Tag Archives: V

V is for Vacillating

Vacillating is one of my favourite words and also describes how I have been with the topic of this post. There are plenty of good words beginning with V – vision, violence, vocation, etc. – but I haven’t felt quite strongly enough about any of them to actually put words to pixels.

This probably hasn’t been helped by working two jobs, nearly at opposite ends of the country, and only stopping in between for other bits of voluntary and occasional paid work. I enjoy it all but sometimes I wish it was closer to home!

V, then, is also for Vacation Рin this case, a brief break from blogging, although I hope to write something about Quaker faith & practice Chapter 23 soon.

V is for… Vegan

Sometimes when I say I’m vegetarian or vegan, I think people who aren’t take that as a criticism – or assume that I intended it as such. The other week someone called himself a ‘filthy meat eater’; we were discussing getting takeaway, and I’d said that Chinese was often good for me because many places do a range of bean-curd dishes. So let’s get this out the way. I’m a vegetarian-leaning-vegan because that’s what I’ve been called to do. If you are, to adapt an already apocryphal phrase, happy to eat it as long as you can, that’s fine by me.

So why am I vegan(ish)? What is a vegan anyway and what does ‘ish’ mean? Basic terminology, since this gets confused quite often: a vegetarian doesn’t eat meat. Has it got a brain? If yes, don’t feed it, or parts of it, to a vegetarian. (Some parts are sneaky – sweets don’t look like they contain bits of pig or cow, but many have gelatine in. Some people are pescatarians, eating fish but not other kinds of meat.) Vegans, generally, don’t eat meat or animal products. What counts as an animal product will vary, but to be on the safe side, assume that milk (and all milk products), eggs, and honey are included. (A freegan doesn’t buy those things, but will eat them if they’d go to waste otherwise.) What someone actually eats will depend on the motives for adopting their diet; if in doubt, ask.

I began vegan in the summer of 2011, having been vegetarian since my teens. I was at Yearly Meeting at Canterbury, and we were working on issues around climate change; I was repeatedly desperate for something I could do, since there’s a limit to how much a person with a chronic illness in rented accommodation on a very limited budget can do about their carbon footprint. The only thing I really have complete control over is food, I said. And I can’t even buy that without plastic packaging. But I suppose I could go vegan.

This was ironic, in that only a few months before I’d been heard to say to a vegan friend, “oh, I could never be vegan, it must be so hard!” Well, I’m here to report that it is and it isn’t. At home it’s fairly easy. I live alone, don’t buy milk, cheese, or eggs, and don’t have them in the house, so I don’t use them. Soy milk is easy to buy, store, and use, although it’s worth shopping around for the best brand; soy cheese is weird and icky, so I ignore it; egg replacer comes in a box and lasts forever, so that’s no problem. I do buy local honey, because after consideration I’ve decided that this is the best way to support our bee population. I don’t have a moral problem with the concept of eating milk and eggs (I’ve heard it argued that it’s wrong, because cow’s milk is for baby cows; when I was a baby, my mother had spare milk and gave it away and I was fine, so sharing seems reasonable in moderation – the problem with milk here and now is quantity and method). Sometimes I’ll have a craving for eggs (probably a vitamin or fat deficiency, since I don’t actually like them); I cure this by going down to our local organic city farm, luckily within walking distance, and buying a box of six organic eggs. It’s local, it’s organic, and they’d be keeping chickens anyway for educational purposes, so this is close enough for me. If it wasn’t, or wasn’t an option for some other reason, I’d try a week of vitamin B supplements and some plant oils with omega 3 and 6 to see if that cured the craving.

What’s hard is eating out. You’re stuck on a station and need to eat something. Unless boiled sweets will do, it’s probably got to be a cheese sandwich or a muffin with egg in it. You’re going to see a film and want to meet your friends and eat near the cinema. If the Harvester’s Just Salad isn’t enough (because it’s a cold day and you want something warm, or you don’t consider pumpkin seeds in the topping to be a complete protein content), it’s probably got to be something with cheese in. In Leeds we’re lucky enough to have two whole vegetarian cafes with good vegan options, but in many places it’s a baked potato with baked beans (please hold the butter!) or nothing. In these cases I find that I am usually led to make sensible compromises.

Does it really lower my carbon footprint? I don’t know, although experts tell me it probably helps a bit. Isn’t soy just as bad? Well, it seems more efficient to eat it directly than to feed it to cows and then eat them. Aren’t you short of protein? No, plenty of plants contain protein and humans don’t need as much as many people seem to think.

Is God really calling me to do this? I think so. The act of asking questions allows me to raise awareness about the issue. A while ago a Friend made soup for our lunch, and when I asked whether it was vegan she went, oh dear, I did put a little butter in it. I ate the soup anyway, but next time she might fry the onions in olive oil instead. If we’re to deal with climate change we need big changes as well as small ones – governments! landlords! supermarkets! get on it! – but if we can make lots of small changes they will both help a little directly and help to strength our case, prove that we believe this is the right path and that we’re committed to it, and thereby help indirectly with the big changes.



V is for… Vision

There’s been some discussion recently about the future of Quakerism, sparked in my corner of the internet by Craig Barnett’s blog post The death of liberal Quakerism (and the birth of something else?)

It remains to be seen, of course, whether this discussion either identifies or begins processes which will lead to historically-visible change, but I think there’s something important about knowing our visions for the future whether or not they come true. (It’s like watching old sci-fi. The year 2000 wasn’t like that, but it tells you something about the 1970s if you know what they thought 2000 would be like.) Towards the end of the post, Craig identifies some ways in which the Religious Society of Friends of the future might be different to the one we know today. They are:

  • a movement towards a “deeper, more disciplined worship and spiritual practice”
  • a new recognition of the need for leadership, specifically a leadership which empowers and supports others
  • a shared understanding of and language for the Quaker Way, arising from an inclusive threshing process
  • more work on outreach
  • a better knowledge of early Friends
  • a changing, more practical arrangement so that our “structures and bureaucracy … serve the spiritual practice of the community”

Some of these are beginning – Craig mentions meetings which have done away with their committee structures and begun afresh – while I think others may be there but disguised. For example, I can’t help wondering whether some of the depth of spiritual practice is hidden when people have expectations about what spiritual practice should look like or how it should be described. If a Friend isn’t doing in Meeting what I choose to do in Meeting, does that make them less a part of the gathered Meeting, or just interacting with it differently? Our visions of what ‘spiritual practice’ can be might need to expand, and we might be helped in doing that by work on the third point, about our language.

You aren’t, of course, at all surprised to hear that I’m interested in issues around the language that we use, and the extent to which we have or don’t have a shared understanding. I do think a threshing process might be useful (I’d certainly be interested in it with my professional/philosophical hat on!) but any threshing process around language needs to be handled carefully, to be inclusive, to be aware of Friends’ tender spots and – not to avoid them – but to support Friends in living with them.

I think this – acknowledging tender spots and possible conflicts and living with rather than denying or hiding them – might be one of the big changes in my vision for the future of British Quakerism. It’s not something our wider society supports (we’re not supposed to be emotional, people who point out conflict are often treated as creating it, and speaking up when you’re upset, when your metaphorical foot is trodden upon, is often met with defensiveness from the tread-ee who stands on your other foot in the process in the hope that you’ll be quiet). That doesn’t mean we can’t do it, although it will take courage; Friends are often proud of their reputation as a radical group.

I’m not sure about all the other things Craig outlines. I’m inspired by much of our central work, for example, and I hope we can find ways to continue projects which we have previously decided, usually through a long process of discernment, to start or support. We could live without quite a few of our formal appointments, though – some of the best oversight I’ve ever had was offered by a Meeting who didn’t appoint overseers (or elders, or anyone, actually).

V is for… Veil

“The veil is thin.”

It’s a classic thing to say at this time of year, when Samhain close (it’ll be just past by the time this post is published). But what does it mean?

Well, some people probably think of it literally – if there is another world, in which the dead live, this is a time of year when the dead are closer and can more easily be contacted. I prefer, though, to see it as a metaphor (my world-view doesn’t really have a space for a physical World of the Dead in quite that way).

I think of it as the smell of autumn – of rotting leaves and trees going to rest. I think of it as the shortening days, the earlier evenings, the sun seemingly weakened. (Of course, the sun is not really weaker, just further away and at a different angle; but Paganism often chooses to focus on how things seem to us.) I associate it with the cold and the urge to sleep longer.

In these circumstances, it seems no wonder that death, and those who have died before us, are on our minds. Rather than reject that in fear, it can be embraced and accepted calmly, and perhaps acknowledged in ritual.

May you have a blessed Samhain and those whom you have loved and lost be remembered.

V is for… Visualisation

Visualisation is a powerful and often-cited technique, not just in Paganism. Some people find it easy and natural; others of us (like myself) take a while to get the hang of it; for some people it never ‘clicks’ at all. I suspect that for those whom it really doesn’t work, no amount of comment, discussion, or suggestions will help, so if that’s you, there is no pressure in this post to try.

For some people who aren’t sure, though, perhaps my experience might be helpful or at least interesting.

Some starting points: I am not a classically ‘visual’ person – I can’t draw or paint, I’m as happy to listen to the radio as watch TV, and so forth. Nor am I everything you might expect from an ‘auditory’ person – I love spoken words, and lyrics, but am not at all musical. In some ways I am a tactile or kinaesthetic person, though not sufficiently good at this to be able to apply smoothly to physics or physical skills. My dreams tend to be about situations, experienced rather than seen, and come complete with sounds.

As a kid, when I heard people talk about ‘visualising’ things – not automatically in a Pagan context, but using the word in the same way – I assumed that I couldn’t do it, because it seemed to me that they were holding the pictures inside their heads, and I couldn’t see how you made them that small!

It took me a long time to connect my practice of imagining – a whole-body, multi-sensory ‘imagination’ which includes visual components – with ‘visualisation’. I still can’t simply picture something ‘behind my eyes’; I can ‘see’ things in front of me, things which are not really there and which I can control simply with my imagination. This is a practice closely connected with my childhood ‘pretend games’, in which a whole world could be imagined and held as a layer over the real world, ready for interaction.

I might call it ‘visualisation’, because a long word sounds more grown-up. But my Sacred Grove is a really a (perfectly serious) pretend game, an imaginary world which I can visit at will, and in no way restricted to the sense of sight.