Because Blog

The wonder of garlic

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

“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

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

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

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
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