I definitely have a bucket list: Italy, Hungary, France, China, Japan, Australia, India, Egypt, Israel, and Russia come to mind. As you can see, I’m into places that have a lot of ancient history. Maybe I’ll make it to these places someday. And maybe I won’t. We’ll see.

But what I do know is that I’d love to go back to Greece again, and soon.

So now a little fun: Some of my favorite things about Ellada–that’s Greece in Greek-talk–and some things that I find a little . . . less-than stellar. Continue reading “Travels in Greece, Part III: Why It Matters”

Travels in Greece, Part I: Setting the Scene

Travel has a way of putting things into perspective. There’s something about getting away from home for a while that allows one to look at home in a different way. 

I spent two weeks in Greece for a family wedding and some rest and relaxation. I didn’t even have Internet for that time, which let me tell you can reorient your thinking (in a good way).

Yet I know a lot of people enjoy it when returning travelers share photographs and all of that jazz. I’ve posted some photos on Instagram, so you can check that out if you’d like. What I can do here is provide a little more insight and hit some of the highlights of the trip. Later, I’ll write up more of an analysis, but for now, enjoy the pics. 

The Place

Village road. Mountains in the background.

We went to the small village in northern Greece where my wife’s parents are from. It’s idyllic, if a bit empty. This is because, given the lack of economic opportunity in Greece, so many have left for England, Germany, Australia, Canada, and yes, the United States, mostly LA or central Massachusetts. 

It’s a gorgeous spot near a massive lake called Kerkini. The lake stretches far and wide through the northwest section of the state of Serron; here, it’s ringed by olive tree groves planted along the mountainside. 

A stretch of Lake Kerkini.

The northern mountains mark the border with Bulgaria. There are some that are snowcapped year round, which is a rather majestic sight. 

The village is close to other, larger towns that have managed to avoid the depopulation blues plaguing it. One such village, where we have some family, could even be classified as “bustling”: There are coffee shops, restaurants, retailers, travel agents, attorneys, pharmacies, and an open-aid bazaar every Friday. 

A small part of the Friday bazaar.

And about a half-hour’s drive is the city of Serres, the capital of this particular state. Series is a sprawling city with no buildings taller than about six stories, but full of shops and restaurants and food merchants and lovely pedestrian-only areas; it’s very easy to spend the day just walking around with no particular plan. 


We spent a lot of time in the bigger towns and cities, as you can imagine, but the village, though empty, proved to be my son’s favorite place. 

Why? It had a playground. And even better, there tended to be kids there quite often. After siesta time, sure, but from 4:00 to 8:00, there were usually a dozen or so friendly children ready to play with my son, even though they spoke spotty English and him (and me) spotty Greek. 

There’s Nothing More Sad than a Run-down Playground  Continue reading “Travels in Greece, Part I: Setting the Scene”

Fasting From What?

Based on my calculations, we’re about halfway through Lent. And every year certain aspects of Lent get easier, while others prove more difficult. 

Take fasting. No, please, take it. It’s an inconvenience and kind of a drag. But that’s the point. 

When we were kids, at least in the Greek Orthodox tradition, it meant going meatless more often, and sometimes everything-less, especially during Holy Week. We don’t do the “give something up for 40 days” as our Catholic brethren do, but I understand the idea behind abstaining from certain foods and certain things. It’s a great way to introduce children into the concept of fasting. 

So fasting from what? What’s more challenging than not eating the things that you love?

A lot. Three points;

  1. Christianity is one of the only faiths I can think of that has no dietary restrictions. Nothing God made is unclean. Have at it. 
  2. Related to point one, Christians don’t go to heaven or hell based in a checklist of ritualistic behaviors. What you eat, what you say, and how many times a day you pray aren’t the final arbiters of your place in eternity. It’s much more personal and far less mechanical. In other words, it takes hard work, far harder than adhering to a checklist. 
  3. How sad a state we are in when fasting becomes such a deal breaker for many! Americans are surrounded by food. We are drowning in it. Is it really that hard to put the fork down for 40 measly days?

But the food let has become easier for me. Age and maturity will do that to you. And it’s good because a little physical discomfort can sharpen your mind for the things you are truly supposed to abstain from. 

Sinfulness. Your flaws. Things you do that you know you shouldn’t do but that you do anyway. 

These are the things Christ was crucified to help us overcome. 

Okay, if you’re not a Christian, or even religious, I am aware of how silly his may sound. But roll with me here.  Continue reading “Fasting From What?”