The wonder of garlic

April 1, 2020

The first mouthful gave it away immediately. I had forgotten to put garlic into my ‘four bean chilli’. Unfortunately, there was no hiding from it: dinner that night was rather bland. As I mourned my missing ingredient, I began to ponder on the importance of garlic to my life. My wife and I have a vegetarian meal at least twice a week and garlic has become the ‘wonder’ ingredient: it turns a collection of vegetables or pulses into a proper meal.

Food has become very political over the last decade, with meat being discouraged from the world’s diet for various reasons. For some, a reduction in the consumption of processed meat is the route towards preventing various cancers. For others, it is all about reducing carbon emissions. My motivation wasn’t about saving the planet; it was a focus on my own health. To be honest, I don’t feel that I have made a radical change to my lifestyle, as I’m still eating fish and chicken for the rest of the week. And yes, red meat does normally make an appearance once a week.

Recently, I was horrified to discover that a major reason for the clearances of the Amazon rainforest is for cattle farming.[1] The world just can’t get enough beef and it has become unsustainable. Personally, I make sure my weekly treat of beef is grown in the UK. This choice had nothing to do with the crisis in the Amazon; it was an attempt to support British farmers. However, I am glad to learn that I am not contributing towards the environmental disaster in South America.

However, the politics of food is complicated. Another major contributor to the Amazon clearances is the expanding need for soya.[2] Given that soya is used as a substitute for meat, I find this both ironic – and disturbing. I realise that any choices that I make about diet need to be carefully considered. I hope that my personal choice is helping, rather than destroying, the planet. Am I doing enough? I don’t know. As a result, I continue to look for more small choices in lifestyle that could bring benefits to our planet.

I believe that this world – the whole universe – matters. Not just so that we leave it in a ‘good enough’ state for the next generation. Planet Earth is in itself intrinsically valuable. My faith tradition highlights that there is a ‘hidden hand’ behind the universe, that there is a reason as to why our world – and all of us on it – exist. Language struggles to explain this ‘hidden hand’; as a shorthand we use the word God. Somewhere in the past, it was documented that this mysterious benefactor called the world ‘very good’.[3] Earth is not worth saving just because humans need somewhere to live. Our planet has beauty, worth and meaning beyond all of that.

‘Going vegetarian’ twice a week was, in reality, all about me rather than about saving the Amazon rainforest. However, knowing that this change could be helping to make a difference has stirred me to stay with these dietary choices. Together, I believe that all of our small decisions can add up to make a significant impact. Therefore, garlic will remain on my shopping list, as it is the ingredient that turns my ‘four bean chilli’ into a tasty dinner. And it keeps me eating less meat as a result.

Ian Woodley

[2] Ibid.
[3] The Bible, Genesis 1:31
Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

Spiritual workout

March 30, 2020

“Many people in their teens wonder about these big questions – what’s the meaning of life, what are we doing here – then somewhere in their 20s, they seem to say, ‘I’ll just get married. I’ll just have kids. I’ll get back to that later’. But they never do. For me, it kept boiling”. [1] Yuval Harari

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve noticed we are taking one lockdown rule very seriously: our rationing of one-days’ dose of a good, old cardiovascular workout, also known as exercise.

I’ve even been getting mine in. A brisk walk round my local park where I was witness to myriad forms of exercise along with creative ways to use park apparatus. And the exercise binge hasn’t stopped there. After 6 days of lockdown, social media has spawned numerous examples of how to keep fit. From the comeback of the 81 years’ young Green Goddess, to self-styled Instagram isolation games, we are a nation that’s staying fighting fit in this crisis.

But is there another type of exercise we can take advantage of in these times of isolation?

I once read an old adage that went something like this: “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way because it promises life both for the present and for the future”.[2] What do you think this means?

For me, I wonder whether it means something like what Harari was getting at in the above statement? Harari is a best-selling intellectual with books such as Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow where he delves into the most existential questions of our time. There is something familiar to what he asked; maybe at some point in our lives we’ve all flirted with these questions. Because why are we here, anyway?

But like Harari suggests, we may have got a little out of shape when it comes to the big questions – the spiritual questions – of life? In these times when we have something we seldom have – time – is it time to get on the transcendental treadmill again? Maybe do a little more soul-searching as to what all this life stuff is about? The second week of lockdown could be that time when we do some ‘existential exercise’. What do you think?

I  won’t patronise you by telling you where to start the search – maybe you already have an inkling, some place you’ve gone to before. But I would be interested to hear what you find.

If you want to share your thoughts and questions, I would be happy to hear from you at the below email address. And I’d be happy to share my journey – a journey where I didn’t get married or have kids (yet) but instead set out to find the answers to Harari’s questions.

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[2] The Bible, 1 Timothy 4:8 (GNT)

The unlikely volunteer

March 27, 2020

Where would we be without our health workers, carers and all those who assist in the current crisis? Let’s continue to thank them and to rally around them.

Also, to thank the army of volunteers who have come forward at our time of need. Let’s not underestimate their contribution.

In a few weeks Christians remember an unexpected volunteer. One that came out of the blue. Someone that many people thought was distant, and too high and mighty to be concerned deeply about us. But they were wrong. I’m talking about God, who sent his Son to save us.

Jesus, God’s Son, volunteered to comfort us and to provide a life for us beyond this one. Of his own volition he chose to die in our stead, and, in so doing, gave us hope not only for this life, but also for a future beyond the grave.

He still volunteers to help us today. Not even death could stop him. He rose from the dead so he could continue to serve each and every one of us.

Thank God for volunteers.

James Henderson

Using our freedom

March 25, 2020

It was raining heavily – and I went outside, and stood in the garden in the rain; no coat, no umbrella – I just stood still, feeling the downpour. So why did I stand there? Firstly – because I could. I am old enough not to have a parent to tell me to come inside or to put my coat and wellies on. Also, I’m not yet old enough to be told by carers that I need to come in. Standing in the rain is a very cleansing feeling. It’s not a problem if you know you can soon change into dry clothing.

So I had the freedom to stand in the rain. In another situation, other people might have felt they had the responsibility to bring me inside. We are prevented, by law, or our own morality, from doing many things. But we also have the freedom to do many things. With that freedom often comes a certain weight of responsibility. I have the freedom to drive where I choose – with some obvious exceptions. With this freedom comes the responsibility to obey the rules of the road, designed to keep everyone safe. I have the freedom to say what I want but I have the responsibility to try and make sure that my words do not harm or hurt other people.

The need to consider the effect that our personal quest for freedom has on those around us is neatly summarised by a quote of uncertain origins that states, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. Drawing that line is sometimes not straightforward.

Every news bulletin has examples of people who have taken freedoms to themselves that have caused suffering to others. And there are many stories of people who have denied themselves freedoms to benefit others – they have provided some element of sacrifice. It could be someone confronting a violent criminal or a parent going without food so that their child can eat. Sacrifice is a choice, and exists on many levels. Giving one’s own life to benefit others is the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus Christ made this choice and he made the point to his followers that he had a way out that he was choosing not to take. They were ready to fight when he was being arrested by, “a great multitude with swords and clubs”.[1] He pointed out to them: “… do you think that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He will provide me with more that twelve legions of angels?”[2]

Jesus did not need to experience all that followed – the beating, the mockery, or the horror of the crucifixion. It was a choice made to pay the penalty of all sin. And that provides each one of us with a freedom from that penalty. But it also provides us with a responsibility to live according to the law that Paul, the author of the book of Romans, explains is, “summed up in this saying, Namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.[3]

Paul points out that “love does no harm to a neighbour”.[4] I hope that the choices I make, and the freedoms I take to myself, do not harm my neighbours, and today – if it rains – you may find me, out there, standing in the rain.

Maggie Mitchell

Maggie is an editor at Because

[1] The Bible, Matthew 26:55

[2] Matthew 26:53

[3] Romans 13:9

[4] Romans 13:10

Virtual Church

March 23, 2020

What are your thoughts about going to church? Maybe you went as a child but got bored or disillusioned with this faith stuff. Maybe you believe in a higher-being but wouldn’t darken the door of a church. Whatever your relationship with the spiritual, maybe like me, this pandemic has made you think about the deeper, more existential things of life.

And now we’re all going to have more time on our hands and at home, is this a chance for us to explore those thoughts and questions about life and faith again? If so, there’s a church out there that isn’t closing its doors.

I have a virtual reality headset. If you have one you will know the fun you can have from the comfort of your own living room. Exploring virtual worlds has never been easier. Worlds and events that are untouched by the coronavirus! Yes, doors to these virtual events remain open even in the middle of a pandemic.

Now I will be spending more time indoors, I’m reminded of a suggestion my friend gave me (a friend who I meet in virtual reality around a campfire!). Recently, he suggested I check out a virtual church he found on a VR platform called Altspace. This church even got a review from the BBC yesterday. So now I’m social-distancing, I’ve decided to check it out.

Maybe it won’t be for me or for you. But I can see the advantage of this way of meeting, especially if you are suspicious of churches or unsure about where you stand with faith, in general, or Christianity, specifically. When you step into this world, you are an avatar which takes away any social awkwardness. Then you are free to listen to the message, talk to those attending the same event, and then log-out anytime you want – you’re in control.

You can find guidelines of how to visit this ‘church’ here. If you don’t own a headset, then you can still join in – guidelines to see Altspace events on your PC can be found here.

If you check it out and have questions about faith and God and you want to speak to someone, then we’d be happy to hear from you at the below email address.

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by Frank Vessia on Unsplash

A call to prayer

March 20, 2020

Prayer is about care.

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, many religious groups, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have called for a time of prayer.

Prayer is not so much about imploring God to do something as it is about joining in God’s love for those close to us and for the rest of humanity.

When we pray for someone, we make a positive statement. It’s saying that we participate in God’s love for him or her. When we help someone, we put God’s gifts of love and compassion into action.

A simple prayer could be: “God, I’m new to all this prayer stuff, but help me please to pray for those caught up in the coronavirus pandemic. In particular help me to share in your love for (name some names). Thank you”.

Time to pray.

James Henderson

Shots in the dark

March 18, 2020

In films and on TV people die quickly, quietly and immediately after being shot. In real life it is different. A heart shot or brain shot will kill quickly but in the heat of battle firing an accurate shot is very difficult.

It was summer 1964, in Borneo, at one of the forward bases. We heard gunshots at around 12:30am. The bullets hit the sandbags and whistled over the compound. The sentries returned fire not knowing where to aim; in the jungle the darkness is thick and black. In the trenches you can’t even see the man next to you. The compound was on a hill with vegetation cut back to give a clear field of fire for 100 yards. But once the terrorists had fired they move quickly to a new position so not even the gun flash would show you where to aim.

By the time we were in the trenches the officer of the day had fired a flare, giving us a couple of minutes of light to look downhill at the thick, dark tree-line. Nothing moved. But we knew they were there. We could only wait, peering into the blackness illuminated at random intervals by a flare. Between flares a shot or two would be fired but by 2am it had gone completely quiet. You strain eyes and ears to see and hear but nothing. If you are not careful your imagination plays tricks on you and you see movement that is not there.

Just before 3am, another flare went up and as it did, we again looked for danger. Suddenly, bullets whistled past me just yards away. Then I heard the GPMG (the General Purpose Machine Gun, which can fire a thousand rounds in a minute) cracking off a burst, and I wondered what they were shooting at.

Discipline kicked in and I fired my own sub machine gun. Immediately after I held down the trigger, ten or twelve bullets exploded into the terrorist’s body. For a moment he disappeared but then, in the dying light of the flare, I saw his boots maybe a yard or two away. The bullets had thrown him on his back and for a second there was silence. Then a groan of pain, a gasp for breath. Another flare shows the terrorist stretched out, his boots facing us, his weapon a few feet away from his outstretched arm.

For about 45 minutes, we listen to his groans of pain, his gasps for breath, the gaps between them getting longer. No one leaves the trench to investigate and the night goes quiet. It is a long wait for the dawn as I fight the urge to be sick in the darkness. Dawn comes and we cautiously check the ground in front of us. A patrol goes down to the tree-line very carefully and disappears into the trees. About fifteen or twenty minutes later they emerge giving the all clear.

We climb out of the trench and examine the dead body. We count eight bullet holes across his rib cage and stomach. With instant medical attention in a first-class hospital he may have survived but that wasn’t available here. He died slowly and painfully, and the groans stay in my head for a long time. At the bottom of the slope, just in front of the tree-line, another terrorist lies dead, his head removed from his body as neatly as if done by a skilled surgeon. He had been kneeling in the arc of fire from the GPMG. We all try to act casually and calmly as if this is an everyday occurrence.

As soon as I can I slip away to the latrine, brushing off congratulations from my fellow soldiers. I’m briefly sick and then dry heave for several minutes as the enormity of what I have done hits me hard. A long serving Sergeant, who has seen action elsewhere, has seen me leave for the latrine. He comes and pats me on the back, says quiet words of encouragement but does not attempt to make me stop heaving. He is calm and understanding, having experienced what I now was experiencing. He tells me this is what I was trained for, praises my reaction and discipline, tells me to get something to eat and drink in the cookhouse, then quietly leaves.

I asked myself some deep, searching questions. What will happen to those two dead terrorists? What will happen to me at the end of my life? I found myself wondering, is there a God

It was ten long years before the urge to know God overwhelmed me. This led me on another journey, another kind of training. I started studying the Bible and going to church became a vital part of my life. I came to understand Christianity and began to experience a peace of mind that I had not experienced before. Even finding peace with my Borneo experiences. I came to find answers to the questions I had asked myself all those years ago.

Sometimes it takes a crisis in our lives to make us face up to and ask the tough questions.  I found the answers by seeking God and starting a relationship with him. I found God was ready for me.  And I believe, when the time is right, he will be ready for you too.

The author has asked to remain anonymous

Look out, not in

March 16, 2020

From toilet paper memes to apocalyptic language, coronavirus has gripped the world and reminded us that we’re facing two worldwide viruses: COVID-19 and fear.

With pictures of empty parking lots and empty supermarket shelves, it is clear that fear is having the greater effect. This is what fear does, it is the great motivator; it changes our behaviour inward.

Fear, if it is strong enough, shrinks our circle of concern so we end up just looking after number one. Typically, this is what happens when a danger comes with the threat of death. And it’s what happened in the 14th century pandemic called the Black Death. Italian Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio writing at the time from Florence, Italy, describes how social bonds broke down as “this scourge had implanted so great a terror in the hearts of men and women that brothers abandoned brothers, uncles their nephews, sisters their brothers, and fathers and mothers refused to nurse and assist their children”.[1] Of course, those were tougher times, but nonetheless, fear leads us to look in, not out.

And we don’t have to go far into the history of virus outbreaks to see how a more isolated world affects us. One study into the 2003 Sars outbreak in Toronto found, “around 30 per cent of people who were isolated…subsequently suffered from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder”.[2] Findings like this start to make me think about our elderly population.

An already isolated age group are now facing the prospect of more isolation. I was shocked when I saw a recent Cadbury’s Chocolate advert highlighting that 225,000 older people often go a whole week without speaking to anyone! Maybe we should give one of those toilet rolls we bought to an elderly person!?

As fear squeezes our boundaries of care ever smaller maybe it’s a good time to look out and not in. Maybe Franklin D. Roosevelt had a point when he said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

As this coronavirus continues to spread and infect, let’s be mindful that we are not infected by the second virus, fear. Crises like this always demand a population to think not just about themselves but each other.

This week, what can you do for an older person you know? How about reaching out to an older person you know and make sure they’re ok.

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by Bram. on Unsplash
[2] Ibid

The enemy within

March 13, 2020

Xenophobia, literally the fear of strangers or foreigners, is alive and kicking; in fact it has recently gone viral. Thanks to the Coronavirus.

In the last few days, I have heard or read statements along the following lines in the media:

“The COVID-19 epidemic is all the fault of those bat-eating communists”. “True to form, the Iranian government are lying about the number of cases to suit their own nefarious purposes”. And, “Those ghastly Italians with their slobbery kisses are superspreaders of the disease”.

There have been reports of Australian parents refusing to let Asian doctors treat their children. While the British-born Chinese comedian Ken Cheng recently observed, “Less than 0.001% of Chinese people have coronavirus, yet more than 99.999% have experienced coronaracism”.

Many spiritual leaders have pointed out that xenophobia, racism, bigotry  – whatever you call them – are not really external problems; they stem from within us. Perhaps that is why the founder of Christianity, Jesus, famously declared, ““In everything you do, be careful to treat others in the same way you’d want them to treat you, for that is the essence of all the teachings”.1

Following his advice could change the world. But the biggest beneficiary of all will be yourself.

Peter Mill

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

1The Bible: Matthew 7:12 (TPT)


Be kind

March 11, 2020

When TV personality Philip Scholfield announced on This Morning that he is gay he accompanied the announcement with an emotional Instagram message which concluded with him writing ‘Please be kind, especially to my family. Following the tragic suicide of former Love Island presenter Caroline Flack, her close friend who replaced her on the show, Laura Whitmore, paid tribute to her on BBC Radio 5 Live and pleaded with listeners to be kind’ . This was an echo of Caroline’s own message posted a few months before her death – in a world where you can be anything, be kind’.

The reality is this world can be anything but kind. The paparazzi and tabloids are out for a quick sell as they harass people, take unwanted photos and publish intimate information that ruins reputations and relationships. Internet trolls hide behind their keyboards as they deliberately try to disrupt, attack, offend or generally cause trouble. Whether it is designed to insult, such as comments about a person’s weight, to criticise the activities someone is involved in, or to cause offence over a person’s sexuality or religious beliefs, it is little less than cyberbullying, and definitely not kind.

The world would certainly be a better place if we were kind. At least that’s what the biblical writer Paul thought when he wrote Be kind and compassionate to one another’.[1] It’s not that Christians have a monopoly on kindness, as it seems to me all of us have a responsibility to be kind. Of course, freedom of speech is important, and we may all at times take a stand and speak out on issues that have significance for us. Opposing views and yes even disagreements can be healthy in our society, but should we use those disagreements to be judgmental or unkind?

It was the same person, Paul, who wrote that ‘love is kind’.[2] In other words, kindness is love in action. It’s a practical expression of love that is visible and active, and as a Christian and a human being I have choice to make: whether or not to be kind. Sadly, I can think of many times in my life where my choice has been to be harsh, critical, and inconsiderate – anything but kind. But if there is one thing that Philip Scholfield’s announcement, Caroline Flack’s death and Paul’s writings from 2,000 years ago tell me, it is that I need to be kind – how about you?

Barry Robinson

Photo by Erico Marcelino on Unsplash
[1] The Bible; Ephesians 4:32 (NIVUK)
[2] The Bible; 1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIVUK)


Next Page »