We all love the chance to take a break in August don’t we – to rest, to spend more time with family and friends, exploring new places or our interests. And for those of us working full time it also seems that we start this break mentally and physically exhausted.
Ten years ago I was living in Oxford and working full time in south west London. The carshare left the park and ride at 6.30am and four of us took it in turns to brave the M40 and M25 in the morning rush. We returned to Oxford around 12 hours later. By the weekend I was exhausted and at the same time I was also involved in the leadership of a small Baptist church in the city which made for a busy weekend as well as several busy weeknights. Two friends at the church about my age, Clare and Daniel, often questioned this pattern of work and why on earth I was doing it.
I found this challenging at the time but also found them a great example. They both worked part-time locally – Daniel as a music teacher and Clare in one of the city’s museums. Although they were living on much less money than others I knew in work, they always seemed to have so much more time – for growing vegetables in the garden, visiting older people in the church, and providing music lessons to others. So now ten years on, for the first time since leaving university I am working part-time. I got agreement from work to go down to 3 days a week, and for 2 days I volunteer my time community organising in Wales.
There are so many good reasons for us all to be working less hours for well-being, justice and sustainability reasons, as outlined brilliantly in nef’s influential report 21 hours. But here I want to focus on one of the barriers that people often give for the impossibility of reducing their paid hours – money; when reducing hours would mean not having enough to live on.
One of the biggest successes of community organising through Citizens UK so far has been on the living wage, and getting agreement and support for it across the main political parties. With around 5 million people working in the UK not earning enough to live on, what you earn per hour is really important. In-work poverty comes up a lot in conversations I have while doing community organising in Wales. The vast majority of cleaners, shop workers and catering staff earn the minimum wage or only just above this, which is not enough to live on. I have talked with lots of people doing 2 or 3 different jobs a day working from early morning until nearly midnight just to earn enough to pay the bills. A lack of meaningful work also comes up a lot in talking with individuals – something which could be addressed by the creation of many more well-paid part time jobs through people currently working full time in these jobs reducing their hours.
So for many people to increase the time each week they spend outside of paid work, an increase in what people earn per hour would be needed. The principles of the living wage are key to this. It is great to see that there are now more than 800 living wage employers including Barclays, HSBC, Nationwide, Nestle and many charities, with ongoing campaigns to encourage Tesco, Amazon, football clubs and others to pay the living wage to all their staff, and strong support from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.
As Christians following a God of justice who calls us to love our neighbours I believe we should be supporting living wage campaigns. Even with a living wage not yet being paid to all, when we say we couldn’t possibly reduce our hours and live on less (when we would still have more than enough to live on) what is it we think we will lose? Two passages in the Bible seem to be key here: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matthew 6:24); and ‘for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ (1 Timothy 6:10). We are called to love God and our neighbours. From my experience of working part-time and from what I saw in the lives of Clare and Daniel and so many others, there is so much more to gain – personally and for society and the earth. I recognise that I have been able to make these choices to reduce my hours, which not everybody can. And I feel that I am only just at the start of learning what it means to live on less. What have you learned that you would recommend to me and others?
By Richard Weaver. Richard is married to Jennie and lives in South West London. He works for Tearfund as a Senior Policy advisor. He also working in community organising in Wales and as a Welshman is a passionate supporter of Cardiff City.
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” Psalm 24.1
When you think of eating what comes to mind? We all enjoy a tasty meal shared with friends. It is so easy to buy what we want from a supermarket or to order whatever takes our fancy from a menu. But it’s not so easy to know where that food has come from, and who and what has been involved in its creation.
Our global food system leaves a lot to be desired:
- 1 in 8 people goes hungry while the world produces enough food to feed everyone.
- In the UK, we throw away 15 million tonnes of food every year, almost half which comes from our own homes. Wasting food costs the average household £680 a year. That’s roughly £50 a month.
- 40% of the world’s grain harvest is going to feed livestock instead of hungry people.
- Globally there are now more people who are obese than starving.
- See here for more facts about food waste.
I’m realising that what I choose to eat is not just a personal matter – my choices have a wide-reaching impact that I need to be more aware of. What I put in my shopping basket has an impact on the lives of millions around the world.
Let’s focus on a juicy steak for a minute – because it has a lot to answer for! Did you know that 1kg of beef requires 6.5kg of grain, 36kg of roughage, and 15,500l of water? This places severe pressure on scarce resources and has many hidden costs. Climate change, pollution, water use, ocean acidification, eutrophication, rainforest destruction – meat and poultry have a huge environmental impact. And don’t get me started on the methane that cows produce…!
Even if you don’t care about what is happening around the world (really?!) what about the impact eating meat has on you? Excessive meat consumption, especially processed meat, is proven to put people at risk from heart disease, cancers, strokes and various health risks associated with obesity, such as diabetes. If people in the UK ate meat no more than 3 times a week, it could save 45,000 lives and £1.2 billion a year for the NHS.
My husband and I are not strictly vegetarians (he is South African after all!) but are increasingly cutting down the amount of meat we eat, and when we do treat ourselves, we make sure that it is from “happy” animals / fish (i.e. organic, free-range, sustainably sourced etc) – quality over quantity. We are also loving experimenting with new ingredients, and often don’t notice the fact that a dish is meat-free. Win-win! Could you join us in becoming Part-time Carnivores?
Recently there have been a number of publications highlighting food issues:
- Yesterday Dispatches broadcast Supermarkets: The Real Price of Cheap Food investigating the supermarket supply chain and looking at some of the working lives of those at the very bottom: the people who pick, pack and manufacture our food.
- A report published in the British Journal of Nutrition concludes that there are significant differences in the nutritional content of organic and non-organic crops.
- The Guardian published an article claiming that there are pesticide residues in the bread we see as a staple part of our diet.
- Compassion in World Farming has published a book called Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat – its investigations conclude that factory farming is not fit for purpose – it threatens our health and well-being, it threatens rural livelihoods and exacerbates poverty and threatens our planet and its natural resources. A recent article in the Guardian urges us to halve our consumption of meat, they call it going demitarian.
We need to think about food and the choices we make to fulfil the command: love God and love our neighbours. We need to protect and repair God’s creation not only because it was very good, but also to show our love for our neighbours near and far, now and in the future.
What will you do differently?
- Use your LOAF – choose food that is Locally and therefore seasonally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly traded.
- Quality over quantity: eat less meat – see the Friends of the Earth Meat Atlas to understand the impact of meat – quite a long read, but even just scanning the contents page will definitely make you re-think your normal eating habits.
- Love your leftovers and waste less – check out this recent Breathe post.
- Plan ahead, shop with a list – taking time to plan your meals for the week will ensure that you only buy products that you know you will use, and will minimise your risk of buying more than you can eat before it goes off. Planning ahead will make it easy for you to take reusable bags shopping and check what food can be used up at home rather than being bought unnecessarily and resulting in older produce being thrown out. You might also find it easier to resist those not-so-special offers.
- Know your labels – understand the difference between Use by and Best before.
- Get involved with organisations which give potentially wasted food a good home and which help to build community:
- Foodcycle - this UK charity combines volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create tasty, nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation.
- The Casserole Club – cook double portions and give one to your neighbour.
- Fareshare – redistributing surplus food to partner charities.
- The Trussell Trust – the main organiser of local foodbanks.
- Campaign for systemic changes:
Breathe’s motto is “Less stuff, more life” – this applies to our food too. If we can commit to seeking out food that has care for God’s creation at the heart of its production, even if it costs us more financially, and we value it more and therefore waste less, then our “less stuff” will ensure “more life” for us in the nutritional value of our food, “more life” for the animals and plants which are our food, and “more life” for the many people who currently struggle to get enough food.
The BBC are currently showing a series of programmes by Jacques Peretti titled ‘ The men who made us spend‘ The series follows on from previous titles such as ‘the men who made us fat’ and ‘the men who made us thin’. I would highly recommend catching up with the latest series on iplayer if you have the time.
All of these series and the content in them highlight the significant pull our culture has on encouraging us to be consumers and to be discontent and dissatisfied with both who we are and what we have. The Bible offers us plenty of material to challenge and encourage us about the importance of being content, that who we are is enough (1 Timothy 6:7-10, Philippians 4: 11-13)
It’s good and healthy that we have dreams, hopes and ambitions. We all have gifts, skills and qualities that we can contribute to making the world we live in better and more fair. We should be inspired and encouraged to use these for good. It is however also healthy for us to question our motivations and sometimes examine why we do what we do. This is also true in the way we use our resources and consume. Money in itself is not bad, but we know that the love of it is and that we can’t serve both money and God (Matthew 6:24, 1 Tim 6:10)
The issues underlying this culture of consumerism are brilliantly explored by the writer and musician Benjamin Blower in his book and album entitled ‘Kingdom vs Empire. You can also listen to a brilliant interview he did recently for Nomad Podcast. It’s inspiring and well worth a listen. For the record my consuming weaknesses are in the areas of food (I eat to much) and entertainment (I probably buy to much music and books when I could borrow more)
We must embrace the reality that we are all consumers, and that having stuff is not bad in itself, but are we in danger of being consumed by the very idea of consumption and is it having to much impact, and arguably control over how we live, move and have our being?
Getting practical – Asking ourselves a few questions about how, why and what we consume (Thanks Hannah Swithinbank)
What do I want and why do I want it?
Can I make it instead or can I borrow it?
Is what I’m consuming having a positive or negative impact upon myself, others and the planet?
A great place to start in terms of exploring sharing or borrowing is the brilliant idea of Streetbank.
Originally posted on Make Wealth History:
Four years ago the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity launched a project to create 1,000 slow food gardens in Africa. Last year they passed their target, and having mobilised 50,000 people to take an interest in community food growing, they decided to re-launch with a little more ambition. They now aim to create 10,000 gardens.
All very nice, but what exactly is a ‘slow food garden’, and why would Africa want them? The Slow Food Foundation have ten characteristics that they work to, and it’s a nice combination of community engagement, food security and appropriate technology.
- They are community created, with input from everybody, and a particular focus on drawing in the expertise of older generations and passing it on.
- Before building, observe. Every garden should reflect the needs and resources of the local area, with relevant plants and techniques, and local materials used in any construction.
- Use space…
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If you’re reading this then the chances are you want to start something. You’ve seen something that needs to done better and you want to do something about it. Good!
I love new ideas. I love how they cost nothing but I still need pushing over the edge to make me do something about it. We all do.
My push came when I visited India with my church. I remember stopping at a traffic light, when some woman walked up to our minivan and knocked on the window. There she stood holding up her child who was too skinny and short for its age.
I remember her knocking. I remember how I felt sick. I remember feeling completely powerless, and I remember how all of us suddenly fell quiet.
For the first time, I was witnessing poverty up close and I hated it. As our wheels starting rolling again, I looked at that woman straight in the eyes and thought to myself, ‘How can this be fair?’ and ‘Why are we all letting our communities live like this?’.
We arrived at the project and spent two wonderful weeks meeting some incredible people who’d decided not to accept the status-quo. They’d decided to call that woman, daughter.
I’d been pushed over the edge. It was time to reboot my enthusiasm and to get excited about the future again.
Five years later and I find myself working at Tearfund. It’s a fab place. For the last year we’ve been thinking about how we continue to release people from poverty, without destroying the planet or our societies. How do we create a world so that people and communities flourish again.
There have been great wins in reducing inequality and poverty over the last 200 years, but that economic development has often come at the expense of human flourishing and the environment. That’s why we need an economy that serves us, not an economy that we serve.
Ideas want to grow, all we have to do is let them, rather than make them. It feels good to create things and do good with other people with a joint sense of purpose. That’s why I’m excited about our movement and the local church playing its part.
I’m convinced that churches who creatively plan, learn and adapt will become the change-makers who will influence the decisions being made about our future and planet.
Tearfund has a vision of rebooting the world. We want an economy where we share more, consume less, and flourish within the natural limits of the planet. It’s ambitious and it will be tough – but if we do what we can and do it well, change will come.
That woman who came knocking taught me this: stop looking for someone else to save the planet. It’s time for you to make it up for yourself and to get creative. Only then can our communities and planet start to thrive again.
What one thing could you do or start with? Is there something that you are really passionate about and want to help change? If you are in need of some inspiration, check out some resources we can recommend.
By Craig Philbrick. Craig lives in Southampton, loves his new home grown veg patch and works for Tearfund. He tweets @craigphilbrick, is passionate about good digital and creative communication and contributes brilliant articles like this one to @TearfundRhythms
Do you spend much time thinking about what, if anything, you tithe? If you’re a regular church goer you will probably have heard your fair share of sermons preached on this topic. Amazing things can be done with that 10% – supporting the activities of the church as well as alleviating suffering and poverty, both locally and overseas. If you haven’t checked recently, do a quick calculation to check how much you are giving away. Are you giving sacrificially? As Johnny reminded us last week Breathe’s strapline is “Less stuff, more life”. One of the positive benefits of buying less stuff is not only that we have more life, but that we have more to give away – win-win!
Tithing, therefore, is probably not an unfamiliar concept. I’m struck, however, by how few sermons (in my experience) have focussed on the other 90% of our spending. While 10% may be able to go some way to doing good, can you imagine the difference that could be made if our 90% was really put to work for the benefit of people and planet? We have to buy stuff, so let’s make those purchases count.
As Ethical Consumer magazine puts in its Beginners Guide, “We need to consider our money as a vote which we use every time we go shopping. Buying cheap clothes is a vote for worker exploitation. Buying a gas-guzzling 4×4 is a vote for climate change. Even small, everyday purchases, such as coffee, cereal, bread or bin bags are a vote for something. As consumers we have a great deal of power in our pockets. While money may make the world go round, deciding how we spend our money might just save it!“
I’m increasingly aware of how my everyday decisions impact other people, most of whom I have never and will never meet. In the past we probably knew the farmer who produced our food and the tailor who created our clothes. We would have known what conditions they worked in and whether they were earning enough to live on. Now, to have the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to, we rely on people working “invisibly” on the other side of the world. And we can’t plead ignorance – if our actions make their lives worse-off then we need to take note, and do something about it.
I recently attended a Just Share lecture by Dr Eve Poole entitled The 7 Deadly Sins of Capitalism. It was a fascinating talk. Particularly striking was the challenge: If St Peter at the pearly gates asked to see your bank statement, what would it tell him about what you believed? Rev Giles Fraser echoed this when he challenged us to spend time studying our bank statements in his recent Thought for the Day.
This is not about feeling guilty but being empowered to make positive buying decisions. #MyNextBuy is a new initiative encouraging us to make our next clothing purchase one step more ethical than our last. Will you pledge to do this? And can you take it even further – commit to making every purchase you make more ethical than the last? I write a blog on conscious consuming where I have collated ideas to help, and links to companies that are trying to make the world a better place.
What does your bank statement say about you? Have a look at it now – your recent expenditure probably includes supermarket shopping, pension contributions, insurance, mortgage and other essentials. How can you make spending on these more ethical? What changes can you make today to become a more conscious consumer?
By buying less stuff and by being more conscious of our impact when we do buy stuff, not only do we have more life, but those who produce our goods can also have more life, and a better quality of life too.
“Go on, but only buy what you need.” These are almost always the words, I hear if I’m heading to do the supermarket run. And my wife is right!
Consumerism is not a pathway to joy and meaning in life. This isn’t new. We all feel it to be true.
If specifically asked the question, nobody would ever say the secret to a joyful, meaningful life is to buy lots of stuff. Deep down, we know we were made for something bigger: something more significant than passing consumption.
Nobody really believes happiness is directly tied to the number of things we own. Yet almost all of us live like it.
We work more hours than ever before, earn more income, but save less. Personal debt continues to increase dramatically. My wallet has too many plastic options. And the average credit card holder now has three different credit cards in his or her pocket. Will Rogers captures it well, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like!”
We never intentionally set out to buy more than we need or spend more than we make. But here’s the problem: Mindless consumption always turns into excessive consumption.
And excess consumption results in stress, burden, pressure to impress, envy, and that’s before considering the environmental impact.
It is time to rethink our spending habits, rediscover thoughtfulness and greater intentionality in our purchases. So how about this?
1. Reassess the life you have created. Might you slow down enough to assess the whole picture of your habits, choices and pursuits?
2. Don’t copy others. Your life is too unique to live like everyone else.
3. Know your weaknesses. What prompts weak lifestyle choices? What needs to get eliminated?
4. Check motivations. Let meaning, significance and service win out over greed, envy and self.
5. Count real costs. It’s not just what you acquire, but the accessories to the acquisition. Henry David Thoreau said it best, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
6. Give things away. Because there’s nothing like the freedom of a decent spring-clean! Choose courageously. Freecycle and streetbank would love your resources.
7. Pursue joy. Yes that, above all…….
Make intentionality your highest pursuit. Not consumerism. Julie’s right, “Don’t buy what you don’t need.”