Author Archives: autumndaisyhw

About autumndaisyhw

Environmental scientist, activist, imperfect follower of Jesus, wildlife lover, veggie recipe writer, and megafan of Jon Foreman :)

Liturgy in the waves

Whilst I’ve been quiet on the blog, I’ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

I’ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time it’s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. I’ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking I’m sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldn’t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didn’t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. What’s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attempted… and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole it’s been going great.

I’ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. I’ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think it’s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but it’s been healing at times too, and I’ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St David’s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; there’s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wet… In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichéd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

It’s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. It’s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! It’s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter that’s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe I’m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but I’ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitude…  and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each other’s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.

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Chasing the wind?

I read the book of Ecclesiastes this summer. If you’re not familiar with it, it is the musings of an old ‘Philosopher’ on life; what satisfies, what is the point of it all? He tries to make sense of life, and what the purpose of both life itself and its pleasures are, given its brevity, the randomness of chance, and the fact that, taking the long view in his eyes, everything comes around again in an endless cycle in which nothing lasts. ‘Everything is meaningless, like chasing the wind’. He speaks with great wisdom, and yet I found myself debating with him as I read.

It occurred to me I’m thinking like the Philosopher, and not in a good way; in the long, slow recovery from the depression that has knocked back my energy for activism, if not my desire to see things change, I’m starting to succumb to the feeling that everything has happened before and will happen again, it all comes around again and nothing makes a difference. And then as I try to nurse myself, I find I am just trying to ‘feed’ myself, give myself the things I want, as if that could satisfy, and finding unsurprisingly that it doesn’t.

The Philosopher blows back and forth on this, on the one hand saying it’s useless as chasing the wind, on the other that enjoying what we have is all we can and should do.

But is that true?

I think adding Jesus to the equation changes everything. In Him there is a bigger narrative of hope and direction. There is eternity. Everything is headed somewhere. There will be justice – beyond the timeframes of our lives. Which side of that we choose to stand on now matters, not because we can change the endless cycles of rise and fall in this world in our lives, but because He sees it, and is honoured and assisted, or dishonoured and hindered, in His work by our actions and inactions in all things.

Recently at church the speaker preached on the whole book! Their conclusion was similar, that you need Jesus to complete the picture. The service was focussed on wisdom, rather than any other aspect of the book, but it took a similar course. The Philosopher points out that wisdom does not guarantee success, and asks what the point is, and yet concludes that it is still the best way to live and enjoy life. And yet wisdom is personified in Jesus; without Him, there is a hole in the logic. Why live wisely if it doesn’t bring us any benefits, except to know and please the one who is Wisdom?

The speakers made a big deal of how ‘depressing’ the book is to keep emphasising the reality of death. But isn’t this an important, and even life-giving, perspective, a wake-up call to remind us to actually remember to live whilst we have time? It is good and healthy to look at the material and remember how transient we are. But the conclusion of that should not be that we can only consume it in the time we have, but that we need to find contentment. And more than that, we can do far more than simply enjoy what we have; we can actually use it to help others thrive. We are blessed to bless, given to to give. In this way we build something bigger and more lasting than anything merely material we could build and invest in here for ourselves.

Everything may well come around. The justice, peace and progress we work for may well never be seen in our lifetimes, and may be undone in the generations to come. It is important to remember that I cannot fix the world. Even small acts of good that I do may be undone again afterwards. Does that mean it is worthless? No, it is worth it if I can help others now nonetheless. It is not my own legacy that I’m working for, but God’s, not my own kingdom but the eternal Kingdom of God. Never let fatalism become an excuse for apathy! It matters now!

What struck me most from the church sermon was when we were told the meaning of the word translated as ‘meaningless’ – ‘hevel’. It means vapour, breath, smoke.  Real, but intangible, transient, hard to grasp, hard to hold onto. Life is like this. It isn’t meaningless, but we cannot hold on to it, or anything in it. We can enjoy them. We can live in the now. But the only solid, lasting thing we can build is the Kingdom of God, and making life more enjoyable for others.

This is the perspective that I need right now. I cannot truly care for myself and nurse myself back into health by simply feeding my desires, though a certain amount of that is no bad thing. It won’t actually satisfy; but blessing others will. And whilst I cannot fix the world, I can always look for the opportunities before me in all situations and take the baby  steps towards bringing in God’s Kingdom that will get me walking again with some direction.

Don’t try to run from what’s uncomfortable; look for what opportunities you’ve been given to do good, and take them. That will satisfy in a way that feeding our comfort and material desires never could. It will outlast us all.

Veggie Theology

“All creatures of our God and King

Lift up your voice and with us sing

Sun, moon and stars rejoice on high

Praise to the Lord of light divine!”

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above you heavenly host

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost”

 

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

 

 

What do you think of that? We sing these songs, and others like them, all the time, but do we ever think about what we’re singing?

 

My initial reasons for going veggie were purely ethical, and I was extremely surprised when my Christian boyfriend, now husband, told me that he was veggie for spiritual reasons. It hadn’t occurred to me that being veggie related at all to Christianity. However, over the years, I have come to appreciate the links between my faith and our relationship to animals.

 

Here is some research I did into the subject a few years ago for a workshop I was leading at a food justice gathering; if you want to study along, I’ve included links to each scripture I quote, which will open in a new window, or you can look them up in your own Bible:

 

A Brief Biblical History:

In the beginning, all things were made by and for God (Colossians 1:16).*

We were made together with the animals, but we alone were made ‘in God’s image’ and put in charge of other animals and the rest of the Earth. We were given grains and fruits to eat. God looked at it all and was pleased with it. (Genesis 1:24-31) Jesus is our model for how to be good rulers.

We were put in Eden to care for and work the Earth, in companionship with animals (Genesis 2:15-20).

We were permitted to eat animals as well as plants following the fall and flood, when much of the Earth was destroyed (Genesis 9:3).

When the law was given, animal welfare commands were put in place (for example Exodus 23:12 and 19, Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and 25:4).

 

God’s plan:

We often assume animals have no soul, but the most the Bible says explicitly is ‘who knows?’! (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) There are strong hints that they do, in that the creation story uses the same original words for the bringing to life of other animals as for humans, but this is translated as soul for humans, and breath for animals.

In Isaiah 11 a return to Eden’s peace (restored relationships, not mere absence of conflict) is prophesied.

John 3:16 says that God so loved the ‘kosmos’… (meaning pretty much exactly what it does in English); God’s purpose in Jesus was far bigger than just humanity.

This is expanded in Romans 8:19-21 and Colossians 1:20 – all created things are waiting for salvation, via us, via Christ!

 

So that’s the Bible’s view of our relationship with animals. However, I don’t think it stops there, as the Bible also teaches us ethical principles:

 

Ethics:

How we treat others is important, so we should always think about our impacts on fellow human beings and how we can best live in love (Matthew 22:36-39 and 25:31-46, Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 4:16, and many more!).

Meat impacts on the lives of other humans in many ways. About 10% of the average Brit’s carbon footprint comes from meat and dairy; beef and milk in particular have huge carbon impacts associated with them as cattle produce a lot of methane, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. A vast amount of land is also being deforested globally for livestock farming, either directly for pasture or indirectly to grow animal feed, releasing more greenhouse gases, removing a carbon sink, and also often taking land away from indigenous people. All of this matters as climate change is already hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people hard through famines, land losses and natural disasters, and adding to human migration pressures. Meat production also requires up to 20kg grain per kg of meat produced (and a vast amount of water); whilst there are still so many people going hungry in the world, isn’t it unjust to make more food into less food just for our own personal preferences? The land we have could feed many more people if we used more of it to feed people directly, rather than feeding so many livestock and making a relatively small amount of meat. I’m convinced that being veggie reduces my impact on others, and that this is therefore another way I can choose to live with a slightly more Christlike attitude.

 

And yet in spite of this, I still hear people say some weird stuff about Christianity and veg(etari)anism. Here are a few, and why I think they’re false:

 

  • Animals were made for our use

Animals, along with us and all other created things, were made for God and God’s praise and pleasure (Psalm 24:1, Colossians 1:16).

This is the stunning truth we so often, so easily sing in church without even thinking about it; we are not the only part of God’s creation made for worship, but everything that has breath should praise the Lord! Are we helping or hindering that praise to rise..?

 

  • We were given dominion over the animals

Absolutely; but Christ is to be our example, not a crazed, exploitative human dictator! Philippians 2:6-11 sets out what this looks like, a life of selfless love and service.

 

  • Christian men should be ‘real men’ (… which means eating lots of meat)

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians must conform to Hollywood stereotypes, or indeed, eat meat. Being a good Christian man means Christ-like selfless love, not machismo (Ephesians 5:25-33).

There are no rules for the Christian – although not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12); we are under grace, not law, and this statement comes dangerously close to undermining this Gospel truth.

 

  • We are called to be responsible stewards of the Earth

Absolutely; but let’s go a bit further. Stewardship implies that we are guardians of a resource to be used wisely. However, Biblical language speaks far less of animals as a resource to be used, and far more as living beings made of the same flesh as we are, made for God’s praise.

We are called far beyond mere stewardship, to bring the whole cosmos, including its people and animals, to salvation and resurrection in Christ  – see John 3:16, Romans 8, Colossians 1.

 

  • Animals will not be resurrected

Says who? All the Bible says directly is ‘who knows?’(Ecclesiastes 3:19-21), but ‘living creatures’, probably representing all animals, are present in the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 4.

 

  • God made us carnivores

God made us not only vegan but fruitarian! (Genesis 1:29)

We are also made with sufficient intelligence to understand our nutritional needs and creative enough to meet those needs fully in more compassionate ways than our mere instincts would permit.

 

  • If I stop eating meat, it won’t make a difference as everyone else will carry on

This is not a Christian attitude – our smallest acts make a difference in God’s kingdom (Matthew 25:40). Mother Theresa was once asked why she did what she did, as her work was only a drop in the ocean. She wisely replied ‘Yes, but the ocean is made of many drops.’

 

  • If I stop eating meat, farm animals will go extinct, so meat eating keeps them alive

We have managed to conserve all kinds of species of non-economic importance, and any visit to a farm park or petting zoo will tell you that we love domestic animals enough to preserve them in the very least as tourist attractions if nothing more. Humanity, made in God’s image, has a unique ability to conserve, and even improve upon, creation in its current state – Genesis 2:15.

 

  • Vegetarians have weak faith; Romans 14:2 says so

Read the rest of Romans 14 too. The context of this advice is that some Christians were avoiding meat altogether as they were worried about accidentally eating something unclean or becoming spiritually unclean by eating meat sacrificed to other gods; they were afraid of accidentally angering God, a sign that their faith in God’s saving grace was weak. Weak faith may be one reason for some people to abstain from certain activities, despite all things being permitted the Christian. However, whatever reason a person has for abstaining, to them, doing that activity would be wrong, and we should not attempt to force them to change their views in case we caused them to act against their conscience.

Many Christians are well aware that there are indeed no food laws to adhere to any more, and are not afraid of accidentally losing their salvation in Christ, but still have ethical reasons for boycotting certain foods for the sake of loving others as ourselves – from meat to non-Fairtrade chocolate.

 

  • We were commanded to eat meat

We were commanded in Eden to eat grains and fruits, and later permitted to eat meat after the fall and after the flood had destroyed much of the land – Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:3.

 

… and therefore, if Jesus was sinless then meat eating cannot be said to be a sinful act in itself.

However, Jesus modelled deep, border-crossing compassion that gives us an example to work towards where love has no limits.

It is also true that issues like factory farming, climate change and global hunger did not exist in the same way in Jesus’ time; perhaps He would take different ethical stances in today’s globalised world..?

 

I’ll finish there, but if you want to explore more, this is an interesting organisation to check out. Here is a prayer to close, which blew my mind when I first read how ancient it was; its powerful, beautiful insight far pre-dates today’s mass-market mistreatment of animals and is all the more relevant today:

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Oh God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things,

Our brethren the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty

So that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.

May we realise that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee,

And that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in ours.”

– St Basil of Caesarea, 4th century church father

 

*I’m leaving aside questions over whether the Genesis account of creation was literal or figurative here; I do firmly believe it has a lot to teach us about God’s plan and intent and why things are as they are, and that that is not dependent upon it being literal.

A decade vegan

I have been vegan for ten years this year! I was 24. I get asked about it a lot, so here’s my story:

I never actually went vegetarian.

I grew up a real meat lover in a normal omnivorous household. My favourite foods were roast dinners, steaks, seafood, and meat stews. And pizza. But it had to have pepperoni on it really. If I was taken out for dinner, it was always my mission to order the meatiest thing on the menu that I was allowed; the biggest steak, a whole chicken, a mixed grill… When my younger sister went vegetarian when we were older children, I mocked and criticised her mercilessly! Surely it was unnatural, we evolved to eat meat, we need it to be healthy..?

So, what happened?!

I’ve always been passionate about nature, science and the environment, so studying environmental science at A-Level and then university made perfect sense (if you’ve not come across it, environmental science is the scientific study of all aspects of the natural world; the physics, chemistry, biology and sociology behind weather and wildlife, geology, oceans, soils, landscapes and more, and the way they interact…). I was 17 when my A-Level ‘Env’ class studied a module on agriculture and food production. For the first time, I had to really look closely at the way my food was produced. I knew meat was made of dead animals; I unemotionally thought this a fact of life and quite natural. It wasn’t a surprise to me to learn about how animals are grown for food and slaughtered. What did shock me was how unnatural we have made the farming system, and how much of an impact it has upon the rest of the natural world.

The kind of farms I thought of as a child, small land holdings run by a family, keeping small flocks and herds of a range of farmyard animals, are largely consigned to history.

Today, most of our food is industrially mass produced. Animals do not have names. Large companies run the farms purely for profit. Many animals, chickens in particular, never see sunlight or reach anything near adulthood before slaughter, and have been selectively bred away from their natural shape and size to produce more meat or milk than their bodies can physically support, crippling them in various ways before their early slaughter. Those that are kept outdoors are kept on huge scales, and unable to be supported by grazing the land they live on, require feeding with tonnes of mass-produced animal feed. This has to be grown of course. To do this, vast amounts of land many times the size of the livestock farms themselves are required; land is constantly being deforested to grow more and more animal feed, including in the rainforests, and to keep producing the quantities of animal feed needed requires constant inputs of industrial fertilisers and pesticides to be produced and sprayed over the land. Gallons of water are needed to irrigate the feed crops, as well as to rear the livestock themselves and produce the meat. Both the production of feed and livestock farming cause shocking amounts of pollution; water pollution from run-off contaminated with fertilisers, pesticides, slurry and bacteria, impacting aquatic life and human health; air pollution from spraying agrochemicals and from ammonia from industrial poultry units; greenhouse gases from the methane the livestock produce, fertiliser production and transport of feed. In addition, stocking animals at high densities of the same species leads to disease outbreaks. In many places, this is mitigated by routinely feeding antibiotics to livestock, but this is leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease in both animals and humans.

The more I learnt (and there is more), the more I became convinced that industrial livestock production was not environmentally sound. I cared deeply about the world we live in, so because I could no longer eat meat without knowing how it was produced, I felt I needed to make sure that any meat I ate had been produced to good environmental standards.

So I did some research, and decided that certified organically farmed meat was  produced in much more sensitive ways, with much higher environmental and welfare standards than factory-farmed meat. So I decided to go ‘organic vegetarian’ – vegetarian, unless the meat was organic. Because organic farming has higher standards it costs more to produce, so is more expensive. So I therefore ended up eating less, but better quality, meat. I was not at all vegetarian, but I was eating many more vegetarian dishes, and eating vegetarian food or seafood when eating out. I got used to eating a wider variety of foods, and to the vibrant flavours in vegetarian cooking, though I still loved my meat.

I lived like this for a couple of years before it occurred to me (or I had to admit to myself!) that eggs and dairy were also factory farmed, so for consistency if I was going to cut out all my support for intensive livestock farming, I’d have to go organic there too.

And this is where things got tricky.

Milk and eggs are ingredients in a lot of foods. Reading labels to find out if they contained animal ingredients, and if so, how they had been produced, got boring and time consuming. And the social impact – having to ask, before anyone fed me, ‘Is it organic?’! Nope.

I was living this awkward ‘organic vegan’ lifestyle when I moved to my second university. And it was here I met several real-life vegans, including the man who became my boyfriend and then husband. They seemed to have it a lot easier than me! They didn’t spend hours in the shops scouring ingredients lists. They could shop and eat out in normal shops and restaurants. They didn’t have to ask socially awkward questions – a simple ‘I’m vegan’ sufficed to explain their diets. And they could eat chocolate!! I’d previously assumed being vegan was miserable and difficult, and probably unhealthy, but the reality I encountered was anything but!

So, I gave it a try. I was helped by the discovery that, to me at least, soya milk tasted far, far better than the cows’ milk I’d hated the taste of all my life! I missed and craved all sorts of animal-based things. But I made what turns out to have been a very wise decision to be extremely gracious with myself; if I had a craving (for cheese or pork for example), I would wait a short while to see if the craving went away (as it sometimes would). If it didn’t, I would allow myself to go and get some (if I could find it organic!), eat and enjoy it, and then, be vegan again the following day. I found over time the cravings got fewer and further between, and went away more quickly. I found I was having to give into them less and less, and eventually, after a couple of years, I found I just wasn’t feeling the need to buy animal-based foods. Today, whilst I do remember what animal-based foods were like and that I enjoyed them, it no more occurs to me to eat them as it would for me to eat cardboard. It doesn’t register to me as food.

The final straw was unexpected. I was on a train, passing through some beautiful countryside, where a few extremely sleek and contented looking cattle were happily grazing in a huge, open landscape. I thought to myself as I passed, ‘This is how farming should be…’, and was just beginning to feel pleased with myself when I heard God say to me, ‘So who are you to cut short those happy lives?’. Wow. I was hit with the compassion for animals that I’d never really experienced before. It was a perspective I’d not even thought of, that yes these animals were living happily on such farms, but that in demanding meat from them, I was taking that happy life away prematurely. So. No more meat.

Over that time I’d also learnt more and more recipes. I’d got a lot more creative and adventurous with my cooking (and started writing recipes!), finding ways to produce my favourite meals, desserts and snacks without animal ingredients. I actually put on a lot of weight (this was a positive, I’d been underweight for years), mostly I think from baking more than ever!

The last thing to go was the seafood; I’d been convinced for a long time that this was free from the concerns of factory farming, which was largely true for wild-caught fish at least. However, much of our seafood is also farmed, with similar associated problems, plus requiring huge amounts of wild-caught small fish for feed, to the detriment of seabird populations (as a bird lover this is the killer for me!). And wild caught seafoods have a myriad of associated environmental and ethical issues of their own. I realised, reluctantly, that this was also an ethical minefield I was best off out of. In my 24 years to that point I concluded I’d already eaten my fair share of the world’s fish stocks, so I decided to stop. That was a little sad; however, there is so much good food still out there for me it really hasn’t been a major loss. Including chocolate. 😉

Most foods are not made from animals at all, and are therefore on the menu. Almost everything that is can be replaced straightforwardly, especially if you have a good grasp of what flavours and ingredients suit the cuisine you are cooking. For a long time, the only things I couldn’t replace were cheese (for sandwiches and crackers – I could make cheesy sauces and substitute tahini for melted cheese in many recipes), meringues and seafood. Hardly a hardship, especially gotten used to over a period of many years as in my case.

When I went vegan a decade ago, veganism was about where vegetarianism had been in the 1970s – very much a minority lifestyle, seen as a bit unusual, not generally well understood, and you’d have to go to a vegetarian restaurant if you wanted a good meal out, though you could find something to eat in most places, especially if you looked them up beforehand and explained what you did and didn’t eat. There was great icecream and chocolate and yogurt and cream cheese available out there, in specialist shops mostly, but other ‘cheese’ substitutes resembled vanilla-and-Wotsit/Cheeto-flavoured plasticine!

Over the past decade, veganism has grown by over 350% in the UK, and the revolution has been really noticeable the past couple of years. Today veganism is about where vegetarianism was when my sister went veggie as a kid around 20 years ago; you could find something to eat almost anywhere, it was normal for a restaurant to have vegetarian options marked on the menu, sometimes including desserts, and there were a few lazy options like ready meals available if you searched, most people knew a vegetarian, and people generally knew what being vegetarian meant.

We’ve discovered that coconut cream whips like double cream, that the water from a can of chickpeas froths up just like egg white and makes a mean meringue (admit it, egg white is just as gross in its original form…), and even cheeze is becoming edible as some sort of cheese, even if it rarely resembles the particular variety of dairy cheese it claims to mimic. I now have a few brands I buy regularly, after almost a decade cheese-free! And oh how I am having to re-learn the art of self-control now that new vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants are opening up all over town, and café after bakery after tearoom, that I have to walk past every day, now serve irresistible vegan cakes..! Waistline expanding.

My favourite foods today are thai curries and stir fries, chocolate ganache pies, and pretty much anything involving roast aubergines! And pizza. Especially with veggie pepperoni. 😉

As now a relative old-school vegan I’m having to up my game with baking and cooking, and re-learn what I thought were my limits. But over the years I’ve also discovered more and more reasons I’m convinced that veganism is a step in the right direction; it’s no longer just about the environment, though that remains my passion; it’s about loving my global neighbours, about walking kindly alongside other species, about health, about my worship and that of the rest of creation, about understanding others with special diets, and about a love of food and creativity.

Let’s see where things head over the next ten years; I hope we can really begin to shape the world into something a little better.

Prayer practise

The other day I rediscovered a prayer practice I used to use and found took me on some real adventures with God. I learnt it (or something like it) on a retreat about 10 years back, and have had some amazing encounters through it. If you want to try it, it goes something like this:

  • Ground yourself; be mindful. Do this in whatever way you find helpful. For me, I like to try to consciously become aware of my senses, rather than paying attention to my thoughts. You might find focusing on your breathing, or a candle, or relaxing your body, or repeating a simple word or prayer helps. Then;
  • Let God look at you. Just become aware of God’s gaze on you, and God’s presence.
  • Imagine God asking you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, as Jesus often asks the people who come to Him in the Gospels.
  • Respond however feels right, and just let your imagination go wherever it wants to with it.

I’ve often been surprised what my response turns out to be, there in the moment with Jesus asking me what I want of Him. It’s often not what I thought.

When I did this the other day, my response was ‘I want to see You work through me. I want to be an empty space through which You can reach into the world.’

At that point, the image of ‘handmaids’ popped into my head; and I sensed the response immediately: ‘You are so, so much more than that to me. This is a partnership. I could break through and intervene through you if I wanted to, but that’s not how it works. You’re not a slave to be exploited. You want a push-button quick solution. I want the better way, not the easy way. It means putting in the hard work of relationship. You need to press into me, know me, follow me.’

Wow! I hope I’m brave enough.

I wrote about this in my diary, and mistakenly wrote it down as a ‘prayer practise’; but actually I do need to practise this prayer, to have more God encounters to challenge me, to help me know God more closely, and so that there can be more God and less self manifesting in my life.

Looking for Europe: Reflections on the tour

Some thoughts on how it’s been following Switchfoot’s tour, now I’m home

I’ve been back a week as I write this, and I’m still fatigued and struggling to sleep this trip off. I was only one hour out at most, but this ‘jetlag’ has been extreme! I put it down to the last two nights spent in airports with almost no sleep, but actually the whole two weeks were intense, with a lot of travelling, a lot of ups and downs, and generally not enough sleep or food, and too much coffee. No wonder there’s a lot to sleep off! It’s felt like I got the authentic Switchfoot tour experience, feeling the strain of having a show almost every day, every day having to travel and wake up somewhere new, not getting a lot of time to take proper care of myself or settle into a place… but having the best time rocking out and meeting wonderful people, which made it so, so worthwhile. I got a taste of what the band experience, and that’s pretty special.

I could talk politics; the sadness of human borders causing refugees to sleep on Paris streets, and keeping SwitchFam apart from one another and their band… I could talk about mental illness adding challenges and shadows… but this isn’t the place just now.

So; some of my highlights:

  • That solo show! There just are no words. I can’t stop thinking about it! I feel whole. 🙂
  • SwitchFam –  this is a world I was only just beginning to get connected into back in 2015, but this time, touring with a ‘SwitchSister’ and meeting so many other ‘fam has been amazing. I’ve loved meeting everyone; we come from all over the world, but are brought together here, it’s really, truly special.
  • The Paris show, for being so insanely rocked out.
  • Basel – such a gorgeous city, and my memories of the VIP event, queue(!) and sound check are so precious.
  • Amsterdam Meet ‘n’ Greet; that was just legendary!
  • Cologne and Budapest crowds – just so much love and energy!
  • A38 boat – what a venue! Floating whilst Floating was so much fun, and it was a spectacular location.
  • The latest songs – I don’t ever want them to stop playing any of these!! They’re on fire.

Compared to the Fading West tour in 2015, the whole thing felt less linear. Not just the way we were back and forth, in and out of the continent, but also in the sense that I felt a clear progression in 2015. This time felt a more complex journey, physically, spiritually and relationally. Last time it had been a definite pilgrimage, moving from a beginning weighed down with baggage and ending in a sense of absolution. This time… God’s been at work without a doubt, but I’m still processing the lessons and experiences I’ve received. There’s been a lot happening. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot as a fan in those two years. I also felt like I was very quickly back to somewhere similar, relationally, to where I left off two years ago, if not right away. Jon again seemed to be getting more relaxed around us each time we met – though after the solo show I was less relaxed around him again. And it still bowls me over completely to think I’ve had the chance to really meet him and tell him what he is to me! What an honour. In two years I’ve never managed to get used to that. He seemed to spend a little less time in or working the crowd than previously; but then, I think that was because he was actually on stage playing guitar more, and that’s definitely a good thing. And all the guys seemed to be having more fun each time, and getting more into it; most noticeably Drew’s soloing and Romey’s guitar playing.

So, the whole business of following the guys on tour; what’s it all about? Appreciation. I think I communicated that and helped them feel loved. I’m sure of that with Drew at the very least. Jon seems so hard to reach though…

And family. I felt a long way from being anything remotely like friends with the guys, there’s far too much of a fame and fandom barrier and I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. But they do make me feel like part of the extended tour family. They certainly know we are a family, and they make us feel that too. It’s not just a name. Switchfoot people are the best, the band, the crew, the fans. We are all so different, living such different lives in different places, with different interests and personalities, sometimes so diverse we’d never normally come together. However, Switchfoot give us a really deep, profound connection, which throws us together and binds us to one another. We didn’t choose it; it just is. And we understand each other. Like any family, we have tensions and feuds at times. But there’s something much bigger than us that pulls us together and means we belong nonetheless.  We are one!

Would I do it again? I have to be honest; yes and no. Yes, because OF COURSE, plus I’m already booked for 3 more shows in 3 days! No, because I’m not sure I could cope with that crazy a travel itinerary, at least not just yet. I’d prefer to do something like the 2015 trip and take it a bit slower with more time to see the places we visit.

Do I love Switchfoot more for having done this? My fan love in a sense feels maxed out already… but on the other hand… they still amaze me! The new music is incredible live; I knew it would be so I was prepared for that, but to experience it has been amazingly powerful. But Jon as a solo artist… wow. When I thought I was already the most in awe I could be, he takes it to another level. It’s difficult to find words for as I’m pretty sure I love both his solo music and Switchfoot to the same extent, but in such different ways it can’t really be compared. Either way, finally getting to experience both has convinced me more than ever that I am, musically, home, that I’m committed for the long run now wherever things go, and could never find another artist I could connect with on such a deep level or want to build up in the same way. This is once in a lifetime for real 🙂

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Looking for Europe 8: Budapest – Floating!

June 4th

Budapest! It was a beautiful day again, and the city is stunning!

After a somewhat inadequate amount of sleep we went for a breakfast wander. Very little was open; it turned out it was Pentecost, which I’d forgotten, but we found an incredible café, which blew my mind by serving my iced tea packed with forest fruits! It was already hot by then, we just wanted to jump in the fountains!

We wandered back to the hostel to pick up swim things, admiring all the beautiful buildings on the way, then headed to find a spa. Budapest is famously full of amazing thermal spas and grand bath houses, so it was something we both felt we had to try, especially since we were in need of a bit of relaxation. The first one we went in was too big and imposing for someone who’d had very little sleep, so we went to a smaller one; it didn’t look much from the outside but was perfect for us. It had a lovely little swimming pool so we chilled out, swam some lengths, then went to the gorgeous thermal pools. The main pool was octagonal, surrounded by pillars holding up a beautiful domed roof with coloured glass stars set into it, with the sun shining through them onto the water. We hung out in there, wowing, for a while, then tried the little corner pools, which turned out to be set to different temperatures, 28, 30, 33 and 42oC. I didn’t go in the cold one but went in the others. When I put my foot into the 42 oC pool I thought it was going to cook me! But I stepped back in… and eventually got in fully… and then decided I didn’t want to leave!! Cook me anytime, please! 😀 Eventually we went back to the main hot pool, and floated where the light shone through the stars… 😉 A quick last swim in the pool to get rid of the very slightly smelly mineral water, then we wandered back. On failing again to find a shop, we ended up eating at a Hungarian restaurant, where I was served a nice stew of peppers, and some mind-numbingly fiery fresh chillis, which I took as a challenge and was indeed victorious! It felt good. Then it was back once again to the hostel to get ready for the show, and back out.

It was all so beautiful! Amazing, elaborate architecture, beautiful hills including one with a church built into it, patterned roofs, and the Danube cutting right through the middle of the city. We could see the venue, a boat on the river, so it was very easy to find. A friend we’d met in Germany was there already, so we went in and had a drink on the deck with him and a guy from Ecuador but living in Spain, who had a Where I Belong banner with him. I told him I had one too but I’d make sure his got on stage this time.

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VIP was on time this time, but later in the day and very short. When we got in, the guys were just jamming together; it sounded incredible, very different to when they’re performing something, and they were all turned to face one another, so it was great seeing how they interacted. At one point, Jon looked like he was teaching Drew a riff… were they learning something new?? It was really fun to watch anyway and they were all showing a lot of skill and looking like they were enjoying themselves. Then they said hi, and played us Learning to Breathe, which was just lovely.

At Meet ‘n’ Greet the band got given a gingerbread artwork and a Hungarian football shirt. And Jude was all the giggles! She had her hair in Princess Leia buns and gave the guys a bunch of silly Star Wars themed gifts to go with a Star-Wars-punning poster she’d made to promote Bro Am…! She even brought some bubble wands that looked like light sabres. Legend. Drew used the bubble light sabre to make bubbles, and Chad rolled up the poster and used that as a light sabre, complete with sound effects, to pop them!

I had composed the guys another letter on the journey (written into a card I made at 5am in the hostel!) and I handed it to Chad; I had a job getting him to take it, I think he was surprised I was giving it to him but I had written a message to each of them this time, with only one (silly) line in it for Jon, so I was keen for one of the others to take it. I asked how they were as they all looked so tired, and thanked them for putting themselves through all this for us. My friend prayed with Jon at the end and encouraged him to keep writing. Jon said he couldn’t help it, he didn’t know how to stop, so I said ‘Please, don’t ever!!’ 😀 Music addict 🙂

The show – wow! I was shattered by this point and had trouble staying awake through the opening band, even though they were again really good, and extremely loud, and using a lot of strobe lighting. I literally was falling asleep. But then the crowd got really hyped up. There was a lot of chanting, silly selfies, sitting on the stage, Switchfoot puns…

Then they were on!

So many feels. As predicted, the awesome Romanian crowd was indeed there again; the room absolutely erupted when Jon asked who was from Romania! Again you could tell they were thinking they needed to play a show there, and they actually asked where they should try to play if they came (Cluj!) There were also fans there from India, Dubai, Nigeria, and of course us, and we all got a little shout out. Jon also remarked how amazing Budapest is, and that it isn’t a place they ever hear of in the USA, though he thought they should – we were quite surprised!

Jon took the mic stand into the crowd to sing When We Come Alive and Love Alone…, and got up on the bar to sing. Someone had a Love Alone… banner that he held up on stage. He came back right through the crowd to where I was stood, so I helped lift him back up onto the stage. Everyone started ‘Oreo’ing again after the song supposedly finished so Jon had to sing some more of it!

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Jon once again picked me out to sing ‘Don’t let go’ to in Needle, the same line he’d sung me at an earlier show. Deliberate? Probably not, but I wonder if he thought I might… But I got a lot more interaction in general. All four of them who could move were right up front a lot, leaning right out over us and easily within touching distance. Romey spent more time than ever up front with the guitar playing to the crowd, almost more than he was at the back with the keys!

They were having a lot of fun on stage that night, with each other and with the crowd. Drew soloed like crazy, totally original as ever. And he and Jon had some fun with Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST); there’s a section where they break it down and sort of play solo tennis, Jon playing a phrase and Drew playing a reply. This time Jon had a mischievous look in his eye; he gave Drew some really weird solo lines, and it seemed like they were messing with one another, trying to throw one another off by playing the unexpected, but they were both coming up with awesome ‘replies’ each time! That was very funny to watch! The ‘samba breaks’ were epic too!

Jon came over to me as he introduced WTLST, took my banner, and this time handed me it straight back saying ‘thank you, it’s beautiful!’ He came over as they began Where I Belong too, again as if to ask for the banner, but this time though I had it in my hand I didn’t hand it to him, and instead turned around to look for the other fan’s one. Sure enough it made its way to the front and Jon took that one and held it up instead. Then during the song I got mine out and a bunch of us held it up at the front for a bit… until Jon took it anyway to wear/ use as a towel!

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They stuck completely to the setlist this time, but got encored again twice, so they played Mess Of Me, We Are One/ Shadow Proves…, and then as they couldn’t finish with the crowd going so crazy and Jon having so much fun, he carried on and played 24, the others rejoining him at the end again. For the second encore, Jon came back on wearing the Hungarian football shirt – and turned round part way through the song to reveal that it had ‘Foreman 24’ written on the back! The crowd went wild!

Towards the end the crowd was giving them so much love and encoring so much the guys all had big teary smiles, Drew, Jon and Romey especially, which was so sweet to see. I can’t get enough of Drew smiling like that! I applauded them all a whole lot, and managed to mouth ‘thank you!’ to both Drew and Romey. And at the very end, Drew came over and emotionally clasped big handfuls of our hands in his saying ‘thank you, thank you’. It was the best feeling seeing them feeling the love. I managed to catch Josh and Chico packing down to say thank you too as well.

Afterwards we stayed on the boat as there was a rumour Jon wanted to play an aftershow on the deck; in any case, an aftershow seemed inevitable! The tweet eventually went out, aftershow on the boat in 15 minutes… but then the staff cleared the venue so we decamped to the gangway and waited there. And then after a while, a clean Jon emerged with a detuned guitar, ready to be packed away, and he led us down onto the steps of the Danube, playing there for us with the city lights reflecting on the water behind him. He joked that the river was ‘exactly like the Pacific Ocean.’! I got front row again, wearing the Where I Belong banner partly because it was wet again 😛 and needed to dry out, and partly because it had actually turned cool and windy by then, I think there had been a storm whilst we were inside.

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Thanks to Jude for capturing this shot!

He played Caroline, The Moon Is A Magnet (WOW! There was indeed a pretty moon, though it wasn’t full and kept hiding behind clouds. Very special!), Vice Verses (he asked did we want a sad song or an upbeat song, and started strumming Just Rob Me! But though I confess I voted for both, Vice Verses won; someone called out we’d had lots of upbeat at the show and it was time for a sad one), and Your Love Is Strong, with everyone singing.

At the end, he said to us that in his mind, the perfect way this would end would be for us all to leave as equals; ‘No elevation, no photos; we’re all one family here, we leave as equals…’ It was both very smart, and very sweet! I let him go; but I did stop him briefly as he passed me just to thank him sincerely for this tour, and I found myself clasping his hand again, just as in Mannheim. And then he was gone, with minimal mobbing. We waved him off and cheered as he returned to the boat down the gangway.

Jude was top of the world as while that was happening she’d met Drew again to hug and thank! We went back to the hostel; a whole group of us across the bridge, then four of us back to get a taxi from the hostel, then after some deep late night conversations with new friends we dropped the other guys off en route and headed to the airport.

We spent an uncomfortable night on the floor of the deserted airport, me wrapped in the banner to keep warm. At 4am the place began to fill up… and suddenly I spotted Josh amongst the crowds, pulling two huge cases of gear!! :O Sure enough, sooner or later we spotted most of the others, and witnessed them checking in the most enormous mountain of kit. That was quite a sight. They were on the flight after ours!! We stayed well out of their way and out of sight at the other end of the check-in hall, and went off to get ourselves some much needed coffee as soon as the café was opened, then checked in for our flight. We saw most of the guys eventually come through security and head to the lounge, looking beyond tired 😦 Love them so much! Their flight was announced just after ours was, their gate was in the same area as ours, and as we boarded, the last person we saw was Romey walking towards it. As our plane took off, we saw theirs pulling out from the terminal (tears!), and then we flew directly over the venue and aftershow spot (more tears!!) and away from them.

Oh the love miles!! Such pain of being pulled (temporarily!) away from these lovely guys, and so many wonderful new friends across the continent and world. I knew I was going to miss everyone so much. I just wanted to stay and hang out with everyone… oh my heart! It was all beautiful, and I cannot wait for more. ‘147 days!!’*

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Read Part 7 here

*I set up a countdown app on my phone when the first tour date was announced; as they announced more dates for the autumn whilst still with us, I reset the countdown on the last day of the tour to give myself something to look forward to when they were gone 🙂