Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why Are You So Distant?

I've gotten this question, or some form of it, A LOT lately.  Friends, family members, even co-workers.

So for those of you wondering, let me try to explain.

To begin with, I feel apart from other people.  Like I'm now (because of my heart attack) in a different category than other people are in and so therefore somehow different than my friends and family.  I feel like it's harder to relate to others now, or like others view me differently.  Related to this is the fact that while I used to feel tired all the time, and used to joke about being old, I didn't really feel old, at least not emotionally.  Now I feel great - better than I have in years - but I feel like I have aged emotionally.  As a result, I no longer feel "young."  I feel middle-aged, with all the vulnerabilities that brings.

Secondly, I think a certain sense of embarrassment or shame is involved.  Those of you who know me know that I had no family history of heart disease.  Clearly I had a heart attack at 38 because I made a lot of bad lifestyle choices for many years.  Choices that were obvious to those who know me.  So it's embarrassing.  I'm getting what I asked for, publicly.  

Third, I don't really like talking about "how I'm doing," as if I'm an invalid or something.  So it's often easier to just avoid people.  Of course, I realize when people as how I'm doing it's because they care about me.

Fourth, because I have made such drastic lifestyle changes, I try to avoid situations that will tempt me to overeat, drink, or smoke.  Unfortunately, this means I don't go out with friends and family the way I used to.

Fifth, the drastic lifestyle changes I have made have not been easy.  I basically quit nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, fast food, sugary foods, and virtually all processed foods cold turkey literally overnight.  I also began a 7-day per week exercise routine and cut my daily caloric intake by more than half.  As those of you who follow my blog know, to date I've lost about 40 pounds in three months.  To make all these things happen, it has been necessary for me to develop a strict lifestyle routine.  I pretty much have the same routine every day, from the time I get up to the time I go to bed.  It's the only way for me to achieve what I need to achieve health-wise.

I am convinced that this strict routine is probably the biggest reason I have become distant from others: making phone calls, texting, hanging out with friends and family - those things aren't part of my routine.

So that's why I've been so distant.  My hope is that it won't last, that I'll eventually get back to normal and won't fear the temptations of smoking and drinking and overeating, and will get over my feeling of being different from others.  Please bear with me until then.    

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

10 Common Biblical Misconceptions

1. Jesus was born in a stable.

Only two biblical writers mention Jesus' birth, and one of those - the writer of Matthew - tells us that Jesus was born in a house.  This makes sense because for Matthew, Jesus and his family lived in Bethlehem.  It was only much later, according to Matthew, that the family moved to Nazareth.

Luke is the biblical author who tells us the family lived in Nazareth and only traveled to Bethlehem, where Jesus was ultimately born.

However, even Luke doesn't mention a stable.

Luke tells us only that Mary gave birth in Bethlehem, and because the guest houses were all full, she had to lay her newborn in a feeding trough.

This statement could imply a stable, but a brief study of historical setting suggests otherwise.  In 1st century urban Judea, animals would have been either tied along the street (where mangers were frequently erected), or kept in the courtyard of larger homes and buildings.  There wouldn't have actually been a stable - at least nothing like what our religious art, plays, and songs like to imagine.

2. Moses wrote the Torah

The Torah, also called the Law of Moses or the Pentateuch, is made up of the first five books of the Old Testament - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

And Moses didn't write any of it.

Despite both Jewish and Christian tradition attributing these books to Moses, historians have actually identified at least four different authorial strands within these books, with each strand representing not just a different historical era, but even more than one author within each strand.  And none of the strands is as early as the life of the historical Moses, who probably lived three hundred years or more before the first word of the Torah was ever written.

3. The gospels were written by the disciples of Jesus

Although this is a common belief among Christians, even Christian tradition only attributes two of the four gospels to actual disciples of Jesus - Matthew and John.  The books of Mark and Luke have always been attributed to men who never knew Jesus: Mark, the one-time companion of Paul and later secretary of Peter, and Luke, a missionary companion of Paul and also his personal physician.

However, even the gospels of Matthew and John were not actually written by the disciples known as Matthew and John.

Historians date Matthew to sometime during the 80's CE, and John about a decade later, near the turn of the second century.  This means both gospels were written more than fifty years after Jesus died, with John closer to seventy years.  The likelihood that any of Jesus's companions were still alive and lucid enough to write deeply theologically-developed books in highly literate Greek is virtually non-existent.  In fact, the chances that any of Jesus's poor, rural disciples were literate at all, even in their own native language of Aramaic, is highly unlikely, much less in the Greek language in which the gospels were written.

4. The Third Commandment refers to using God's name as a curse word

In the familiar King James Version, the Third Commandment tells us not to "take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."

Despite widespread belief that this verse is talking about the use of God's name as a swear or curse, it is actually referring to hypocrisy.

The original Hebrew phrase "take in vain" means to accept something falsely.  (Source: Biblical Hebrew Lexicon.)

Thus, the commandment warns against falsely accepting the name of God - that is, it warns against claiming to be Godly when you aren't really Godly.  It's a prohibition against hypocrisy.  It has nothing to do with speaking certain exclamations.

5. The Bible teaches that humans either go to heaven or hell when they die

In the Old Testament, hell does not exist at all, and heaven is simply the place where God and God's retinue live, not a place where humans go after death.  Instead, for these ancient Jewish writers, human beings simply enter the grave upon death.

In essence, there is no afterlife in the theology of the Old Testament.

By the time the New Testament was written, afterlife theology of heaven and hell had become common within Judaism, and these beliefs therefore made their way into early Christianity as well.  However, according to the various writers of the New Testament (especially Paul and the writers of 2 Peter and Revelation), heaven and hell await us not at death, but at the end of time.

At death, we humans simply go into the grave.  There we stay until the end of time, when we are resurrected into new life.  At that point, we either get cast into hell, or we are invited to live eternally on a renewed earth.  As such, humans don't actually go to heaven in New Testament theology either.  Instead, they are raised into new life to live in God's kingdom here on earth.  Essentially, heaven comes to earth instead of humans going to heaven.

6. God is judgmental and vindictive in the Old Testament, but loving and kind in the New

It may be true that "God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow," but human concepts of God are always changing, and that is as much true in the Bible as it is today.  The fact is, God is given both positive and negative attributes throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

For instance, in Psalm 86, God is described as "compassionate," "gracious," and "abounding in love."  In the prophetic writings of Hosea, God is said to "love freely."  In the book of 1 Chronicles, God's love is said to "endure forever."  In fact, throughout the Old Testament, God is routinely described as loving, faithful, merciful, and forgiving.  God does not banish anyone to hell, but instead is frequently portrayed as long-suffering and perpetually willing to overlook the failures and sins of his people.

In the New Testament, on the other hand, the gospel of Matthew refers multiple times to God damning sinners to hell, the book of Acts includes a scene where God strikes dead two Christians for withholding money from the Christian community, and the entire book of Revelation imagines God as an unspeakably angry deity of retribution and judgment.

7. In the Creation story, God created men first 

Actually, it depends on which creation story you read.  In the familiar creation story from the first chapter of Genesis, where God creates the world in six days, the writer simply tells us that God created "male and female" on the final day.  Neither gender is given priority over the other, and both are said to be created in God's own image.

It is not until the second chapter of Genesis, which consists of a completely different creation story written by a different person living in a different era, that "man" is said to have been created first, and "woman" created in man's image in order to be his "helper."

Scholars of the Bible have recognized for over a century that the account of creation found in the second chapter of Genesis (the story of Adam and Eve) is actually an earlier account than the one found in the first chapter (the six-day creation).  At some point in antiquity, the two stories were merged together onto the same scroll and became the first and second chapters of the books we call Genesis.

8. The Jews crucified Jesus

Though the gospels portray Jewish leaders in Jerusalem conniving to have Jesus arrested and crucified, it is an indisputable fact of history that only the Romans had the authority to detain, judge, sentence, and ultimately carry out the execution of criminals.  The gospels portray Jesus being arrested by Roman soldiers, tried before the Roman governor, sentenced by that same governor to death, and later executed in the Roman style on a Roman cross by Roman soldiers.

Even if one accepts the gospel portrayal of the scheming Jewish leaders as historically accurate (a point that is widely questioned by historians), the Jewish leaders hardly represent the entirety of the Jewish people.  In fact, the gospels portray the Jewish people as rallying around Jesus, following him throughout Galilee and into Jerusalem, and flocking to hear him teach.  Even when one crowd of Jewish people calls for Jesus' crucifixion, it is only because the Jewish leaders "stirred them up" (Mark 15).

Sadly, this misconception of Jews as "Christ-killers" has led to centuries of fierce antisemitism that continues unabated to this day.

9. The Vatican has all the original copies of the books of the New Testament 

No original manuscripts of any of the books of the New Testament still exist today.  With the exception of 2 Peter, the New Testament was written between 50 and 100 CE.  A few papyrus scraps of New Testament texts have turned up dated between 125 and 175 CE, but the oldest complete manuscript of a New Testament book goes back only to about the year 200, or more than a century after the original.  The oldest copy of a complete New Testament is the so-called Codex Sinaiticus, which dates to about 350 CE.

10. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute

Nowhere in the New Testament is Mary Magdalene ever said to have been a prostitute.  She and several other women are noted as followers of Jesus who "cared for his needs," and the writer of Luke states that Mary and the other women helped to finance his ministry.  

Luke also states that Jesus had cured Mary of demon possession, and this appears to be the basis for the belief that Mary was a prostitute.  This idea goes back a long way: Pope Gregory I, who became pope in 590 and is known as Saint Gregory the Great, seems to have been the first to make this suggestion, writing that Mary Magdalene is the unnamed "sinful woman" from the gospel of Luke who anoints Jesus prior to his arrest.  A similar story of anointing takes place in Mark, Matthew, and John as well, but only Luke implies that the woman was a prostitute.  Only John names this woman, and he gives her name as Mary.  This led Gregory to the rather spurious conclusion that the "sinful woman" and Mary Magdalene were one and the same.

Spurious or not, the idea persists.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Notes from the Cave

I've started a new blog on Tumblr.  This new blog won't replace Serene Musings, because Tumblr really isn't a true alternative to Blogger.  For those not familiar with Tumblr, it's a bit like a cross between Twitter and a blog.  You follow people and they follow you, you have a news feed, and you can "re-blog" people (similar to retweeting), but you aren't limited to 140 characters.  Instead, you are making true blog posts, uploading pictures and videos, etc.  It's also highly usable in mobile format, and, in fact, has its own mobile app.

So, if you're interested, my Tumblr address is  What you find there will be, for the most part, different from what you read here, but don't be upset if occasionally I post the same thing to both sites.  The name of my Tumblr blog is Notes from the Cave.  That's right, I'm pretty limited when it comes to thinking of titles :)

I was 214.8 at my last weigh-in.  That's my lowest yet.  My parents were in town this weekend and I ate out four meals in a row.  To "recover" from that, I ate nothing but fruits and veggies yesterday.  It was significantly harder than I thought it would be, and I found myself more or less thinking about food all afternoon and evening.  But I managed to make it through, and the only "cheating" I did was a few handfuls of trail mix, which hardly counts as "cheating," especially since half of what's in it is dried fruit.

My last vacation of the year will be next week.  I'm seeing Rush here in Cincinnati on July 2, then plan on watching the new Lone Ranger movie on July 3.  We are also going to the lake for a few days.  Hopefully I'll be more relaxed on this trip than I was the last time we went.

Speaking of the Lone Ranger, I recently discovered a new Lego Lone Ranger line, obviously linked with the movie.  This is a dream come true for the 10-year-old in me.  When I was a kid, I went through a period where I was utterly obsessed with the Lone Ranger.  I guess I got out of it by the time I was 9 or 10, but certainly up until at least the age of 8 or so, I had a major Lone Ranger fetish.  I also had a major Lego fetish, which continued all the way up through high school (I SHOULD be embarrassed to admit that, but I'm not), and so to find a fusion of the Lone Ranger and Legos is the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition.

As a result (and I should ALSO be embarrassed to admit this, but I'm not), I have just made an Amazon purchase of a couple of Lego Lone Ranger sets.  :)

My plan is to get the whole series and put it on display in my man cave.  Yes, you read that right.  Legos in my man cave.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

10 Must-Read Books

Every now and then, you read one of those books that captivates you so much, or educates you to such a degree, that you just can't help but think that everyone should read it.

It happens to me a lot.

So without further ado, and in no particular order of significance, here is a list of the ten books that have most impacted, entertained, educated, and/or influenced me, and which would make valuable additions to anyone's reading list.  I've included Amazon links to each book.

1) Liberating the Gospels by John Shelby Spong

John Shelby Spong is the retired Bishop of Newark in the Episcopal Church.  A widely-read scholar and theologian and a prominent voice for progressive Christianity, he is an outspoken critic of fundamentalism and traditional Christian theology.

I've read all of Spong's books and they are all recommendable, but the one that impacted me the most was undoubtedly "Liberating the Gospels," which is subtitled "Reading the Bible With Jewish Eyes."

That subtitle is important because the book demonstrates the importance of understanding the first century Jewish context in which the New Testament gospels were written - particularly Mark and Matthew, the first two gospels.  Modern Christians tend to approach the gospels - and indeed the whole Bible - as though they were written in a vacuum for modern sensibilities.  They weren't.  They were written by first century Jews practicing first century Judaism and incorporating their understanding of their Jewish teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, into their distinctly Jewish worldview, which was itself heavily influenced by the Jewish scriptures, laws, and customs.

Spong's book his highly readable and aimed at a general reading audience.  He explores the Jewish roots for the stories of the gospels and highlights how they were profoundly influenced by Jewish scriptures.  It may go without saying that his conclusions fly in the face of virtually everything you ever heard in church or Sunday school.  

At the risk of be hyperbolic, this book left me staggered.  It completely altered my view of how to understand the biblical stories of Jesus.  When people ask me to recommend a book on Christianity, this is always the first one I name.

Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes

2) Sphere by Michael Crichton

Before his novels became a veiled political platform for anti-environmentalist claptrap, Michael Crichton was a exceptional thriller writer.  "Jurassic Park," of course, made him famous, but "Sphere," which was published in 1987, several years before "Jurassic Park," was easily one of the best scientific thrillers ever written.

The first time I read "Sphere," I read it in one sitting.  It reads like a movie and the pages just fly by.  I was captivated from practically the first sentence and every page riveted me.  I've since re-read the book four or five times.

Set mostly in an underwater laboratory in the Pacific Ocean, the book tells the story of a scientific investigation into an unknown spacecraft discovered buried under the ocean floor.  The narrative very quickly becomes a psychological thriller as it becomes more and more difficult to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.

"Sphere" is, quite simply, a brilliant thriller novel.


3) Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett 

A massive, thousand page tome, "Pillars of the Earth" is British thriller writer Ken Follett's masterpiece.  In this book, which was published in the late 1980's, Follett diverged from his normal duties writing spy thrillers and embarked on a historical novel set in 12th century England and centered on the building of a cathedral.

A thousand pages about the construction of a cathedral in the 1100's sounds about as much fun as a root canal, but take my word for it: "Pillars of the Earth" is one of the best historical novels of the entire 20th century.  When I first read the book in 2005, I read it in about a week.  I simply could not put it down.  It is a sprawling saga of medieval England that draws you in with its rich descriptions, captivating characters, scheming intrigues, well-crafted suspense, and heart-wrenching romance.

If you like historical fiction and have not read "Pillars of the Earth," you need to buy or borrow it right this minute.

The Pillars of the Earth

4) Jesus by Marcus J. Borg

In the same way that "Liberating the Gospels" is the first book I always recommend when talking about Christian scholarship in general, the first book I recommend to anyone wanting to know more about the study of the historical Jesus is Marcus Borg's fantastic book "Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary."

Of all the books I've read on the historical Jesus - reconstructing his life and times, his purpose, his message - none is even in the same category with Borg's "Jesus."  It is simply the finest resource I am aware of on understanding who Jesus was, where he came from, and what his life and message was all about.  Like all the other books on this list, once started, it is difficult to put down.  You keep wanting to come back to it to learn more.  I practically devoured this book.

Borg is a well-respected Christian scholar and theologian and, like the aforementioned Spong, writes his books for a general reading audience.  He has spent a significant amount of his scholarly career focusing on the study of the historical Jesus, so he knows the subject intimately.  In this book, he argues convincingly that Jesus was a peasant healer, prophet, and voice for social change, working against the cultural norms and powers of his day, providing a radical reinterpretation of God and the Jewish scriptures, and offering a new way of life to his followers.

If you ever wanted to know what Jesus was really like, what his life and message was really all about, without all the theological pomp and circumstance that the Church has draped over him for 2,000 years, this is a book that you simply must read.

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary

5) 1984 by George Orwell

"1984" has always been the book I traditionally say is my favorite novel.

I first read this book in a 10th grade English class and absolutely loved it.  I then had it assigned again for a 12th grade English class, and since I had liked it so much the first time, I went ahead and re-read it.  I enjoyed it so thoroughly the second time that as soon as I had finished it, I immediately started it again and read it for a third time.  By the time I was 25 years old or so, I had read it five or six times through.  

Even after 65 years, "1984" is still disturbingly relevant, with its dystopian view of an authoritarian government ruled by the seemingly omniscient Big Brother.  Stalin's communism (which inspired the novel) may have collapsed in Europe, but the major themes explored in this novel are still playing out in the modern world with disturbing frequency.  Of note is the novel's description of "doublethink," and the Party's revision of language, which is called "Newspeak" in the novel.

Orwell describes doublethink as "holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them...[telling] deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them."

Orwell might as well have been talking about modern politicians, news media personalities, or fundamentalist religious figures.


6) River God by Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith is my favorite novelist.  Born in Zambia in southern Africa during the waning days of British imperialism there, he has been publishing grand adventure novels consistently since the mid-1960's.  Every one of his more than 30 novels is set primarily in Africa, and the time period of his novels spans from the ancient world to the modern, with most set during the 19th and 20th centuries.

"River God," published in the early 1990's, was the first book of his that I read, and it captivated me from the very first sentence: "The river lay heavily upon the desert, bright as a spill of molten metal from a furnace."

Set during the so-called "Middle Kingdom" of ancient Egyptian history (roughly 1800 B.C.E.), the novel is a sweeping saga of adventure and romance, narrated in the first person by the slave and eunuch Taita, whose master is Lostris, daughter of the powerful Egyptian king.  Smith's strength is the richness of his prose, his vivid descriptions, and his ability to draw his reader into the world of his characters.

If you like historical fiction, and especially if you are fascinated, as I am, by all things ancient Egypt, this is a novel you absolutely, positively, must read.  Its sequels - "Warlock," "The Quest," and "The Seventh Scroll" - are fantastic too.

River God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

7) Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman

It's a simple fact: every Christian should read this book.

Bart Ehrman is a UNC religion professor and a major voice in the world of modern New Testament scholarship.  A widely-published and highly-decorated scholar who writes books for both academic as well as general reading audiences, he has published more than twenty books and routinely appears on television.

I don't like the title of this book because it is intentionally sensational and also misleading: very little of the book has to do with the actual words of Jesus.  (If I recall correctly, Ehrman even notes in the book that the title was not his own, but was chosen by his publisher.)

In any case, the book discusses the textual history of the Bible.  In prose that is easy to follow, Ehrman takes a very complicated subject (papyrology, linguistics, and the general study of ancient texts) and makes it not just easy to understand, but actually fascinating.  Specifically, he focuses on how and why the actual words of the Bible were changed over the centuries by scribes who copied the texts during the Middle Ages, before the advent of the printing press.  Most people don't often consider the fact that for the first 1400 years of Christian history, no Bible was ever produced without it being hand-copied.  This copying naturally resulted in countless mistakes and slips of the pen, as well as a number of changes to the texts that could only have been intentional, motivated by theological perspectives.

Ehrman catalogues a number of major variations among existing ancient manuscripts of various New Testament books, and discusses the significance of these variations on major points of commonly-accepted theology.

"Misquoting Jesus" totally changed my perspective on the Bible, how it came to be the book it is today, why it says what it says, and why anyone who suggests that it is "infallible" is simply ignorant of the Good Book's own history.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

8) 11/22/63 by Stephen King

This is the "newest" book on my list, published in late 2011.  I only just read it in January and it immediately went onto my list of favorite novels.  I simply could not put this book down.  It is the first and only book I've ever read by Stephen King that I absolutely loved.

I've always had a turbulent relationship with the King of Horror.  I've read roughly half a dozen of his books (which is, admittedly, not very many), and with the exception of his non-fiction book on the art of writing, I've always been mostly dissatisfied.  "11/22/63," however, grabbed me from the start and I practically swallowed it whole.

As the title indicates, this is a novel about the Kennedy assassination.  Starting out in the present day, the main character, Jake, discovers a time travel portal inside an old diner that always takes its traveler back to 11:58 a.m. on September 9, 1958.  No matter how long a traveler stays in the past, once he returns through the portal, only two minutes have passed in the present.  Jake eventually decides to use the portal to stop the Kennedy assassination, and thus alter the course of history for the better (so he believes).

The Kennedy assassination has always been a popular topic among modern Americans, and who doesn't love a time travel story?  This book is a perfect blend of both, and has a healthy amount of suspense to keep you turning the pages.  The characters feel like your best friends, there's an underlying love story that provides a nice romantic counterbalance to the suspense, and (unlike many King novels that I've read) the ending is actually satisfying.

11/22/63: A Novel

9) The Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon 

One of my absolute favorite thriller novels of all time, I almost never read "The Wolf's Hour," and when I finally did, it was on a whim.

My sister had loaned me this book, telling me it was really fantastic.  Based on the cover, I could see that it was a horror/thriller novel about a werewolf who doubled as a World War II British spy.  I thought it sounded silly and nothing at all like what I would typically read.  Not wanting to hurt my sister's feelings, I took the book and stuck it on my shelf and subsequently ignored it for about two years.

One day I was browsing my bookshelves, looking for something to read.  I had gotten caught up on all my "to-be-read" books and was thinking about re-reading something.  My eye caught the tattered, 15-year-old copy of "The Wolf's Hour" that my sister had loaned me several years before, and I decided that, since I didn't have anything else better to read, I'd give it a whirl.  I figured I'd read a chapter or two and probably end up abandoning it.

I was blown away.

This book hooked me from page one and I was stunned by just how much I loved it.  If you like spy novels or thrillers, and especially if you enjoy those kinds of novels against a backdrop of World War II, you should move this book high up on your "to-be-read" list.  I enjoyed this novel so much it led me to check out the rest of McCammon's bibliography, and he has become one of my absolute favorite novelists, right up there with Mr. Smith and Mr. Orwell.        

The Wolf's Hour

10) The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman

This book is a bit more "academic" than the other non-fiction books I have recommended, but it is still written for a general reading audience.  Freeman is a British historian of ancient Greece and Rome, and this book details how the pursuit of knowledge and reason, championed during the height of the Greco-Roman period, was supplanted in late antiquity by superstition and ultimately led Europe into a centuries-long dark age.

Freeman talks extensively about the influence of Christianity on this social move away from reason and knowledge.  Once the Catholic Church took control of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, there was an intentional and systematic war waged against science, technology, reason, medicine, and even literature and history.  While these subjects flourished in the East under Muslim rule, the West decayed and the Roman empire crumbled, leading to the so-called "Dark Ages," where western Europeans suffered for centuries with a standard of living significantly lower than that enjoyed by their ancestors several hundred years earlier.

This book will educate you and will challenge some of your preconceived notions about where we come from and why we believe the things we believe.  It left me with an overwhelming sense of "what might have been" if not for the intentional suppression of knowledge that was carried out in the name of God and power by the early Christian church.        

The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Notes from the Cave

As I mentioned in my last report, I went to see my cardiologist a few weeks ago as a follow-up to an ER visit I made due to heart palpitations.  Everything checked out fine and both my cardiologist and my primary care doctor agreed that the palpitations were normal and benign.  That doesn't necessarily make them any less alarming when they occur, but I am learning to deal with them.  There is absolutely no question that stress and worrying about them make them worse.

In addition to that, my cardiologist decided to cut my two heart medicines in half.  I take a so-called ACE Inhibitor, which reduces the stress on the heart, and a beta blocker, which helps lower blood pressure.  During my appointment, my pulse was in the 50's and my blood pressure was also low, so that, apparently, indicates that I no longer need the higher doses of these two medicines.  I can only assume this is due to the fact that I have been eating so healthy, losing weight, and getting a lot of exercise.  My heart is getting stronger and healthier.  So this is very good news.

He also has taken me off of my blood thinner.  He had originally told me I would need to take it until the beginning of June, so this was essentially a planned move.  I hated taking that medicine because it caused me to bruise easily and also caused me to bleed endlessly from minor scrapes and scratches.  I felt like a walking murder victim half the time because the slightest scrape on the arm, or picking at the cuticles, would bleed like a stab wound.  I once unknowingly scraped my forearm and it was bleeding without me knowing it.  I then brushed my arm across a door at work to push it open and I left behind a huge swath of blood that freaked out all my co-workers.

Despite this, I was very uneasy about going off the drug.  I felt vulnerable without it because it helps reduce the risk of a blood clot forming in the stent.  This can happen while the stent is still healing and growing into the heart tissue.  Apparently, based on the type of stent I have, this becomes less of a risk after the first few months.  Also, my particular stent is the widest possible because I have large arteries, and my cardiologist said he doesn't remember anyone ever coming back to the ER with a blood clot in this size stent.

So....after angsting over it for a week, and getting a second opinion from a heart surgeon I happen to know, I went off the medicine a few days ago.  So far so good. I'm almost eager to cut myself so I can see if I bleed normally again.

I've also continued to lose weight.  In my last update, about two weeks ago, I said I was 226.  Yesterday, I weighed in at 218.  Last weekend, we went to the lake for Memorial Day and I didn't exactly eat the way I would have in past years, but I also didn't stick religiously to my new normal eating habits.  I came back Monday expecting to have gained a pound or two, and instead had lost a few.  Not sure how that happened, but I have dropped another couple of pounds since then.  I think I've lost 5 pounds in just the last week or so.  It would seem, perhaps, that my metabolism is starting to increase.  Either that, or this is just one of the normal patterns of ebb and flow when it comes to weight loss.  You just creep along for weeks, half a pound at a time, and then suddenly, without changing anything, the weight starts to come off more quickly.  Who knows.

I hate that all my Notes from the Cave lately have been almost exclusively about my health and eating habits, but it seems like that is the only thing of significance to really talk about.