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Radical Generosity by Rich Gower

July 3, 2015

My wife Sophie and I found ourselves discussing ‘the fruit juice question’ again recently. It’s a question we’ve discussed periodically since driving round Africa with some friends a few years ago. At the time we were collectively reading a book called,The Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne (which typically involved someone reading out loud at the top of their voice to overcome the rattle of the Land Rover’s engine!). After each chapter we would discuss the contents.

The fruit juice question is this: Given all the poverty and need in the world, what standard of living is it appropriate for me to have?

It’s called the fruit juice question because I think it’s important to boil this sort of issue down to bare practicalities, and at the time, I wanted to know if it was okay for me to buy posh fruit juice, or whether I should buy cheap juice and give the spare cash away!

You might not be so attached to fruit juice, but you probably have a similar dilemma in other areas: is it okay to have an expensive phone for example? Or what about going on an expensive holiday?

Jesus had some pretty radical stuff to say about money and possessions, and I’ve been wrestling with it ever since reading Shane’s book. Jesus commends the widow in Mark 12:41–44 not because of how much she gives in absolute terms, but because what she gives is such a high proportion of her income. He even suggests others give all their money to the poor, and throughout the gospels, he insists that ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12:15).

It’s easy to discuss these sort of things in the abstract, but I want to know what it means for my life at a very practical level (hence the fruit juice question).

Theologically, I don’t think God wants us to beat ourselves up and live in a hovel. He loves to bless us. But he also loves it when we make sacrifices on behalf of others – just as he did for us.

Living intentionally

John Wesley – one of the leaders of the Methodist Revival in the 1700s, answered the question by living as follows: ‘When he had thirty pounds a year, he lived on twenty-eight and gave away two. The next year, receiving sixty pounds, he still lived on twenty-eight, and gave away thirty-two. The third year, he received ninety pounds, and gave away sixty-two…’ (The Life of Rev. John Wesley by Richard Watson). No matter how much he earned, he didn’t let his standard of living expand to match his income.

This is the approach Sophie and I try to take. Our aim is to prayerfully decide what an appropriate standard of living is, and then – whatever we earn – to save or give away the excess.

At points this has meant giving a lot of cash away (which felt hard!). But at others, it has meant receiving a lot of money from others – supporting us in ministry work overseas.

It doesn’t always mean we buy the cheapest thing – we buy Fairtrade, go for nice meals out, and invest in hobbies like sailing and painting. On the other hand, we don’t buy much ‘stuff’, eat less meat than we used to and are intentional about sticking to our budget. We also try not to conform to the norms of our culture regarding spending. Although it’s awkward parking our ancient Vauxhall Corsa next to an acquaintance’s £80 grand Range Rover, this is a good awkward.

When we have had little, we have gone to God, budgeted carefully but grace-fully, and normally still felt called to give – largely as a declaration that money was our (God-given) servant and not our master.

Those of us living at home or at uni may feel that we can’t live like this – as it means giving away ‘someone else’s money’. My feeling is that however God provides our cash, we should feel free to work out how to use it with him (and ask for advice from trusted family or friends).

Challenging your normal

When we lived in Zimbabwe, we realised just how much of our attitude to possessions and lifestyle came from our culture and upbringing. In short, our ‘normal’, was not normal to many of our Zim friends. At one point we both had sore necks from bad roads, uncomfortable beds and bad office chairs. Purchasing an expensive pillow seemed to us like a normal response that might make life easier, but to some of our Zim mates it looked like a serious extravagance.

Simply put, their idea of what constituted an appropriate standard of living was very different from our own. This is why it’s important to try and work this stuff out with God (and with friends) rather than on our own – it helps us to identify our own blind spots. Of course even then, if we sit down with God and work out what an appropriate standard of living is for us, we will probably all come up with different budgets. That’s okay – we’re all different, and God loves our individuality. He also meets us where we are.

But the important thing is that we go to him and wrestle with the fruit juice question regularly. It will probably be a different question for you. That’s what I try to do, and my challenge to you, is to set aside a couple of hours to do so too.

This article first appeared on Tearfund’s Rhythms platform. The content is in connection with a campaign Tearfund have launched called ‘Ordinary Heroes’. There is more content in the Ordinary Hero Bronze and Silver rhythms? In them there are loads of actions to help you start to think about living differently, radically and creating a lighter global footprint.

Rich Gower is a Christian economist who works with a number of NGOs and has recently co-written The Restorative Economy report for Tearfund. He lives in Bradford where he tries to make as much time as possible for investing in the local community, windsurfing and generally enjoying the great outdoors. He and his wife Sophie are expecting their first baby in August.

Democracy in Action

July 3, 2015

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

lobby-170615-buntingIt was a wonderful sight that greeted me as I entered the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday with the aim of locating my MP and winkling him out to meet me.

Getting inside had been quite fun too. My day started with a photo-call of church leaders and then taking part in one of the big ecumenical services that began the mass lobby of Parliament on climate change. I then walked along the lobby line that stretched along Milbank, over Lambeth Bridge and along the Embankment, looking for where my constituency was placed.

jansmithEven that was entertaining. I happened to walk past my A Rocha UK colleague, Conservation Director Andy Lester, and the Bishop of Salisbury, Nic Holtam (Lead Bishop on the Environment), chatting with the Cornwall contingency and Surfers Against Sewage. A bit further along, I bumped into a friend who I hadn’t seen for about twenty-five years (amazingly…

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The frequent flyer levy

July 3, 2015
Featured Image -- 1907

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

As we’ve discussed before, flying is one of the single most damaging things we can in an era of climate change. That’s not a message that’s got through to the government, who persist with airport expansion plans. And it’s not got much traction with the general public either – not when there are such cheap flights available to sunnier parts of the world.

One of the problems with aviation is that it is under-taxed. It is cheaper than it should be, given its contribution to climate change. Jet fuel is untaxed by international agreement – the only fossil fuel that enjoys that benefit. VAT doesn’t apply to air travel either. However, increasing the tax on flights would penalise ordinary people just trying to go on holiday, and that’s never going to be politically attractive.

Here’s a new idea that launched last week with a little explanatory website: a frequent…

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Three things the Pope and Martin Luther King can teach the climate movement

June 19, 2015


It’s been quite an incredible week with both the Climate #MassLobby on Wednesday and the release of the Papal Encyclical on Thursday

Originally posted on Tearfund's Policy Blog:

By Rich Gower and Sue Willsher

Today the Pope officially released his much anticipated message on climate change – an ‘Encyclical’ to his Bishops around the world. Much fuss has been made of the Pope ‘wading’ into an issue that’s seen as being about economics and politics rather than faith, for example US Presidential candidate Jeb Bush: “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

However, this shows exactly why it is so important for the Pope to speak out: as long as climate change is seen as a political or economic issue – rather than a moral one – we are unlikely to make the changes necessary to address it. The climate movement needs to learn the lessons of previous movements, such as US civil rights movement, and do more to make the moral case for action.

Here are three things…

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Values: Do they really matter?

June 9, 2015

Values. When you hear that word, what do you think? Is it just idealistic stuff that doesn’t really matter? Things that sound great on paper or in a speech but in practice don’t have much relevance or substance? Could they only mean as much at the now infamous #EdStone?

Or could they be vital words that have real depth and meaning? Could Values be something that we genuinely ‘value’ because they inspire us to live better, to sustain us through the challenges and keep us fresh and focused when we have setbacks and doubts? If we really live out our values and they really mean something then surely they have a richness and quality that we ignore at our peril?

I remember sitting down with my good friend Richard over lunch a few years ago and he told me about the importance of values and in particular how he valued equality. What followed was amazing and inspiring to hear. His value of equality was not just some idealistic dream (although dreams and having vision are important) but a lived-out reality. He was actively campaigning for a living wage in the organisation he worked for, and as part of a wider network. He also talked about how he took the time to speak to people throughout the organisation and how he valued each person’s perspective and opinion irrespective of their role or title. He deeply held this value and he really lived it out in practice.

It got me thinking about my own values and whether I was really putting into practice what I believed and deeply cherished. I was particularly challenged about how I valued grappling with theology and the Bible, but how vital it was that my theology was lived out in practice rather than simply just being something that I read, studied and pondered on. It was reading Shane Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution that really challenged me to practice what I believed. For example I really value the idea of community and relationships but was challenged that I wasn’t very involved in anything local. As a family we got more involved in a community garden project and took time to review how we could build more relationships locally and value more where we lived. It has had a big impact on how I view and value others and renewed how we use and view our time. Having deeply embedded values can help us to be much more effective and decisive in a good way.

Who are the people or organisations that inspire you? What is it about them and their qualities that you admire? Could it be that some of the reasons they remain inspiring to us is that they have great integrity, honesty and clearly demonstrate that they live out their values and that their values really mean something.

The Common Cause website sets out why we need values and frameworks in order to bring about lasting and sustainable change:

‘To build a more sustainable, equitable and democratic world, we need an empowered, connected and durable movement of citizens. We cannot build this kind of movement through appeals to people’s fear, greed or ego. Such motivations tend to produce shallow, short-lived types of engagement. They are also likely to backfire, actually reinforcing values that undermine social and environmental concern.’

This video explains more about the importance of values:

Without deep roots and deep-rooted values we run the risk of burning out, running dry or being easily lead away from what we want to be about and what we want to achieve. Many of the issues that we are passionate about, such as tackling poverty, injustice and climate change are ones that require a long term approach. We need to keep motivated and to do that we need to experience regular ‘wins’, ‘milestones’ or moments of encouragement. We need deep values as well as great ideas and smart communications plans to help sustain us in the part we play in working for a more just and sustainable world.

The values of the Rhythms community are inspiring. I especially like the concept of ‘Together we are’ and the fact that we live, act and be in the context of community and relationships. We can’t do anything well on our own, we genuinely and vitally do need each other to inspire and make us.

What are your values? How are you seeking to live them out in practice as well as hold them as cherished beliefs? Take the time to write out five values that are really important to you. Are you living in a way that reflects these values? If not, what step could you take to better align your values and actions?

Do visit the Common Cause Website if you want to dig much deeper and read more.

This blog post was first published on Tearfund’s Rhythms platform as part of a Rhythm focused on the ‘Ordinary Heroes’ campaign.

Book review: Free, by Mark Scandrette

June 9, 2015
Featured Image -- 1901

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

free mark scandretteWe’re doing a project at work with Mark Scandrette next month, so I’ve been reading his books. I thought I’d mention this one, as its themes chime rather well with the message of the blog. Free: Spending your time and money on what matters most is all about simplifying your life around what is most important to you.

I’ve read lots of books on simpler living, and the authors all have their particular motivations. The reason for simplifying here is one that doesn’t get explored quite so often: “simplicity is about making space in our lives from which good can freely grow.” Yes, a simpler life can mean more leisure time, more room for ourselves and the things we enjoy. It can be more sustainable. But those who want to make an impact in the world should also apply – “become more free to seek the greater good.”

That’s a…

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Speak Up on June 17th

June 3, 2015


On Wednesday 17th June there is a great opportunity to Speak Up for what it is that we love.

Originally posted on Ruth Valerio:

For-the-love-ofSo the election is over for another five years, and wasn’t it good to see issues of the environment and climate change featuring so highly in the political agenda and the election debates? You didn’t notice that? No, come to think of it, neither did I…

That needs to change. Professor Guy McPherson from the University of Arizona was absolutely right when he said, ‘if you think the economy is more important than the environment, try counting your money while holding your breath’. The economy, the NHS, education, immigration and so on all happen within the context of the wider natural world, and if the environment around us breaks down then it will directly impact all the other things we also care so much about.

So we need to change the political climate, and one way by which we do that is by telling our MPs that we want them…

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