Let’s talk some dope (amine)

Remember the Pythagorean Theorem?  Yeah, me neither, until mathematician April reminded us in Sunday School class.  It’s the set-in-stone mathematical law that if you add up the angles of a triangle, it always equals 180.  (The angles are where two legs of the triangle meet – how close or far apart they are.  A circle = 360.)  You learned this in school, trust me, and you learned it as an absolute.  Every triangle’s angles add up to 180.  

And then, April blew my mind.  Se told us this never-to-be-disputed mathematical law only works on a flat surface.  If you draw a triangle on the surface of the earth, the angles will add up to more than 180 degrees.  WHAT?  Yep, context matters.  What I’ve believed my entire life.  What a thrill to hear my sense of the world confirmed by a mathematical theorem!

But this is not a blog about math.  No, this is a blog about my brain, and how this new idea  sent a surge of dopamine straight through my neural pathways, making me feel excited and happy.  Okay, this also reveals the nerd I am – that a new exciting idea is my form of a drug rush.

But here’s the question:  What gives you a rush of dopamine?  What excites you?  Do you even know anymore?

Daniel Siegel in his latest book, “Brainstorm:  The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain” suggests our (adult) frustrations with teens come in part from our envy of their passion.  The resting level of dopamine drops in adolescence, but is much more easily spiked.  Hence, their passions are easily excited, and we see that, and as adults, we miss that for ourselves.

In the book “Overwhelmed: Work, love, and play when no one has the time” by Brigid Schulte, she presents all the research on the importance of playtime not for children, but for adults.  If we want to be creative – and let’s face it, our lives demand creative problem solving at home, at work, in our relationships – We need to play.  And she rightly points out how hard it is for adults to play, yet how crucial it is.  

So why don’t we?  Well, who has the time?  The research says playing makes us more productive and creative.  Obviously we’d be happier and better off if we played.

But for those of us living a life faith in this culture, our every minute is measured by our immediate productivity.  “Playing time” looks like “wasting time.”    What will people say?  That we’re lazy, frivolous, childish.  

Plus for those of us who are Christian, our Puritan heritage immediately puts a stop to play.  Consciously or not, we think we must “Come, labor on – Who dares stand idle” as the (awful!) Protestant hymn suggests.  O, we’ll play, sure, – once the list is done.  Once all our responsibilities are fulfilled.  Except the list, and our responsibilities, by their very nature, never will get done.  

Instead:  The research on work, on how our brains are wired, on adolescents, on mental health all agree:  We must play.  And for Christians, we can drown out the “Come, Labor On” message by turning to the God of the hymn, “Morning Has Broken:” which says, “God’s re-creation of the new day.” If we are to be about God’s work in the world, well then, we are called to participate in “re-creation,” that is, “recreation.” 

So, when was the last time you had a dopamine rush?  Do you remember what caused it?  Have you gone seeking it by trying new adventures, going outside your comfort zone, pushing against your edges?  And in spite how exciting I found the limitations of the Pythagorean Theorem, all the research says the dopamine rushes that restore us involve our whole being – Not just our mind – but our bodies, too.  Which is play.  Image


Giving Up Sugar for Lent: It’s good for the body. DANG IT!!

I’m not big for giving up something for Lent.  I wasn’t raised with that tradition, and it’s not something we emphasize here in my Presbyterian church.  

But it’s a popular thing to do.  Based on my (extremely limited unscientific observation) sugar is the most popular item to give up.  

When I hear of folk give something up for Lent, I  usually ask, “And how has that brought you closer to God or helped you be a more faithful disciple?”  


And the typical Christian answer is often, “Because Jesus gave up his life for me, so I can do this for Him.”  

Ah.  No wonder I’ve not been big on giving something up for Lent, since that theology doesn’t work for me.  I can’t wrap my mind around how it might bring my Maker joy for me to give up chocolate.  More to the point, I can’t wrap my mind and heart around substitutionary and sacrificial atonement theology.  Put simply:  

1. Substitutionary Atonement says that God needed to punish someone for humanity’s evil ways, and Jesus volunteered, “giving up his life for me.”   

Hmm.  Not sure I can trust a God who thinks and works like that:  One who needs someone to pay for how we mess up.  That math doesn’t work for me.  

2. God demanded a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins t

hroughout all time, so Jesus was that sacrifice, as in the ancient Temple traditions of turtledoves and perfect calves brought to the high priests to settle debts.

Again, huh?  It just doesn’t make sense to me – Not only does the math not add up for me,  I can’t trust such a score-keeping vindictive revengeful deity.

So, I’ve never been one for giving up something, although I know it does help people draw closer in gratitude to our Maker.  That I like. And having a daily practice to help us become mor

e mindful – That I like as well.  But still, I didn’t give up sugar for Lent, not feeling like it would nourish my spiritual life.

Then I came across these two different on-line pieces just in the last two days, after a week of sugar intake being in the news.  (New World Health Organization guidelines?  We should consume less sugar a day than is in one can of soda:   http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/05/adults-sugar-calories-coke-can-who.  Good thing I don’t drink soda!)

1.This article:   http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/

2014/01/15/262741403/why-sugar-makes-us-feel-so-good?utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook suggesting just how and why sugar is addictive.  Sugar lights up our brain similarly, although not as intensely, as HEROIN.  Yikes.  Our dopamine receptors – what makes us feel so good – LOVE sugar, but then, like any drug, we grow tolerant, we lose our ability to refuse it, we crave it, we need more of it in order to get that “rush.”  WAH!  I love sugar!  Now I know why.  But I wonder if addiction to sugar has gotten my dopamine receptors out of whack, so they are less responsive to joy?    That would be a spiritual issue.

2. This little video clip on what happens to our brains on s

ugar:  http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-nicole-avena  showing in a very simplified way how dopamine works and why sugar is addicting – The more you eat sugar, the more you crave sugar, the  less you can resist sugar.  In other words, the more willpower it takes to refuse it.  I need all my willpower going to keep me running and having a sermon ready by Sunday morning and keep my foot out of my  mouth.  There isn’t any left over to fight my brain’s constant insisting WE NEED SUGAR!  We’re deprived of dopamine!   

But what’s so bad about sugar?  Other than, you know, diabetes, weight gain, heart disease.  

Sadly, overeating sugar clouds your thinking.  It leaves you tired.  It spikes you up, then drops you down.  Eating sugar makes it hard to focus.  We end up eating more than we realize, because it is added to EVERYTHING:  ketchup, yogurt, cereal, dried fruit – Really, almost all our processed food.  

And now, I’m re-thinking my “not giving up sugar for Lent.”  Since we understand there is no division between body and spirit – The spirit is a physical reality happening in our physical brain – Maybe all those people giving sugar up for Lent are on to something, beyond an atonement theology that doesn’t work for me.  Maybe my sugar addiction – Because yes, I agree, I am addicted – IS interfering with my spiritual life, in ways that simply running a few miles every other day won’t fix.   Can I have some M&M’s as I contemplate that?  

Just kidding.  Sort of.