How Churches Painted Themselves Into a Corner (And How Equality Can Get Them Out)

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We looked in the last post of some of the reasons that churches across the doctrinal spectrum have been slow or reluctant to help the 1 in 4 women of faith in their congregation who are in destructive relationships.

Churches derive their power from their claim that they represent Christ’s message on earth.

Their history is one of organizing and transmitting the legacy of Jesus Christ in the world.

Jesus is presented as the Savior, the One Who, once followed, takes our heavy burdens upon Himself and provides a never-ending source of support, love and forgiveness.

Indeed, the claim is that once people accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will be redeemed – made new. A transformation is to take place. A new birth, a new creature is now operating in the world.

What happens to the church’s message when this doesn’t happen?

In the slide toward political power and social approval, churches left themselves without recourse when members fall short, not in small human foibles, but in gross behaviors which even non-believers may not condone.

Such is the current fallout with sexual abuse and other extreme violations of human dignity. Discussing views on how the church got sex wrong will be held for another post, but the dilemma the church faces over members who fall below a decent not to mention Christian claim to character is a major challenge.

If the standard of character transformation is no longer a sign of accepting redemption, the church is left with the watered- down tea of social pressure and lip service.

When not just members but leaders are shown to have fed upon the fold rather than nourish them, the party line is left with nothing but condemnation. Sin becomes the focus and not relationship with God. Cries of “kick them out” arise. There is no mercy for the twice-sinned. Members turn upon each other. Traumatic house- cleaning commences.

The application of forgiveness of sins becomes problematic when narcissistic manipulation protects the predator and condemns the victim. This is the reverse of what Jesus taught. Protecting the institution becomes more important than genuine repentance but this is only cliff hanging.

The church is left with the dilemma of admitting they have been a sham show or closing ranks. What would Jesus do?

Here we are left with His disdains for the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. He did not mince words for them and instead preferred people who knew they were in trouble, needed help and were grateful when they got it.

Mock repentence in order to hold onto to position and power are not Christ-like. When churches encourage a view that we are better than those who are unsaved, they have painted themselves into a corner if the betters are less than the lowers.

The window out of the corner is to abandon the false foundation and start over.

The foundation crumbled when a static rather than a dynamic view of salvation was used to build.

In the static view, salvation remains outside the person and he still remains a worthless person, relying on Jesus outside of himself for viability. Eternal groveling is required. “Rejoicing” in what Jesus has done for me or to me, not in me, is the membership card. It becomes a system that praises suffering and death. Emotional pathology can be encouraged as pain becomes pleasure. There is glee in righteous gore.

In the dynamic view of salvation, Christ within is the hope of glory. An original worthlessness is not required to grow into a fullness of life. Indeed Christ is followed because of higher dimensions of being human. God’s Spirit lives in each person and is pleased with growth and development, harmony, peace, and continual well-being. God is not anti-human. Christ shows what is possible and invites people to do it.

In this view of salavtion, church members are not focused on social status and political power (externals) and concentrate on the power of  compassion for fellow human beings who hold Christ within (internal). They don’t hire “professional Christians” to do their faith for them or tell them the right way to do it.

That’s what Jesus did.

The church must not go away sorrowful, like the rich young ruler, when asked to follow Jesus. Nor should they organize around  power which becomes the lure for scam artists. Rather they must reclaim gender equality in leadership and use consensus to create community so that everyone is empowered and no one is excluded. There are models, such as recovery groups, that emulate the early house churches.

Being human is not what backed  the church into its corner. Pretending superiority is: members better than outsiders; men better than women. A static view of salvation leaves people fighting over manna. It is horrible to see a church torn apart as finger pointing becomes more vicious. Hurling attacks about who is the “genuine” follower is not the path of peace. Neither repentance nor forgiveness are acts that can be commanded on schedule.

Once trust has been betrayed, it is better for the hurt and the ones who hurt to receive therapy and healing and maybe not together. Often the church will have to disband. It takes time. If we are graced, a genuine group of people who want to follow Jesus will reemerge. Love is the doctrine.

The 30 pieces are never worth it.

The Battered Women of Faith: Reality vs Myth

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Do you wonder why church leaders or members don’t help the 1 in 4 abused women of faith in their congregations? Here are 4 possible reasons.

Myth One: She’s weak.

Predators are drawn to idealistic, strong and caring women. The church can be a field day for them to find potential victims. Believing women want to help others, relieve distress, give (too many) chances, and share their resources.

Rather than being weak, the Christian woman’s ideal of forbearance or perseverance will keep her trying to figure out how to change herself or help her abuser.

Those who criticize her for these strengths are not taking into consideration that these are the very traits she has been raised to display and are overlooking the fact that the church does not support her being any other way. Instead they are more likely to tell her to repent.

Myth Two: She’s Unintelligent

A mature faith is not blind but too much reasoning and questioning is not encouraged in some dogmatic churches. Indeed, believers are urged to “lean not unto your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) or “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways  my ways, says the Lord.” (Is. 55:8) 

Abusers or controlling church leaders are quick to discourage a woman from questioning. Indeed the above verses can be used to discourage her from questioning her husband or pastor.

A woman has to defy what she is conditioned to do in many churches. She has to question, trust her intuition and inner voice, and grow in her faith in spite of resistance from members or leaders as well as her abusive husband.

Myth Three: She just needs to be a better Christian wife.

Domestic violence is not a marital problem. It cannot be healed with marital counseling. It is the deliberate subjugation of a person to mistreatment by a narcissist. He only uses God, faith or the Bible because he knows it’s important to his victim. It’s another tool. He is not trying to follow any of the faith demands he is screaming at his wife to follow.

Pastors who are more concerned about saving the marriage or advocating for the husband  more than the safety of the woman are playing the predator’s game. The doctrine of wifely submission will be used against her in counseling sessions.

Domestic violence may occur within a marriage but it is not about the marriage.  The woman is a hostage in her home. 

 Domestic violence is a man’s problem. Any other approach that focuses on her changing misses the mark. She has not failed in her marriage. In fact she is probably overdoing in trying to comply with unreasonable demands that dismiss her as worthy of the most basic humane consideration.

Myth Four: She can always leave.

Churches who are afraid to allow for divorce are more  interested  in their church’s reputation than solving this problem.  They have painted themselves into a corner because divorce is often the only reasonable action.

Going no contact with an abuser is necessary since he interprets any contact as an opening for mistreatment. This is an identifiable diagnosis – Narcissistic Personality Disorder – and the Bible is not an adequate one-size-fits-all solution in these cases.

Members who continue the conspiracy of silence, shun the woman, or want to enforce Bible study and  repentance are only re-traumatizing the abused.

Those who ask why she doesn’t leave are the very ones who will not help her. Understandably they do not want to bring violence into their own homes. But there are many ways to support women short of  taking her in.

Redemption from Biblical Battering: Your Path to Faith-Based Freedom is one of those ways. Using it or similar resources to guide a small group study or having it on hand to give to distressed women is an effective way to open and continue a conversation to help. Holding men in the church accountable is also a first step.

Another way is to refer the suffering woman to Suzanna’s Sisters, a secure Facebook group where women can communicate with licensed counselors who understand  religious domestic abuse or survivors who have been where they are for support. Contact the author for access or to schedule a presentation or training.

Those Who Hate Those Who Love

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Most of us have noticed that Mother’s Day has widely different meanings for everyone. I am grateful that mothers are acknowledged, but the vast differences in how we experience our mothers or being a mother elude the composers of greeting cards.

Each sibling will experience a different mother. My two sisters and I would laugh that there was always a favorite who wasn’t one of us. That, we realized, was existentially impossible. My older sister and I were not our mother’s favorites and our sister finally admitted it but didn’t know why. At least our experience was validated after our mother’s death.

Mothers cannot satisfy all their children’s needs. They are not allowed to have their own needs. On the other hand, there are women who did not choose to be mothers or can be harmful to their children’s development. Such is the lost cause of one-role meaning for a person.

Because there are so many differences in the way that one woman’s version of mothering plays out, Mother’s Day seeks to at least say it was good she allowed us to be born. But even that comes under attack.

Recently a remarkable young woman, Rachel Held Evans, unexpectedly passed away from a reaction to antiobiotics she was given to treat flu-like symptoms. Such a random and senseless cause of death has those who appreciated her reeling. Even worse, she leaves a 3 year old and a baby less than 1 year old with her grieving husband.

What has made her death even harder to bear is the harsh words used by some in the faith community of which she as a part. Rachel had increasingly sought to uphold Jesus’ gospel of love rather than legalism. A skillful writer, researcher and journalist, she reached out to those who had been hurt by the judgmentalism and rejection of some in that faith tradition. With discoveries of wide-spread abuses in some churches, large and small, those who felt outcast and in despair had in Rachel a voice that encouraged them to believe in their own worth and in God’s love for them.

But, just as in some families, while one sibling adores mother, another sibling feels animosity toward her. For some reason, Rachel’s emphasis on love angered some who believed her doctrine was not correct. They felt compelled to mar the grief many felt with their criticism and name-calling.

Why are some offended by a gospel of love? They were in Jesus’ day and they are now. Why is love so threatening to some people? Is it fear? Fear they won’t be the chosen, the favorite child? Comedian John Stewart recently said that the entire Jewish religion, in his view, was the search for the father’s approval.

The elder brother felt it in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Martha seemed to feel it, the producers, the ones who do all the right things, the compliant ones, the performers, often feel slighted if love is extended to those who don’t conform as they think they should out of duty if not love.

As the saying goes, we can be happy or we can be right.

So why do some hate those who love? What makes us resistant to the experience of what we crave and need so badly? Love often does not play by the rules and that can feel scary. Is it the need for power to control?

 I suggest widening our emotional economy. There is not a scarcity of love. When one person is loved, it doesn’t mean the other person is not loved. But each love is different because each person is different. As in the idea of five different love languages, it is not always easy to find out what way each person experiences feeling loved.

But for those who are threatened by love’s freedom, I hope you will forgive those who love for not measuring up to your definition of law as more important. It doesn’t mean you aren’t loved. I am sorry if you don’t feel loved. But please save the mean-spirited remarks and let us mourn this lost mother peacefully.

Easter and Domestic Abuse

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One of the most important ways in which my faith matured in the course of escaping domestic abuse in the name of God was the application of eternal life to the situation.

The way that the Bible and faith concepts were hurled against me was contrary to Jesus’ message and example, his demonstration that believers had the power of life over death.

They enforced a view of me and women generally as second- class souls. We were believing Christians, but the promise of the redemption and resurrection were somehow not fully ours.

Instead we had to keep earning our right to be treated with dignity, respect, and hardly ever the love we had been promised both in our vows and in the gospel.

The idea that my husband, a minister, was my Lord standing over me as head between me and Christ was scarcely different in the fundamentalist view than in the Catholic one in which I had been raised. The only difference was that instead of the priest between me and God, my husband was granted the responsibility.

This was one of the teachings I had left the Catholic faith over, citing the teaching to call no man Father.

Yet here I was being told that I must obey my husband who was a proxy for Christ  in our marriage.

But he certainly wasn’t acting like Christ. In fact there were many nonbelievers who had better marriages that we did.

Finally after years of begging, pleading, turning myself inside out to please, asking God in prayer for answers, I changed my prayer.

Instead of asking to change me so he would stop the abuse, I prayed to either change him or get me out of there.

The answer came. I was to leave because Christ did not die for me to live like this.

My own personal resurrection. Thanks be to God.

Resiliency Skills: Denials and Affirmations, Pt. 2

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In the last post, we began to see how to develop denials and affirmations to address our core needs for strength, positive thoughts, confidence and motivation. Let’s complete this process by looking at the three traits of effective denials and affirmations.

When assertive communication or other methods have failed or when it seems I have no answer, a denial helps me maintain my peace and avoid adding any energy to the situation. I can feel how relieved I am, how secure, as I repeat this denial to myself. I may even write it. I have heard of people changing the pronoun also and repeating the statement in words or writing.

 “No attempt to reduce Shirley’s worth is effective.”

“No attempt to reduce your worth is effective.”

I also visualize myself supported and appreciated as I say or write this statement. I add no energy to the conflict. Most dramas depend on energy to operate and when the energy is not there they often move on or dissolve. But even if the other person continues to operate in this way, my experience of it will be different. The practice of denials then helps keep me in a space where I can extend positive energy without hypocrisy. It clears away my negativity so I can move on to readiness for a more positive experience.

Next, after I have created this space through the denial, I can add an affirmation:

“I am secure in my worth.” Or “We are all equally worthwhile.” or

Or “I enjoy harmonious work relationships.”

 I state the desired condition as already present.  The phrase “I am” is especially powerful. God told Moses the Divine Name: “I am that I am. Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you.” Descartes was famous for the philosophical version of this sharing of life with God. “I think; therefore I am.” We then take it further by expressing the existence in a statement. So be aware when you think or say “I am….”

It is necessary to change exactly what we think is certain based on your past experience in order to create new experiences. By that I mean, if all your life you have felt like others did not want to be your friend, that will not change as long as you operate out of the idea that no one wants to be your friend. Einstein said that the solution to a problem cannot arise from the same thinking that created the problem. We have to reprogram ourselves to create different experiences for ourselves. At first these statements may feel strange. However Jesus said if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that is, just a little, we can do create an outer reality.

In Twelve Step recovery programs, it is taught that we can free ourselves of resentments by praying the Resentment Prayer even when we don’t mean it. And multitudes have proven this to be true. So even if we repeat the denials or affirmations without feeling, they can work, but repeating them will create the feeling eventually. They work more powerfully when the feeling dimension is present. The researchers at HeartMath have discovered this reality. The heart has its own intelligence and can override the mental type of intelligence. When the heart and mind work together, powerful results occur. Jesus demonstrated his knowledge of this when he would ask someone if they wanted to be healed, or when he said their faith had made them well. Medical science is filled with accounts of baffling recoveries based on the conviction of the patient. And even in cases in which the patient left this earth, the truth is that they were indeed healed, because they no longer suffer in the body.

One of the joys of relating to children is their simple bypassing of the negative. Their simple faith, goodness and love are always so close to the surface that they seek to share to uplift us naturally. For example, a father came home from work exhausted, too exhausted to greet his little boy. But the little boy did not hold this against the father. Instead he came up to him and affirmed, “It’s ok, Daddy. You’re home now.” The father immediately felt comforted. This is partly what Jesus meant when he said to become as little children, open to the good without misgiving.

Affirmations state the desired experience in the language of the present moment, as it is already here. They create and express faith in the good prevailing in our lives. They are not tied to specific outcomes but to the spiritual reality we want to enjoy. If seeking a specific or outer state, we always add “this or something better”, We are not trying to control or change someone else.*  We are clear about what we want to create: peace, harmony, love, faith, kindness, patience, goodwill, well being, abundance, or other good. The power is in our words spoken from our hearts with our minds.

Remember these traits of effective denials and affirmations:

  1. They come from a deep core of your authentic concern or desire.
  2. They are repeated with the feeling desired.
  3. They are stated and visualized as occurring, already present.

* If you have concerns for loved ones, you can identify what in you is being challenged.

Resiliency Skill: Denials and Affirmations- Part One

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In this blog, we will expand on the material in Redemption from Biblical Battering. One of the tools that rebuild strength in the woman who has been attacked by an abuser is the ability to mentally develop and rehearse denials and affirmations.

Using the power of your words to create your experiences can be very satisfying and stress relieving.  More than just positive thinking, denials and affirmations are a dynamic duo in managing our perceptions and feelings toward achieving satisfaction in relationships, work and other areas. They are based on the truth that the universe is supporting us and that love prevails in assuring us our good because this is the Divine Will for our lives. They create what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God within you”. If we think about what would the evidence be that Good prevailed, that is what Jesus meant. Harmonious relationships, happiness, fulfillment, peace, love, wisdom, kindness. We can create these through the power of our heart-mind-words.

Basically as I have practiced this technique, which has a long history in truth studies around the world, the dynamic involves creating space and affirming deeply. Some of the wisdom that supports this practice includes the idea of mind, idea and expression as the creative formula for our world; as in heaven, so below; living in faith; or practicing the presence of God.  It is not wishful thinking or a Pollyanna approach; It is not self-hypnosis because you cannot convince yourself against your will. It is based on the concept that we participate in creating our good by using our power of being made in the image of God, who made the world through the Word. They emerge from an integration of mind and heart that is life producing.

Denials and affirmations work hand in hand. Denials create space or release negativity so that a more positive experience can present itself. Then affirmations build improved conditions for living, whether materially, emotionally, mentally or in other areas.

But before I create or decide upon the wording of a denial or affirmation, I have found it important to do some depth work to identify as closely as I can what is really desired. I say this because I have had the experience of receiving what I had affirmed and then realized I was not specific or accurate enough in what I had affirmed! This is not to say that it was a negative effect; just that I saw what I had missed emphasizing that would have been even better. Good, better, best. But that is fine. I learned and did not lose out, a good growth process.

Or be prepared to find out that the results you desired showed up but in ways you hadn’t anticipated. For example, I may have been affirming that the sale process proceeds in Divine Order after my bid on a house is accepted. However the realtor creates so many problems that I never buy the house. So the sale did proceed in Divine Order. I was not supposed to buy that house. I find out later that it had many problems that I would not have been able to afford. So the difficulties that arose were not obstacles, but the process working out as it was supposed to. Continue to affirm, even when it does not appear to be working.  You will either learn how to modify the affirmation or denial to be more accurate or see the good in new ways. Repeat it daily and then go about your business, not giving it any more thought. Proceed with the assurance that it is coming to be.

So the depth work, either through journaling, counseling, talking, or other processing, helps me identify the core concern or issue I am dealing with because I don’t always know. Someone once asked if it was the problem or the feelings I had about the problem that was troubling. I thought this was an astute observation, similar to the idea of wanting money or wanting what you think money will provide. Money (tangible) is desired for what people think it will secure (intangible, such as security, fun, power, freedom, etc.).

In addition to accurate identification of the concern or issue, it is important to include the feeling desired and to associate an image with the desired outcome. Imagination plays an important role in creating denials and affirmations. In fact, it seems what is in most need of healing or fulfillment is exactly what denials and affirmations work most effectively to create. In other words the things that disturb us are usually signals from our shadow selves, some area we are not in touch with and which need resolution. Denials and affirmations are powerful tools for resolving these issues because they help us experience what filling the need feels like.

 We can examine this sample denial first. Let’s say that there is a particularly difficult coworker I am dealing with. After journaling about the recurring problems, I discover that the real issue that is disturbing my peace in interacting with this person is his apparent need to one- up me in every meeting. But the deeper realization is that this goes back to one of my trigger issues from when I was growing up of feeling “less than”. It is a core issue for me.

 I create a denial that says “No attempt to reduce my worth is effective.”

In the next post, we will explore Part II of this skill that rebuilds self-worth and confidence.

Three Free Ways to Connect with Calm

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Calmness has been linked to improved decision making, heart benefits, and more enjoyable relationships. But how to tap into it?

Here are three free ways to connect with a calming moment.

Slow Down

We don’t yet know all the effects of being in motion so much of the time, but the fast rate of the motion is being studied. Psychology Today reported on numerous mental and health benefits of slowing down. Processing fast moving images has been shown to alter brain behavior in children. Dimitri A Christakis reported on 30 studies in an October 2011 issue of Pediatrics showing executive functioning and other impairments or alerations.

So how to access this benefit? Moving fast can become automatic. We rush when it is not necessary but is simply a carryover from having rushed in the previous activity. Being aware of unnecessary rushing is the first step. Pausing to consciously shift between activities allows us to decide whether we still need to rush.

We can also modify our self-talk about the pressure or need to rush. Before answering machines, many felt panic if they did not get to the phone ring on time. Some people still let out an expletive if they pick up the phone too late. Rarely is this a crisis but our autonomous nervous system may still react as if it is an emergency. Instead, take steps to arrange other ways to handling incoming pressures to carve out a space to shift pace.

Imagine rushing to catch a bus. Once you are on board, you can sit down and relax. It would not make sense to still rush up and down the bus aisle after boarding. Just as senseless is our maintaining a breakneck pace for every task in front of us. Make conscious decisions about your pace.

Sharing

The pressure of keeping disturbances bottled up inside works against a state of calm. Sharing can be as simple as keeping a journal or attending a support group. Sarah Townsend, assistant professor at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, reported in Social Psychology and Personality Science (December 2013) that taking with someone we perceive to  have the same feelings reduces stress.

We all need to release self-imposed impossible expectations. Self-talk plays a role in accessing calm here as well. Reject the assumption that you are so unique that no one has been challenged like you are or has never met this problem. That gives permission to share it with someone else who is trustworthy and understanding.

 Even making a voice memo gets your frustration out of your body and allows your brain to restore serotonin and dopamine levels. Your brain does not know whether you are talking to a real person or not.

Silence

Perhaps the least favorite or most overlooked way to calm down, silence is the easiest to achieve. Pricey noise-cancelling headphones are not required. Simply walk away from time to time from an intensively noisy environment to a quiet one.  

What happens most often is that we are unaware of the stress buildup from noise. Omnipresent music and broadcasts in the background have become a wallpaper of sound around us. The impact is still entering our mind and bodies.

Hypertension, high stress levels, tinnitus, hearing loss, sleep disturbances, and other harmful effects have been linked to noise pollution, enough to make it part of the Clean Air Act.

Besides the washroom, sometimes simply shutting the door if we have an office or walking to another quieter room can do the trick. Pause, breathe and return when you feel a greater sense of calm within.

Christian Science Reading Rooms join libraries in a testimony to the need for quiet. Take lunches in a quiet place. Decide to delay turning on news or music when you get home to enjoy quiet. If you are not the first to get home, avoid having news or music automatically on in your car.

It will be surprising how many places we can remove noise from around us once we become aware of its intrusiveness. The growing popularity of meditation aides attests to an increasing appreciation of stilling the chattering mind that results from an environment overloaded with sensory pressures.

Slowing down, sharing, and silence can give us immediate access to calm. Share a comment on your favorite free way to increase calm in your day.

You at Christmas

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portrait of girl wearing christmas hat

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s a lot of talk about the value and need to be giving at this time of year. We have slogans like “It’s better (or ‘more blessed’ some say) to give than receive” that in our materialistic society seems a challenge. One charity boasts they are “Doing the most good.” Or we worry about the price of gifts that are out of our range.

Is giving supposed to be a competition? If so, what’s the prize? Or the measure?

  1. The Calculated Giver.

My sisters and I were always amused that our mother kept a Christmas Card list from Continue reading

I’m Inconvenient. Are You?

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Al Gore’s film about climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth”, made a big splash and was aptly name. But increasingly human beings are considered inconvenient because of two bullies: greed and speed. Watkins Glen State Park NY

There are days when I feel like a character in The Matrix. Others would be pleased if they could just strap me to a table and hook my bank account up to their tubes.

More businesses want me to just set up online accounts which siphon money directly from me to their account. They never have to see me, talk to me, or deal with me at all, unless it’s the nanosecond requirement for me to click “I agree.” Nor is it possible to explain a situation that does not fit their parameters over the phone.

Phone trees and websites are designed to Continue reading

Some Women Have Fat

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woman girl fat fitness

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

I started to write “Some Women are Fat” but that’s not the main issue. More men are becoming weight conscious, but for women fat phobia is a way of life. “This Is Us” has won an Emmy in part for including the lifetime pain of a large woman in its story line. More prevalent are shows like “The Biggest Loser”, featuring weighty men and women abusing themselves, often gaining the weight back because of their underlying medical problem.

The reality is that the medical community may not want to admit they don’t have an answer to all the fat conditions. They are as myriad and individual as the people struggling with fat. One doctor told a candidate surgery was the only way to reset her metabolism. Really?  The big secret is that bariatric surgery does not reliably produce weight loss.

Recently the role of our manufactured food industry has been recognized, but still the billion dollar diet industry rolls on. Women are assured the more they measure, the more they will never measure up with the appropriate body.  Ads for “health” are masks Continue reading