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The men who made us spend…. There is a better way

July 25, 2014

 

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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.

 

10,000 African slow food gardens

July 24, 2014
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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.

  1. They are community created, with input from everybody, and a particular focus on drawing in the expertise of older generations and passing it on.
  2. 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.
  3. Use space…

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THE WORLD YOU WANT DOESN’T EXIST. YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT YOURSELF.

July 15, 2014

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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.

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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

 

Being a conscious consumer…

July 9, 2014

Generosity revolutionDo 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!

Pie chart 10-90.gifTithing, 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 evethical consumerismery 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-Logo#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.

Less Stuff, More Life: Revisiting the Breathe strapline

July 2, 2014

less stuff more life

“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.”

Johnny Douglas has a great blog and you can also follow him on twitter @revjdouglas

Enough is Enough

June 25, 2014

We’ve blogged about this book before on Breathe, but here’s another review. It’s a useful read if – like me – you’ve got a sneaky suspicion that different economic frameworks and values are actually possible, but don’t really know how to start making them a reality. Enjoy. 

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Enough is Enough – a book I’ve just read about building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources – was both inspirational and depressing. Inspirational because it fuelled my suspicion that an alternative economic paradigm and way of living in the world really is possible. Depressing because when I looked up from its pages, a full realisation of those possibilities seemed a billion miles away.

 

The premise of this book is that people and the planet are in real trouble – extreme poverty, climate disaster, excessive debt, an inequitable distribution of wealth, and so on – and that an economy which perpetually chases increasing production and consumption stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. “Now,” it contends, “is the time to change the goal from the madness of more to the ethic of enough”.

 

What I loved about this book was its vision for how things could be different. Through the concept of a ‘steady-state economy’ (the limits of whose somewhat dull name the book addresses), it paints a picture of a global economy with sustainable scale, fair distribution and efficient allocation, all leading to a high quality of life for every citizen.

 

Come with me on this one. Enough is Enough is not just for trained economists, academics or idealistic theorists; it is for anyone who wants to engage with the way the world works and how to pursue flourishing within it. This is not my field, but I was delighted that a book discussing monetary systems, resource use and investment, labour productivity, commerce, consumer behaviour, population stabilization, and other big topics that risk making me disconnect and go hazy, could not only hold my attention but enable me to understand and keep reading.

 

Enough is Enough manages to do this through well-structured chapters, accessible language and stories which brings abstract topics to life. Full of evidence, examples and explanations, it scrutinises and questions the workings of the world. How could money could be created and invested differently? How could different indicators of wellbeing replace our default to GDP? How could business models shift to generate not just goods and services but social and environmental value? How could we all live more ‘outwardly simple, yet inwardly rich’ lives by focusing less on the things that money can buy and more on the things it can’t? Through the illustration of alternatives, it suddenly seemed feasible that the value of ‘enough’ could be built into our institutions and cultures.

 

At both the macro and micro level, there’s something about this that makes my heart sing. Something which resonates with my hope for a new heaven and a new earth,  and for restoration, reconciliation and renewal. Something aligned with my belief in an alternative world order, lifestyle, and Kingdom which subvert the status quo.

 

Making this a reality, the book concedes, will require work because we’d need to change values, overcome entrenched interests, and get the word out. That’s what got me down. I’ve had too many imagination-crushing conversations which make me think that difference will never come to pass. Even in the church where surely this stuff should be lapped up, I’ve despaired at the unspoken assumption that capitalism as we know it, and the establishment as it stands, are the only viable frameworks within which to operate.

 

For, as the book’s forward suggests, ‘enough’ should not only be seen as the central concept in economics but as a central theme in the story of God’s gift of manna, wrapped up in ‘the condition of enough – sufficiency and sharing – an idea later amplified in the Lord’s prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” […] enough bread to sustain and enjoy fully the gift of life itself’.

 

It’s this concept of sustainable and enjoyable life, of a mindful society in which people are more attuned to where they live and what they are doing, which is elaborated throughout Enough is Enough. It is a beautiful, albeit occasionally utopian, image, but one – the book contends – which is feasible to pursue in spite of the difficulties that will be encountered along the way. ‘Walking in a different direction from the rest of society is a challenging thing to do,’ it reminds us. ‘Belief in an unpopular idea, even if it’s true, can be an isolating experience’; surely this is something that anyone who already coexists in the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ can identify with only too readily.

 

The authors conclude with this same tone of hopeful pragmatism. ‘We began writing this book because we wanted to know how a steady-state economy would work in practice, and how the world might transition to one. We wanted to better understand how future generations could flourish within the capacity of the planet. Along the way, we have come increasingly hopeful about the possibilities. We don’t want to sugarcoat the difficulty of shifting to a stead-state economy – it’s likely to be a tough transition – but the destination is well worth the journey. Once society can put aside its obsession with economic growth, the stage will be set for achieving prosperity over the long run.’

 

Believing that the destination is indeed worth the journey, I’d encourage you to get your hands on Enough is Enough and get your head and heart around what it’s saying. Although I’m sure you’ll all respond in different ways to its proposals for institutional, political, personal, economic, environmental and societal change, it offers a credible and robust handbook of alternative ideas which are worth grappling with if we are genuinely committed to being content with enough and serious about seeing human flourishing within a flourishing planet as being of more value than a perpetual pursuit of economic growth.

 

What do you reckon?

Food Waste: Do just one thing differently

June 24, 2014

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One million tonnes of what was once good food and drink is going to waste from our homes without a bite being taken.  A new report from WRAP shows that 50% of the food that ends up being thrown in the bin because it hasn’t been used in time hasn’t even been touched and remains still whole or unopened.

We all have our own reasons for why food gets thrown away at home, so there isn’t a one size fits all solution. Love Food Hate Waste and WRAP are encouraging people to look at the huge volume of food and drink that’s ending up in the bin and consider the one thing they might do differently to make sure that food gets tasted, not wasted.

It’s a great campaign and a great idea. Lets take that first step and lets be honest but also let’s love and cherish the food we do have and find ways to share it, enjoy it and waste less.

 

 

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