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Project Wild Thing: A family tale by Mark Powley

March 6, 2014

Mark Powley writes about a film trip with a difference.

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A few months ago, with the bitter winter wind whipping the streets of Leeds, Ailsa and I took all four kids out to see Project Wild Thing. ‘One man’s crusade to get kids to fall in love with nature again’. Points gained for watching a nature-y film – 10. Points lost for driving there in the car – 5. Points regained for watching it at an ‘art house’ cinema – 2. Points lost for spending £35 on a family film – 7. Or whatever. Anyway, it wasn’t quite the kind of Sunday afternoon hypnosis in which Pixar excel, but it was brilliant.

The idea of the film is simple, powerful and undeniable. It’s not healthy for kids to spend so little time outdoors. There’s too much fear holding us back from our countryside, and our neighbours. All of us should probably get out more. As a father, this appeals to my desire to allow my kids access to the wonders of the outside world. As a Christian, it stirs a sense of the majesty of God revealed in the giftedness of creation. ‘Remember your creator in the days of your youth’, if you like. It’s also interesting that Project Wild Thing brings together a broad coalition of interested parties around a clearly identified issue. Where else can we do this, and what could we achieve with others if we did?
Now it is March, and the Spring is coming. Time, if ever it was, to get outside and meet God (and others) in the world he made. As for Project Wild Thing, they’re asking us to get involved in three ways.
  • WATCH – Project Wild Thing is on DVD, online and on the big screen at a community hall, cinema, nature reserve, school or shed near you. Watch it now then let us know what you thought.
  • SHARE – get 5 of your friends, colleagues or neighbours to sign up to the movement. If you’re doing something great to get kids outdoors – whether it’s running a bug hunt with your school class or growing sunflowers with your kids – let us know about it. Send us a photo on Facebook and Twitter, write us a blog post, or share the activity on the wild time page.
  • DO – Help us come up with the next big thing that will break down the barriers stopping kids from getting out and ensure a generation  can roam free, play wild and connect with nature.

How will you live in Lent?

February 28, 2014

Lent is nearly here and there are lots of resources available to help us re-focus on living more simply and generously in the run up to Easter.

Here are three that we’ve come across. Add other ideas and suggestions by commenting on this blog post or by tweeting us @BreatheNetwork.

40acts: do Lent generously

Join Stewardship’s Lent movement and you’ll receive emails which will encourage you to take a daily challenge: “40 nudges in a generous direction, alongside 40 blogs to read and ponder”. Because they reckon generosity works better in community, they’ve come up with some resources that make it easy and fun to sign up with a group. Maybe something for your homegroup/housemates/family to do together?
 

Lent 40: Lighter

Emails from Brian Draper. He writes:  “Lent 40 is a unique series of 40 short e-mail reflections. Each year, I write a new series day-by-day through Lent. So you get a fresh burst each morning, and you, me and anyone else who’s signed up begins a journey together, sharing wisdom and encouraging each other along the way. We focus on key Lenten themes; we try simple daily actions to put ideas into practice; and we report back through the popular RSVP section. Lent 40 maintains an intimate one-to-one feel – yet the shared wisdom of the group as a whole creates an experience which is far greater than the sum of its parts.”

#LiveFreeLent

Tearfund Rhythms encourages you not to give up but to take up during Lent. They write: “We want you to TAKE UP a new thing, we want you to start living a new way; to take up freedom and to come with us as we attempt to pursue freedom in every area of our lives this Lent. Some of the challenges are simple. Some aren’t. But each will help set us free, lead us to find freedom, to find more of the life of fullness that Jesus calls us to.”  Download the actions from their website or follow them on Twitter for a daily tweet.

Join the End Hunger Fast

February 24, 2014

Originally posted on Niall Cooper:

image_miniThe End Hunger Fast is an invitation to join with others in fasting in solidarity with the increasing numbers in communities across the UK who cannot afford to eat. Sign up now at www.endhungerfast.co.uk

The Christian tradition of Lent has long been at this time to fast, and by doing so draw closer to our neighbour and closer to God.  This year, we will begin a time of fasting while half a million regularly go hungry in Britain.

According to the latest research, over four million people in the UK do not have access to a healthy diet – including half a million children; people who are forced to live on an inadequate diet have a significantly increased risk of developing serious health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. They are also more likely to suffer from stress, ill health, poor educational attainment and shortened life expectancy.

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Who is my neighbour? Why and how to love our literal neighbours

February 15, 2014

Sam Stephens is the founder of Streetbank.com a website that enables you to share things and skills with your neighbours. It has a growing membership of 33,000 in the UK and around the world. In this guest blog post, Sam encourages us to love our literal neighbours and we suggest some top tips for how to go about doing this.

 

Who is my neighbour? When I read the story of the Good Samaritan my interpretation to this question has always been a slightly temerous “everyone”. And while this might be part of Jesus’ intention in telling the story, the question Jesus poses the lawyer is “Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?”

 

I’m making two points here.  Firstly, perhaps seeing everyone as our neighbour all of the time is unhelpful. Being a neighbour to everyone is overwhelming and for most of us a call that meets deaf ears. That said, we are called to “love our neighbour”. What does that mean practically? Perhaps we should just start with our literal neighbours. If we took responsibility for our streets – praying for them, taking the initiative to get to know them, and building a sense of community – our communities would be changed. We would be doing something radical, something that challenges the prevailing orthodoxy to “build a castle” and be independent of everyone around us. Truly we would be salt and light.

 

This norm of independence and the isolated living that goes with it runs deep in all our neighbourhoods but it can be punctured. For me, it started when I needed some milk. I knocked on the door of my neighbours and they were pleased to help. Soon we were sharing more and more things and becoming good friends. It was out of these experiences that the idea of Streetbank emerged; a website that allows you to share things and skills with your neighbours. As Christians, I believe we are called to initiate, to take the risk to say hello and to get to know our literal neighbours. It doesn’t take much to start the process and the opportunities to love and serve may soon follow. You may find the modern equivalent of a “traveller who fell among robbers” right on your doorstep – and truly, they will be your neighbour!

 

Secondly, Jesus question subverts the lawyer’s question. Who is your neighbour? Your neighbour is anyone you are neighbourly too – anyone we show mercy to. We are called to love our neighbours. Loving our literal neighbours is a great place to start, we know where they live. In time, we know who they are and what they need. In time, we can develop deeper relationships even than the Good Samaritan and the traveller.

 

It’s not always easy. I was in Birmingham last weekend, staying with friends whose next door neighbour avoided all contact with everyone and crossed the street when he saw people coming. After some time of consistent friendly neighbouring, he accepted an invitation to their party, met other people and slowly became more deeply integrated into a supportive local community. It took time and effort but he was their neighbour so they persevered. A great encouragement for me to take seriously Jesus’ call to “go and do likewise”.

 

The Breathe team loves Streetbank as a great starting point for making those initial connections with our literal neighbours. Here are 3 simple ways for moving forward:

1) If you’re not already part of the Streetbank movement, click here to get stuck in. It’s free and easy to join and you’ll be amazed at the variety of items and skills that are being shared on your doorstep.

2) Check out the Streetbank Bible Study and Action Pack for useful resources that will help you to get others in your church on board. If you’re part of a small group, why not use the suggested Bible study about sharing in your community, and pray together about ways of making positive connections with your literal neighbours.

3) Not only does Streetbank connect you with your neighbours and encourage generosity, but it’s a great way of reducing waste and consumption through re-use and sharing. Tell your friends, blog, tweet etc. Click here for more suggestions about how to spread the word.

Eating dog: a guide for Christians

January 23, 2014

Consistency is important in our treatment of all God’s creatures, and simplicity can help us achieve it, suggests guest blogger Jonny Hanson.

 

In a certain part of the world they like to eat a certain animal.  It’s a delicacy but how it’s produced is far from delicate.  After primates, whales, dolphins and elephants, this creature is one of the most sociable and intelligent in all of the animal kingdom, yet it can spend much of its life crammed into a metal crate not much bigger than its body.  Its sense of smell is incredibly powerful, and people have used it for this reason for generations.  But in the squalid conditions that it is raised for consumption, it knows only the stench of its own excrement.

 

The situation described above is true.  The animal in question, however, is not the domestic dog and the people are not East Asians.  The animal is, in fact, the domestic pig and the people are Western Europeans, North Americans and others like them.  Why is it that a sense of horror and outrage at the thought of man’s best friend being factory farmed to produce a real-life hot dog fades into an uncomfortable acceptance of this state of affairs when it involves the pig?  This blog addresses this inconsistency in our Christian food ethics, outlining the reasons for it as well as an alternative perspective.  It also reflects this debate in my own journey from committed carnivore to ethical omnivore.

 

Every year, around the world, sixty billions farm animals are slaughtered for food.  This includes nearly 53 billion and 1.3 billion pigs, the majority of which are farmed in intensive systems, in conditions similar to those outlined in the scenario above.  Contrast this with our pampered pets.  Every year, around the world, hundreds of millions of creatures are kept as companion animals.  This includes 171 million dogs and 202 millions cats, two of the most popular species, and results in a pet industry worth $81 billion in 2010. 

 

The numbers are staggering.  But what does the bible have to say about our relationships with these animals, be they pets or livestock?  Is there any particular guidance on eating animals, whether domestic dogs or domestic pigs? 

 

In the beginning, God gave people only plants to eat.  However, after the flood, in Genesis 9:3-4, God gave human beings the right to eat other living things:

 

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.  And as I gave you the green plants I give you everything.  But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

 

There are two key points in this passage.  Firstly, all species of animal are legitimate food items for people.  This includes familiar and comfortable species such as cattle, sheep and ducks.  More controversially, though, it also includes those animals that, from a Western perspective at least, are regarded as either too majestic or too unpleasant.  Kangaroos and monkeys, and locusts and spiders, all spring to mind in these two categories.

 

The second point here qualifies the first, as it sets out the conditions under which we may eat ‘every moving thing’.  The most important factor here is that all animals, and all plants too, are given by God.  Even when they are eaten by people they belong to Him, as Psalm 24:1 reminds us.  Consequently, how they are viewed and how they are treated should be on God’s terms, not dictated by society or the market.  Psalm 104, for example, demonstrates some of God’s interactions with various creatures, and illustrates both His provision for, and joy in, them.  The end of the Genesis passage above would seem to corroborate this perspective.  Rather than an admonition against eating black pudding, it is believed to be a reminder than even in the eating of an animal, its life, its blood, its very being belongs to its Creator.

 

The powerful logic of this argument suggests that all animals are worthy of respect and humane treatment, in life and in death.  It also suggests that consistency in this regard is important too: there are no biblical divisions into classes of animals we can treat well and those that we can’t.  These divisions which we have are based on tradition, not truth.  From this perspective, it could be argued that it would be better in God’s eyes to eat a dog that has been raised and dispatched humanely than a pig which has not.  But whether dogs or pigs, pets or livestock, Genesis 9:3-4 encourages us to let our treatment and use of all animals, and their products, be guided by this consistent biblical wisdom rather than convention or convenience.  This is as true of consumers, caterers and retailers as it is of food producers and processors.

 

There are four main barriers to this state of ethical omnivory, each of which I passed through on my own personal journey.  The first is ‘don’t know’.  Even in the digital age, there are many who are unaware of where their food comes from and how it is produced, a situation often exacerbated by misleading marketing and packaging.  The second barrier is ‘don’t want to know’.  If knowledge is power, and power means responsibility, then the realisation of how food animals are treated may entail an awkward and unwanted obligation to act.  ‘Don’t want to change’ is the next obstacle to consistency.  The urges to carry on as usual, to not be different or a hassle, and of diet and taste, are all powerful parts of the socio-cultural package that encourages conformity in our approach to eating animals. 

 

Fourthly, ‘dont want to pay’ is the final barrier.  Too often the stifling pressure to consume excessive and trivial products and services leaves too little aside to spend on food that is produced humanely.  Consumerism doesn’t just push us to spend more on stuff that doesn’t really matter, such as gadgets and gizmos, but also to spend less on stuff that really does matter, particularly food.  Cheap food is often made ‘cheap’ by making other people, places and creatures pay most of the cost.  By reducing the quantity of animal products we eat, and increasing the quality – especially by choosing the organic marque – we’re paying more like the real price of production that factors in good welfare, as well as sustainability, equity and other factors.  To paraphrase the old adage, it’s about eating simply so that other things may simply live.

 

My love of animals has been a defining feature of my life.  It has influenced my education, my career and my spare time.  I have had the privilege of seeing, keeping and working with all sorts of animals all over the world: in the wild, in captivity and in my own home.  I’ve also eaten many animals, from elephant and kudu, to grasshopper and tadpole.  Over the last few years, the final piece of this puzzle has fallen into place for me, after too long spent battling the excuses outlined above.  The careful biblical consistency with which I now treat all animals – those I keep as pets and those I eat – gives me peace, as I seek to care for all God’s creation through a life lived in simplicity and joy. While I still have no desire to ever eat dog, however it is produced, Genesis 9 is a good guide for Christians on where to start.

 

 Jonny Hanson is a Christian environmentalist.  He writes at www.peopleplanetprophet.com

     

Blue Monday: Contentment, Gratitude and Being Present

January 17, 2014

Writer and broadcaster Brian Draper gives his take on ‘Blue Monday’, which is considered to be the most depressing day of the year. He encourages us to count our blessings and rather than fast-forwarding past the day, to make the most of it.

Contentment is a challenging concept in an age of Consumerism and being encouraged to always think about more and better. Can we take steps to embrace the ‘now’ we find ourselves in and be content and grateful for what we do have?

Poem by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Five pathways to a sustainable future

January 17, 2014

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

Last night on the train I was reading the latest paper from the Simplicity Institute. It’s called The Deep Green Alternative (pdf), and it’s by Samuel Alexander and Johnathan Rutherford. The introduction contains the following:

“The global development agenda seems to be aiming to provide an expanding global population with the high-impact material affluence enjoyed by the richest parts of the world. This is despite evidence crying out that the universalization of affluence is environmentally unsupportable and not even a reliable path to happiness.”

Indeed, and the general idea behind this blog is to find ways out down from the limb we’ve climbed out onto. That’s not easy. It’s not hard to live a simpler, greener way of life, and plenty of people voluntarily choose it. What’s harder to imagine is how that choice scales up to change across society. How does ecological living ever gain the critical mass…

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