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Community – what does it mean to you?

May 18, 2015

A blog by Angie Gibson:

CommunityA few years ago, I was given a book by Tim Keller.  I was told “Don’t worry if you don’t understand where it’s going in Chapter 1, you’ll soon see where it fits in.” 

Sure enough, the first chapter was on community and I really didn’t understand where the book was going or what it was getting at.  Of course I was part of my community, I’ve lived in this town all my life and…. and actually that’s where it stopped.  Yes, I had lived in this town my whole life and I was a part of our church community but that was where it stopped really.  I did most of my shopping out of town.  I used the library in a neighbouring town (because it was bigger and better stocked, so I thought). I didn’t really know what was going on around me, often being surprised as we serendipitously drove past community events such as fun days and festivals. “How do they expect people to know it’s going on if they don’t advertise?” was one of my regular complaints.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” quoted Keller from Jeremiah.  “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  The chapter goes on to discuss how we should be actively seeking to work in the communities where we live in to ensure we all prosper.    I began to realise that just because I lived in a town, it did not really make me part of the community.  I actually spent more time out of the town working, shopping and for leisure purposes than I spent in it.  Although I was quick enough to complain about ‘not knowing what was going on’, I’d never tried to find out what was going on; it was easier to jump on a train and take my daughter to the nearest city to visit its many art galleries and museums.

It’s been a while since I read the book, but the changes I’ve made in the choices I make have been significant.  I now serve as School Governor at my daughter’s primary school. I’ve moved our bank accounts to the town’s building society, and plan on joining the Credit Union. We buy the local newspaper on a regular basis to keep in touch with what’s going on around us.  I’ve even changed jobs and now work much closer to home in my wider Borough-community, rather than in the city-with-its-many-art-galleries-and-museums.  We’ve made considered big purchases such as kitchen white goods at a local shop, despite it being much cheaper to go to the out of town big stores (the service we received was a great deal better and more personal than we had experienced in previous encounters with the ‘big names’. Just this morning, I’ve signed up to do a couple of shifts in the town food bank over the summer.

But the easiest and biggest change I’ve made is setting up a social media account for our town, primarily to share local news and details of events running in our libraries, leisure centres and local charities. I’ve started discussions about our local dialect and been able to showcase the work of local poets, artists and historians to people who live in our town and those living further afield.  It’s led to me being offered a blog on a local newspaper website where I can write about the brilliant things going on in our town that many people aren’t aware of, such as local voluntary groups doing fantastic work leading clean-up parties on the town’s canal network; the latest blog focuses on a local artist who paints watercolours of the town’s landmarks past and present. In some quarters, it’s called ‘hyperlocal journalism’, but I just see it as letting everyone know what fantastic things are going on where we live.

Starting that social media feed has led to me having the privilege of meeting some amazing people who are working their socks off to make things better for their community; they are actively seeking the prosperity of the town and the people who live there. And now I hope to play my part in doing that, rather than wondering why I felt disconnected from my home town.

I’m guessing that some readers will think I’m a bit late to the party here, and many people will immediately see what I could not; just living in a town does not automatically make you a member of the community.  I believe it is because I’ve always lived here, and so have my immediate family, and I took things for granted and got a bit lazy.  If you move to a new area, you will end up pretty isolated if you don’t make a concerted effort to be involved with your neighbours. I needed to make that effort.

The book led me to re-examine everything I thought community was.  I actually needed to work at prospering my local community rather than being annoyed when I found out we’d missed the town Carnival and wondering why one of our libraries was on the verge of closure due to lack of use.

In writing this blog, I wanted to share a few of the simple ways that we can be more positively active in our communities.  There are lots of opportunities, even for those us who really are pressed for time with work and family commitments. I’d love it if you shared the things you already do, or are planning to do, to prosper your local community…

From mines to turbines

May 6, 2015
Featured Image -- 1890

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

Here’s an inspiring new campaign from 10:10, who tell the story of how a former mining town is now rallying around community energy. But the rules currently restrict local communities from fully benefiting from the energy projects that they fund and install.

As a new government comes in, we have an opportunity to update the energy market rules to encourage community energy. In particular, communities should have the right to buy and use their own power, rather than having to sell it into the grid. At present, it is essentially illegal for people to take responsibility for their own energy supply, which seems a little daft. There’s a petition to sign here, calling on the next government to lift this obstacle to democratic energy.

Here’s a little video explaining the problem:

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A story from Mostar: Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hope Springs

May 5, 2015

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Bosnia Herzegovina is a country unfortunately known for the war in the early 90s, during the break up of Yugoslavia, and known today for its very poor economy. Many people don’t know that it is also a very beautiful country, full of outstanding nature, mountain peaks and fresh water springs. A small group of evangelical believers in Mostar, a town in the south of the country, are trying to do sustainable humanitarian work. They are currently producing potatoes and cabbage, but in the future also fruit and other agricultural products. The idea is simple. The church bought some land and is investing in it, for now, through voluntary work and donations. Everything invested at least doubles in value. The humanitarian work is provided with local produce, reducing transport costs to a minimum, as the land is just 12km (7.5miles) from the church. It is not just church members who are involved in the work of the project but also beneficiaries of the humanitarian aid. Last year some of the produce was also sent to the areas in the north of the country hit by devastating floods.

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The project is called the “Centre for Care for People” and its motto is “Exalting the Lord, Caring for People”. In a country racked by economic crises the church decided to model a location where people can experience fellowship, relaxation and work all in one place; but the fellowship is creative, the relaxation active, and the work productive. The plot of land is 7000m2, and in the future they hope to build a small property on a part of it, providing accommodation for a few people to live on a low budget. The intensity of production would then adapt to their needs. This second phase of the project would mean that people, while seeking work, would have a cheap place to live and the chance to work and contribute, even though they are themselves in need. After the house would come chickens, eggs, goats, a greenhouse …. and the centre could grow into a Christian community. It is a very flexible project, and as it takes small steps forward it is not too financially demanding.

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In a land with so many difficulties, this small project is looking at what is possible, not what is impossible. The church community want to be those who will care, not just for their own, but for their neighbours too. This project is a creative and sustainable way to provide for people’s physical needs and to develop greater bonds of fellowship while doing so.

What inspires you about this story of hope and transformation? Are there projects/initiatives that you are involved with that could feature on Breathe? Do get in contact or add comments if you have any stories to tell. 

The Restorative Economy

April 20, 2015
Featured Image -- 1882

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

Restorative-EconomyOne of my most interesting freelance jobs over the last couple of years has been a series of background papers for a new Tearfund campaign. I’ve been waiting to see what would come out of it at the end of the process, and last week the campaign finally launched. It’s called ordinary heroes, and it brings together the development and sustainability agendas in a new and important way.

There is much to celebrate about the number of people lifted out of poverty, rising global life expectancy, and the spread of education. But as long as climate change and other planetary boundaries are in overshoot, those gains remain fragile. What’s more, the billion or so people who haven’t yet shared in the gains of the last half century may be locked out. To finish the task, development agencies need to talk to us in the rich world too.

The campaign…

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Overflowing Abundance

April 14, 2015

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Abundance is a word that perhaps sits a little uneasily for a network devoted to simplicity – in fact abundance is part of the problem in a consumer society isn’t it? An abundance of choice, gadgets, food, credit and appetite for shopping has done significant damage to the fabric of communities, our moral vision and notion of what is valuable. As Jenny Flanagan said on this blog, “Everything is available to me right now if I have the money, but I don’t think it makes life better.” Too many of us have had too much of a good thing.

I confess I certainly saw it that way as I ruthlessly simplified and reduced in an effort to combat the spiritual obesity that I had gained along with an abundance of material possessions. Yet an ascetic response in a world of plenty lacks appeal and for understandable reasons. Self-denial is rarely an attractive message.

Breathe however was founded with different convictions. Instead we longed for something not less beautiful but more beautiful. We chose words like appreciate, thankful, connecting, faithful, generous. Even our refusal was rooted in a desire to find ‘joyous ways of engaging with the prevailing culture.’ We were ‘against’ consumerism only in as much as we were for a way of life that was richer and deeper. It was an invitation away from the shallow end and into the beautiful deep. It was an invitation to abundance; less stuff, more life.

The Christian tradition offers significant resources for those seeking this more abundant way and rooted in the character and nature of God. We believe that God is deep in His bones, as it were, a profoundly generous giver. Our planet, even in our age of ecological poverty, remains an incredibly bountiful, plentiful and diverse place. Yet just a few hundreds of years ago when the seas were teeming and the forests almost unending we would have seen how generous this creation really was. Yet this generosity was surpassed in the Father’s giving of His Son, to share our humanity, to redeem our brokenness and to lead us toward a future of renewed earth and heavens where again the lavish abundant gracious generosity of God will be shared with His new creation.

It is in reflecting on this that the apostle Paul tells us that we have an obligation that we should freely choose. There’s a reason why God loves a cheerful giver, because it means we’re once again reflecting the image of God to a broken world.

So out of the abundance of God’s goodness and grace, out of His generous provision to me and my family we want to give and to share. Generosity creates parties and opens homes to the homeless. Generosity turns the dining table from a place to impress to the place of family for the refugee who is separated from theirs. I want to be a cheery advocate of the benefits of generosity. Abundance means I don’t delight in how much I have but in how much I give. As we share and invite others to create, subvert and refuse the shallow end of mindless consumption we instead create a world of joyful participation. As we give away, so we receive so much more. As the scriptures say;

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

A philosophy of less can lead to spare sowing, but a mindset of generosity while not wasteful is bountiful and those who who live that will live abundantly.  

Phil Whittall was one of the original founding four members of Breathe and is now church planting in Stockholm, Sweden. He blogs at The Simple Pastor

Who will you be an Ordinary Hero for?

March 31, 2015

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Tearfund are launching a new campaign next month called ‘Ordinary Heroes’. For more info visit their website. They have a great series of launch events

COME AND EXPLORE HOW YOU CAN BE PART OF A MOVEMENT OF ORDINARY HEROES WHO THINK DIFFERENTLY, LIVE MORE SIMPLY AND SPEAK UP.

 ALL EVENTS ARE FREE

DATE & TIME LOCATION  SPEAKERS
14 April at 7.30pm POLZEATH
Tubestation, Polzeath, Cornwall, PL27 6TB
Katie Harrison (Head of Media, Tearfund)

Paul Cook (Advocacy Director, Tearfund)

Plus live music from The Grenaways

16 April at 6.30pm LONDON
St Mary’s Church, York Street, London, W1H 1PQ Please RSVP. 
The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres

Dr Ruth Valerio (Churches and Theology Director A Rocha UK)

Matthew Frost (CEO Tearfund)

22 April at 8.00pm CLAYGATE
Holy Trinity Church, Claygate, Surrey, KT10 0JP
Dr Ruth Valerio

Paul Cook

28 April at 7.30pm LEEDS
St George’s Church, Leeds, LS1 3BR
Mark Powley (St George’s Leeds, Director St Barnabas and Author of Consumer Detox – less stuff more life)

Ruth Koch (Senior Advocacy Associate, Tearfund)

29 April at 7.30pm BRISTOL
Woodlands Church, Bristol, BS8 2AA
 

Krish Kandiah (President, London School of Theology and Director of ‘Home for Good’)

Henrietta Blyth (Director, Tearfund)

30 April at 7.30pm LINDFIELD
All Saints Church, Lindfield, W. Sussex, RH16 2HS
 

Dr Ruth Valerio

Sam Barker (Head of Policy and Government Relations, Tearfund)

6 May at 7.30pm LEICESTER
Greenlight, Trinity Hall, Leicester, LE1 6WP
Please RSVP.
Paul Cook

The Return of Special

March 27, 2015
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When you were a kid, did you ever have a friend or relative come back from a trip abroad bearing special gifts that you could only buy in that country?  I can remember an aunt bringing back cute chinese pyjamas from Hong Kong, and a school friend bringing over terrible American chocolate.

It’s weird to me that we don’t need people to do that anymore. When I travel I stand in the gift shop wondering what on earth I could buy that I couldn’t get at home. If we can’t find something in our hyper-sized supermarkets, we can order it on the internet and get it delivered to our front door. I know that’s what’s known as progress and globalisation but there’s something sad about it too. Everything is available to me right now if I have the money, but I don’t think it makes life better.

Tonight, for dinner, I could eat Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Italian, French, Argentinian, Vietnamese… either in a restaurant or in my own kitchen with the appropriate specialist ingredients (this is especially easy in big cities). Everything is an option. Does that make our lives richer, or poorer?

What makes something feel special if it’s always available? What makes it feel like a meaningful gift, or a treat? When every practical limit on our consumption is being eliminated, the price tag is really the only one left.

We wrestle with that question as a family, because we miss ‘special’. Life with God involves a rhythm of sacrifice and celebration, fasting and feasting. Without one side you lose the other (and I really don’t want to miss out on the parties). Alongside that, we believe that the level of consumption that has become normal here in the UK is totally unsustainable for the planet. We don’t think it’s the best way to live – for the planet, for our own happiness, or even for our relationships. Something has to change, and really the only place to start is with ourselves. Yet it’s so hard to work out how to live a different way when no one is imposing any limits. (No government is brave enough, because their popularity would probably plummet).

So we try to find our own. To choose to scale back on things on a day to day basis, even if it seems like a small thing. We try to only eat meat at the weekends. We don’t tend to buy wine or alcohol unless we have guests, and we stick to water the rest of the time. I don’t buy coffee on my way to work, and try to make a packed lunch. We rarely buy new clothes, and generally limit ourselves to second-hand or Fairtrade. We’re trying to holiday in the UK. If we need something (especially the baby-related kit) we try to find it from friends on Facebook, or on Streetbank from our neighbours, or Gumtree. The next big question is our rubbish. We’re so used to just throwing stuff ‘away’ without thinking about where it ends up. How do we limit the amount we send out of our flat in bin-bags?

It’s not that we never drink wine, or go out for coffee or dinner, or buy a new coat. But those things have become special again because of their rarity. Limits can be a beautiful thing that enrich life rather than withholding it.

I wonder if there are things in your life that used to feel special which have become normal? (Coffee to go, wine, a Twix with your morning cuppa). Why don’t you try an experiment? Could you think of a way to scale back, even for a week or two, and then at the end treat yourself to the thing you’ve been cutting out, and try to savour and celebrate it as something special. I recommend doing it in community! If, like us, you appreciate that rhythm and the way it helps you to live more simply, maybe you could think of ways to reintroduce that rhythm to other parts of life.

This guest post was written by Jenny Flannagan. She has an excellent blog called ‘Jenny from the Block‘ which we highly recommend as a regular read. This post was originally written for Tearfund’s Rhythms website.

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