Every day I get an email with a list of e-books that are free for my Kindle that day. One of these books I recently downloaded is Becoming a Vegetarian Against Your Will by Tiffany Dow.
Tiffany grew up in Texas, eating meat and loving it. One day, as an adult, she picked up a box of fried chicken at a drive-up window. When she opened the box, there was a whole chicken feather still attached to the breast. She couldn’t eat it. “I felt disgusted,” she says. “Yes, I know where fried chicken comes from, but for some reason having it flutter right there in my meal box churned my stomach . . . At that moment I didn’t realize I was a vegetarian. I just knew I wasn’t finishing THAT feathery chicken meal.”
She wrote her book for those people who have chosen vegetarianism for one reason or another but who aren’t black-and-white fundamentalists about it:
I hate reading vegetarian guides where everyone is all smiles and hugs and boasting about all the good you’ll be doing for your body and the planet.
I’m going to be honest with you and tell you that you will grieve the loss of meat – unless it’s never been a big part of your life in the first place.
Dow describes being “visibly annoyed” seeing other people eating juicy burgers. “[T]hey’d say, ‘What’s wrong?’ and snicker at me (because they knew). I’d tell them, ‘I wish I could eat a burger.’ And then they’d say something that always made me want to smack them: ‘You can.’ That’s what they didn’t understand. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”
I could identify a bit with her journey towards vegetarianism. I too have settled into a vegetarian lifestyle, I who used to stop off for a Quarter Pounder just for a snack now and then.
But in reading her book, I was struck with how familiar this all sounds to me as I open up about my doubts in my faith journey.
I grew up eating dogma. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner – if dogma wasn’t on the plate, it wasn’t a real meal. Our largest family and community celebrations placed dogma at the very center of the table, on a huge platter for all to enjoy.
But in recent years, it’s been getting harder for me to swallow dogma. So much so that at this point, I have cut it out of my diet entirely. It’s okay, though – at any given meal, even in social settings, I can usually find enough other food to nourish me; and I’m not offended when other people chow down on the food I can’t eat.
At first it really was hard to be there at the table and watch others eat what I could no longer stomach but still craved. Even though I couldn’t swallow it, I missed it. It was nostalgic for me. It was a connection to my childhood, to people and times in my life that were meaningful to me – and I could no longer access that connection.
Thankfully, even when I was a child, dogma wasn’t my only experience with my faith tradition. It was never the only thing on the table. However marginalized as side dishes they may have been, things like love, hope, encouragement, thoughtfulness and joy were there too. And they are still there. In my own life, I’m trying to learn how to do more with those things, and I’m finding they provide me with enough nourishment for my health.
In short, while I have stopped eating dogma, I haven’t quit eating. I haven’t even quit eating with other dogma-eaters. We all need to eat, and while we may make different choices about what to eat, we can usually figure out a way to eat together peacefully.
Some people stop eating dogma because they think it is the only right choice. I am not one of those people. I’ve come to recognize that there are complex traditions, experiences, thoughts and feelings that influence each person differently; and the best we can do is honestly and courageously walk the path set before us; patiently, graciously loving both our neighbors and ourselves.
…and perhaps in the marginalized side dishes is where the nourishment always has been – love, joy, encouragement, hope, thoughtfulness – even many of the dogma-gluttons would claim that these are the things of real nourishment and “weightier matters” (and, coincidentally, the list is very similar to one which church-goers like to quote) – But, like the American diet, these “daintier foods” simply do not provide the immediate gratification to be found in a big, juicy, sizzling hunk of dogma
Dogma is a word that is easy to toss around, particularly in the pejorative, without defining it. What dogma and by whose authority is it considered dogma? Dogma is not dogma is not dogma.
Quite true. I chose the word “dogma” partly because it starts with “dog” and therefore gave me a silly little pun for the vegetarian allegory. Another word I might have chosen would be “certainty.” Basically I am referring to spiritual ideologies held in the mind as incontrovertible facts. I expect myself and others to hold a point of view, choose a perspective, believe things, etc. – but I’m not sure I will ever again hold any ideas about the transcendent with the amount of certainty that was expected of me and my peers in the church environment I grew up in.