Click here for Part 1.
I had never considered myself an extremist. Afterall, the term Extremist comes with some serious images of over-the-top, unreasonable, and intolerant people. Those are not any views I want next to my name. However, in the past few years, I've had some great experiences by being that guy who is the Extremist. These are:
- Avoiding meat (beef, chicken, and pork) during Lent season
- Avoiding alcohol while training for a marathon
- Not having a television for 2 months
- Sleeping on the floor for 2 years
- Competing in strenuous physical contests
- Leading a church youth group
The lessons have been through my hearing and seeing the responses of those who learned of my so-called extremist actions.
- Avoiding meat (beef, chicken, and pork) during Lent season. For the past three Christian Lent seasons I have "given up" meat. Not on Fridays like I had been raised, but for the entire duration. For me, it's a time of shared hardship and a challenging lesson in self-discipline. It's rough, constantly searching out new ways to consume healthy protein: eggs, beans, lentils, nuts. The self-restraint is a daily reminder of the sacrifices made for me by others. Yet, when co-workers or friends realize my Lenten promise of avoiding meat, I'm met with confusion. First off, most people admit they would not be able to last the weeks of the season without meat. They ask in disbelief, "What do you eat then?" or, "Is that healthy?" Many challenge my intent with, "Do you really think it's wrong to eat meat during Lent?" However, for three years my answer remains the same: No it's not wrong. No, I'm not doing this out of guilt. I've consciously picked things in my life that are a serious challenge to avoid. It's a valuable lesson in self-denial. And I generally refrain from blowing them away by telling them I also avoid sweets and alcohol too. ;)
- Avoiding alcohol while training for a marathon. In August of 2001 I decided to run the 2002 Chicago Marathon. I realized quite early that I'd have to make some serious lifestyle changes to reach that goal of finishing a 26.2 mile running race. I like beer...and I don't like diet beer. In other words, I drink beer that has lots of calories. Additionally, I discovered an 18-week training program....a program that would require lots of hours per week running. Well if one does the math, one quickly figures out that August 2001 and October 2002 are separated by more than 18 weeks. My strategy was 2-pronged: lose some fatty weight and beginning running more miles per week in prep for the training program. So I made the simple rule of quit drinking alcohol. It kept me out of bars late at night (which allowed me to wake up early and run). It cut my caloric intake. And it saved me a LOT of money! But more importantly, avoiding alcohol constantly reminded me of this commitment to run a marathon!!! Every time I was tempted with a drink, I would recall that promise I made to myself. In essence, whenever I thought about beer....I thought about crossing the 26.2 mile finish line.
- Not having a television for 2 months. During some home renovations, I had to unplug and move our television and stereo system. With only one TV, we lost access to local programming, cable, and DVD. (I admit: I don't watch that much TV anyways.) So for these 8-9 weeks, I read more, wrote more, and found myself at more peace than when I watched TV. Dinner conversation wasn't distracted by a TV in the next room over. I felt as though my mind was "engaged" in thought to a higher level than during times when I watched TV. Yet when others discovered that our only TV was unplugged they looked at us in disbelief. "You don't even watch the news?" they'd say as if the media outputs of the car radio or newspaper couldn't fill the void.
- Sleeping on the floor for 2 years. When I moved out of my parents' home, I luckily was lent a bed from a friend who needed a place to store his. Well as quickly as luck came, it left. He eventually needed that bed. I was left with an inflatable mattress, with the intent on buying a bed soon. Well that week of the Aerobed turned into six years. That inflatable went flat one week and left me without anything but a 1" foam egg crate pad. So I slept on the floor, with the intent on buying a bed soon (again). Well that week of sleeping on the floor turned into two years. I learned a lot about luxury those two years. Most importantly, I discovered how so many of my friends and family saw a bed as such a necessity. No one (and I mean NO ONE) could imagine themselves without their comfy mattress every night. To me it wasn't that big of a deal. I had been sleeping soundly.
- Competing in strenuous physical contests. Adventure races suck. And they suck for hours at a time. The preparation is intense. Logistical strategies of eating, hydrating, navigating, clothing, packing, and carrying equipment. The physical training of long mountain bike rides, trail running, and paddling canoes or kayaks. Avoiding or mitigating injury. I love adventure racing! What I most enjoy is pushing my body and MIND to limits never experienced before. I have very fond memories of some of those most excruciating and painful moments in various races: cramping muscles, dehydration, malnourishment, and mild hallucination. Adventure racers thrive during these conditions. (I'm actually very sad this exact moment writing this. My racing partners are out in Iowa competing this minute, and I had to back out. I so want to be with them!...sharing the suck.) There is bond among racers from competing teams like few sports or endurance events.
- Leading a church youth group. This was probably the most educating experience. I led a church youth group for a few years. During that time, I was introduced to a new sort of feeling: isolation. When others learned of my position, I was met with a variety of responses. I was most surprised by how many friends or associates viewed my participation as being a hard-nosed religious fanatic. I could tell by the quick way the topic of conversation was changed. Or the expression on one's face. Or stumbling over words, not quite sure how to talk to a "minister." Or how I was introduced to a new group of people. Or the questions people asked of me. I found myself lumped together with a sect that comes with a negative image in today's modern American culture: overly closed-minded religious zealot.
The above are a few examples of how I determined that this Conspiracy Against Extremists exists. Chew on some of the above stories for now. I'll get into their implications within extremism in the next Part 3.