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#inequality: Walking humbly in satin plimsolls

October 16, 2014

Today is Blog Action Day 2014. Its aim is to unite the world’s bloggers by posting about the same issue, on the same day, in order to raise awareness and trigger a positive global discussion around an important issue that impacts us all.

This year’s theme is inequality, a topic which is close to Breathe Network’s heart. Read our blog post below to get you thinking and join in the conversation on Blog Action Day’s live stream, Facebook and Twitter. 

#BAD2014,#Bad14 #BlogAction14, #inequality @BreatheNetwork @blogactionday12


These two envelopes arrived in the post on the same day:


On the one hand, Tearfund is asking me to help Agnes leave despair behind her. On the other, Boden is reminding me that they give 365 days of peace of mind. I open the letter and flick through the catalogue.

Agnes’ soundbite in the letter is: ‘Last year I had malaria four times. The last time I thought I would die.’ The soundbite from Boden model, Simone is: ‘What do I want to return as in my next life? A bird.’

I can’t help but feel that Agnes’ despair wouldn’t be fixed by the purchase of a ‘Calypso Vest’ which promises to ‘make you feel like you’re on holiday long before the duty free cosmetic counter beckons.’ It seems that the Omulala Women’s Group – where encouragement and hope are flourishing – is creating a forum for something a bit more deeply transformative than that.

But as I flick through pictures of ‘endlessly versatile soft cotton cardigans in life-affirming colours’, nor can I help but wonder if model Adoara, who celebrates the end of winter by buying ten swimsuits for the summer, isn’t missing out on something.

A gift today of £60 can pay for three women to attend a five-day training workshop, equipping them with business skills that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.

£60 would also pay for a Silver Riviera Notch Neck Tunic that will rush to my aid when I have a sudden attack of the wardrobe wobbles.

A donation today can empower women like Agnes with the tools, knowledge and confidence they need to leave poverty behind them – one step at a time.

Decisions, decisions, says Boden.

What Matters Most?

October 10, 2014


This question ‘What matters most?‘ is an incredibly subjective one and any answer given is also very likely to be shaped by the context in which the question is asked. Many of us play multiple roles, and if you are like me your answer might well be different in the contexts of work, where we volunteer or our homes. The question is also vital when it comes to the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of what ultimately matters, what are our key/core values and how we can step away from the compelling nature of the ‘urgent’ to get to the heart of what is really ‘important’ (In some cases the Urgent and Important are linked)

For me, I am very thankful for the work that I get to do, It matters to me a lot, but I am also deeply thankful for my family and they also matter to me a lot. Being able to deeply value my family and also my work and do both well, together, matters to me a great deal.

My problem if I am really honest, Is that more often than not I get it wrong. I don’t really fully awaken in the moment to what really matters. Distraction, over committing, apathy, not saying no, cynicism, getting bogged down, losing perspective, making poor decisions, all can crowd in and make me really lose site of what really matters most.

I’m a big admirer of the writer, retreat leader and public communicator Brian Draper. I have been fortunate enough to go on several of his brilliantly lead retreats, take part in his Advent and Lent email series and also read his books. I can highly recommend all of these. Time and resources well used in my humble opinion.

Anyway, the reason I mention Brian, is that he is about to bring out a new book entitled ‘What Matters Most‘ following on from his last work in print which was also aptly titled ‘Less is More‘ . These works seem really vital for us in an age that prizes activity and being busy as highly regarded. I’m looking forward to reading and engaging with Brian’s forthcoming book. But I’m really keen to ensure that I don’t just pick it up, read it and move on. I am keen, hungry and inspired to ensure that the book’s words and approach sink deeply into my soul and way of being, that enable me to really stop, focus, centre and commit to the life long journey of exploring and seeking to live out what really matters most.

In his book ‘Sabbath as resistence’ Walter Brueggemann talks about the significance of Sabbath as follows

Sabbath represents a radical disengagement from the producer-consumer rat race of the empire. The community welcomes members of any race or nation, any gender or social condition, so long as that person is defined by justice, mercy and compassion and not competition, achievement, production or acquisition. There is no mention of purity, only work stoppage with a neighbourly pause for humanness. 

It matters that we are resourceful, productive and good stewards of the resources, time and gifts that are given to us. We all rightly have the projects, work and initiatives that we have been ‘called’ to or inspired to work on. For that, there can be no doubt. But it is also vital that we take the time alongside that to rest, to be refreshed, to commune not compete, listen not talk and value being what it fully means to be human. Let’s Breathe a little more, for on the Sabbath, Less really is more.

* I’m sure that Breathe will be writing a review of the book in due course. Please do also consider checking out what Brian has to offer in terms of retreats and resources to help us focus more on what matters most



Book review: Simple Living in History

October 10, 2014
Featured Image -- 1725


Simple Living: Yesterday, Today and Into the future – A review by Jeremy Williams of ‘Simple Living in History’ – Pioneers of the Deep Future

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

simple-living-in-historySimple living, paring back our lives to focus on the things that matter most, is not a new idea. All through history people have advocated simpler living – for happiness, for virtue, for God, or for the earth. It’s always been there in our wisdom traditions. It may be more important now than it has ever been.

That’s because in the past, simple living was a matter of wisdom and a lifestyle choice. Today it may be a matter of survival. As the climate changes and resource stocks deplete, we are being forced to re-consider our assumptions about development, and the stories we tell ourselves about the good life. Simpler ways of living may be inevitable in the not too distant future, and the more deliberate we can be about it the better.

That doesn’t mean we need to return to some mythical pre-industrial golden age. As editors Samuel Alexander…

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Yesterday, today and forever

October 4, 2014
Image of St Francis

Breathe was asked to share some of our motivation and inspiration with a Third Order Franciscan gathering in South-East London today (on the Feast Day of St Francis, for those who follow such things!). So the Franciscans now know a bit about us, but what do we know about them? Who was St Francis, who are the Third Order Franciscans and what relevance do they have to us as members of Breathe?

St Francis lived over 800 years ago. He was a rich young man whose life was turned around by an encounter with God, after which he was moved to live in extreme poverty, even giving up the clothes he was wearing at one time! He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. You can read a bit more about St Francis and his choice of living simply here.

franciscan funnyFortunately, unlike this picture, it is possible to be inspired by St Francis without donning a habit! The Third Order of the Society of St Francis are vowed to a lifelong commitment to Christ and bearing witness to the Gospel life in their homes and workplaces. To do this they commit to a Rule of Life – a framework for living. Today, we shared with them Breathe’s Promise of Life which is our “rule”.

The Third Order has three aims, all of which will resonate with us in the Breathe Network:

  1. To spread the knowledge and love of Christ

They believe that it is the commission of the church to make the gospel known to all by bearing witness to Christ through word and example in our daily lives. They remember St Francis’ injunction to “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words”.

  1. To promote the way of love and unity with all creation

The Order sets out, in the name of Christ, to break down barriers between people and to seek equality for all. They are pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride and prejudice that breed injustice of partiality of any kind. They try to live in the spirit of St Francis’ prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

  1. To live joyfully a life of simplicity and humble service

They commit to living simply and to sharing with others. They aim to stay free from attachment to wealth, keeping themselves constantly aware of the poverty in the world and its claim on us. It is not a call to absolute poverty, but to a life lived in a spirit of generosity.

It is this third aim that most closely links to Breathe’s specific purpose – a life of “Less stuff, more life”. To illustrate this, at the gathering today, we showed the Conspiracy of Freedom videos, which inspired us to think about how we could make changes in our daily lives in response to the themes of Life, Home, Children and Enough.

An extract from the Franciscan booklet Chasing the Wild Goose, or a Wild Goose Chase can help us to explore in greater depth the themes of simplicity and poverty. It may challenge us to embrace a deeper understanding of why we should be aiming for less stuff, more life (i.e. poverty), which is so totally counter-cultural, but runs through the heart of the Gospel:

  1. Poverty may be seen as reverence for the integrity of creation.
  2. Poverty is the refusal to exploit or manage the natural world without reference to the needs of other people and to our responsibility as stewards of God.
  3. Poverty recognises the beauty, the sanctity and the goodness of things, as all are creatures of God.
  4. Poverty seeks not to be excessively attached to our possessions, but to use them for God’s glory, for the welfare of people and the universe itself.
  5. Poverty in clothing, transport, holidays, relationships and houses, needs to be characterised by simplicity.
  6. Poverty avoids dominating or exercising undue power over people’s lives, remembering the words of Jesus: ‘But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant’ Luke 22:26 NLT
  7. Poverty strives for that simplicity which is the fruit of humility.
  8. Poverty seeks to be free from all attachment to wealth and material gain by being aware of the poverty of the world and its claim on our stewardship.

St Francis was known as “God’s fool” due to his extreme way of life. Do you sometimes feel foolish as you try to live a life that challenges the all-consuming consumer dream? Do your friends or colleagues ridicule you for the choices you are making? Take heart from this verse:

The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer foolishness to those hell-bent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.                             1 Corinthians 1:18-19 The Message

I don’t know about you, but I find it inspiring and encouraging to know that we stand on the shoulders of giants – Franciscans have been striving to live simply for over 800 years! When I’m feeling disheartened about the state of the world, it is reassuring to know that – yesterday, today and forever – others are also wrestling with the challenges of living a counter-cultural Gospel life. And together, with prayer and commitment, we will make a difference!

No end to poverty without climate action

September 30, 2014
Featured Image -- 1709

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

climate for development“Climate change is rapidly becoming the greatest threat to poverty eradication” according to a new report. It’s from a coalition of NGOs that includes environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace, alongside those better known for their campaigning on poverty, such as Practical Action, Christian Aid and Oxfam.

The UN is in the process of negotiating a new set of targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals. But the report warns that without robust action on climate change, the rest of the goals could well be unachievable.

One of the most immediate risks is extreme weather, which damages crops, pushing up food prices and increasing the number of people going hungry. That could scupper any development goals around hunger, food security and nutrition. Malnutrition then undermines goals on health and wellbeing. A changing climate would also affect water security and any deterioration in access to the basics of…

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Some things are worth fasting for!

September 24, 2014

Guest Post by Sarah Wiggins

 Photo by Sean Hawkey – Fast for the Climate – People’s Climate March – Sun 21st Sept


What do Gandhi, the suffragettes and me have in common? We all cared about an issue enough to take part in a political fast. This is a rather self-inflated way to begin a blog, so please let me admit that I am not in the same category as the suffragettes who undertook a hunger strike and were willing to face death, or Gandhi, who was, well, Gandhi.

I’ve joined a global movement of people who are fasting: we’re people who care about climate change and are seeking to collectively have a stronger voice, calling for ambitious action.

The #fastfortheclimate campaign started spontaneously last year, when the head of the Philippines’ government representation, Yeb Sano, moved many to tears when he said that he would fast from food for the two weeks of the UN climate talks.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and this was linked to the changing climate. As Sano writes, “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw… I will voluntarily refrain from eating food … until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

I remember hearing Sano’s words and feeling excited about the possibility in the change he was calling for. Many of us joined him and fasted food during conference hours for the two weeks. People of Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Christian faiths and those without a faith found unity in the shared practice of fasting together. Although I felt dizzy at times, it was a reminder to pause and pray, and although the outcome has yet to be achieved, I’m convinced that this is the start of something.

Since then, thousands of people continue to fast on the first day of every month. Together, we continue to put political pressure on our governments to scale up their ambition to create a safe and fair global climate agreement.

For me, I find fasting helps, to throw off apathy and to act with determination about something I think is worth fighting for, worth being inconvenienced for. It is good for the soul and if done under medical guidance, can be good for one’s health. Somehow, on the days I am fasting, it feels like I am able to pray with greater conviction than usual about these difficult issues.

Fasting has helped me and maybe it will help you too. Will you join me and Yeb Sano in continuing to fast for the climate on the 1st of every month? Don’t worry, if the 1st of the month doesn’t work for you another day would be fine, and if a 24 hour fast is too much, a partial fast, or a fast of something other than food is also good!

Would you join us?

➲ If you would like to sign up and receive my monthly email reminders to fast and prayer suggestions, click here.

➲ If you would like to sign up directly to the global list without those reminders, please sign up here.

Sarah Wiggins is one of the Senior Global Advocacy Associates with Tearfund, and currently focuses on liaising with the US church and US Christian networks to mobilise advocacy and grassroots lifestyle change around climate change and other environmental issues. Prior to this she worked in international policy, carrying out research and lobbying on the issues of climate change adaptation and the Green Climate Fund. She has 3 children and lives with her husband Mike near to Tearfund so that they can both cycle to work. She has recently started two spiritual formation groups in her church and would love to see more start, and is also exploring how to live sustainably as a working Mum in an urban setting.


What does a ‘liveable’ city look like?

September 19, 2014

This weekend, for the 22nd year in a row, many of London’s usually private buildings will be opened up for public access through the Open House London initiative. Underlying this initiative is a desire to help the wider community become more knowledgeable, engage in dialogue and make informed judgments on architecture.

While that ‘open house’ ethos is exciting in itself, welcoming in those who would normally be excluded, it’s not just for the architecture buffs who like the thought of free access to some of the capital’s most iconic buildings. Rather, many of the themes running throughout the weekend are those which resonate with the Breathe community, raising all sorts of questions about how we live well in our context. For example:

  • How can we design cities for human flourishing?

With major constraints on space, huge demands for housing, and the dramatic rise in the number of one-person households, how can space and design be used differently? Check out the buildings which are trying to foster community living, make the most of ‘leftover’ spaces, and ‘green’ up existing properties.

  • How can we create truly ‘liveable’ cities?

Infrastructure is under pressure as London grows. Look at how architects have responded to the challenges of keeping London moving, supplying energy and clean water, processing and recycling waste, and finding solutions to long-term problems like flood risk and pollution.

  • What’s the point of open spaces?

London has historically been shaped by public spaces, squares and parks to enable its inhabitants to thrive, but land use is coming under increasing pressure. How do we create a sustainable landscape for the future and build beautiful places in a world where there are major challenges in managing water and other natural resources? Why not visit some of the community-led open spaces or regeneration projects which have the concept of landscape at their heart.

  • How can we make the city greener?  

Parks alone won’t do that. It’s all about the sustainable design of buildings and infrastructure, and this weekend you can visit some great examples of recent projects which exemplify this, from a zero carbon youth centre to an eco classroom which grows zero-food-miles organic salads.

If you’re in London this weekend, why not spend a few hours pottering around the city’s buildings; enjoying the delights of the diverse design on show and seeing it through a lens of someone who wants to foster community, connect with others, live more generously and critique the consumer dream which London is so quick to promote? You can search buildings by borough if you’re after something closer to home and there are some great ways of involving all the family.

And if you’re elsewhere, why not have a look at the website for inspiration before plotting a route around your own neighbourhood? What can we celebrate and what can we critique about the area we live in? Let’s get exploring!



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