Simple Living Works by Gerald Iverson

This morning I am reblogging a post by Gerald Iverson. It first appeared on his blog as Living Fair Trade. Gerald describes himself as the chief activist of Simple Living Works  which came out of Alternatives for Simple Living. Simple Living Works has many of Alternatives resources available so don’t just read the post – follow the links! Each year they produce a great resource – Whose Birthday is It Anyway? 

Our daughter Elysha gave me a lovely African-style shirt when she served in the Peace Corps in Kenya. I wear it for two reasons. First, as a symbolic gesture to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world. Wouldn’t it be great if our church choirs wore clothes like this instead of sterile choir robes? (I was a Minister of Music for 25 years, so I know about sterile choir robes!)

Second, I wear it to promote Fair Trade. You may have heard of Fair Trade coffee and now Fair Trade chocolate. I l-o-v-e dark Fair Trade chocolate.

We practice Fair Trade for two basic reasons. First, to make sure that farmers and artisans in non-industrial countries get a fair price for their goods. And secondly, to EDUCATE US. Through Fair Trade we learn from the world community (Living More with LessLife Standard #2).

Rita and I have gotten involved with Sharing the Dream, a Fair Trade organization based in South Dakota.

We visited Guatemala for ten days a few years back to meet the Mayan artisans. It was a life-changing trip. Now we can tell their stories. Guatemala suffered through a 30-year civil war between the indigenous Mayans and the Ladinos, the descendants of the Spaniards. Many of the Mayan women lost their husbands, so they make beautiful crafts for North Americans, to support their family and send their children to school. (School’s not free in Guatemala.)

We organize several display/sales each fall. We have had considerable success because 1. It’s a good cause, 2. We have a relationship with the sponsoring churches (we’re usually members), 3. We’re assertive. We don’t wait for them to come to us. We work with the church to publicize the event in advance through posters, newsletter, email blasts, pulpit announcements – all which we provide. We make it easy for the church. On the day of the event, if we’re not set up in the narthex, one of us – the “hawker” – stands in the narthex and in friendly way urges people to go into the display area.

Fair Trade is educational. The crafts can be given to children and others. Each comes with a story. They can help us understand another culture.

Testimonial from Debb Lutz

Gerald, You and Rita came to Mifflinville, Pennsylvania, years ago now to speak to a group of my friends. I still strive to impress upon folks the importance of less stuff. I remain the coordinator for our church’s Alternative Gift Fair. This event has encouraged nearly $130K of monetary gifts to 30 different charities in the last nine years. That money could have bought a lot of “stuff” but folks gave it to help others. Thank you for YOUR work in keeping us on the right track. Peace, Debb

Read about our visit at Debb’s church at Travels year 2.5. (Scroll to post #214.)

OCTOBER, Fair Trade Month, aims to raise awareness of the reasons why fair trade is important, and to promote buying and using socially and commercially sustainable, fair trade products in place of commodities which may harm the environment, the economy, communities and disadvantaged individuals.

Fair Trade Resource Network  is an information hub designed to grow the fair trade movement. Together, we can create a market that values the people who make the food we eat and the goods we use. Advocacy Resources Offered by Several Organizations & Campaigns

Here’s help with a variety of similar events.

For encouragement see and read about Micah 6 Action Team I met in the St. Louis area. They organize an annual alternative Christmas church fair. (Scroll to post #109.)

Podcast Reminder

You can access all SLW! podcast audio and the show notes either atSimpleLiving.startlogic.com/SLW-PODCAST or at SimpleLivingWorks.org (then click window #3). Listen through your computer, iPod, iPad, iPhone (or equivalent). SUBSCRIBE through iTunesStitcher.com or your favorite podcast service.

Or access individual episodes:

#1: Getting Acquainted

#2: 5 Life Standards

#3: Saga of Simply Enough

#4: Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle-1

#5: Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle-2

#6: Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?-1 (of 6)

Do your friends a favor. Share this blog and podcast.

Peace, Gerald ”Jerry” Iversen, Chief SLW! Activist

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When the Farmer Scatters Seed… build up the soil

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed.” So begins one of my favourite parables, a parable that many of us are very familiar with. Some of the seed falls on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns and some in good soil. The seed is the word of God. That which falls on the path represents those for whom God’s word never takes root, the seed in rocky soil those with shallow roots who turn away when problems overwhelm, that scattered amongst thorns are those who allow the worries of life and the lure of wealth to distract, and of course the seed that falls on good soil stands for those who produce a rich harvest. (Mark 4:3-20)

It is so easy for me to interpret this parable from an urban dweller’s perspective, to look down on those who don’t receive the word of God or who turn away because it has not grown deep roots, or been choked out by the cares of the world. It is only recently that I realized a farmer would interpret this completely differently. The central principle of organic gardening is – Build up the soil!

Any ground can be made more fertile and become productive. Stony ground can be moved as all of us who have travelled to Ireland know.

stone-walls-ireland

And brambles can be cleared as any gardener here in the Pacific NW is well aware of.

Sampling the blackberries

It is the farmer who works to convert poor soil into good, just as it is those of us who spread the word of God who are responsible to build up the soil in which we plant it. Too often we place the responsibility on those who hear to respond appropriately when we do little to prepare and nurture the work God is doing in their lives. Our spreading of the seed (evangelism and proclamation) is not done to put another “soul saved for heaven” notch on our belts, it is to introduce them to the renewed community of God’s shalom world. Having introduced them we are responsible to grow them into shalom representatives, teaching them to be plants that produce a harvest of plenty.

Build up the soil, it is as important for followers of Christ as it is for the farmer. And what do we build up the soil with? The best organic fertilizer of all is compost – garbage transformed to gold. My colleague Andy Wade has just written a couple of great posts on this on the MSA blog.

So what is the garbage in your life that God has transformed into gold? How could you use that to nurture, grow and help sustain others so that they too can become healthy and productive plants in God’s fertile garden?

 

Let Us Do What Is Right – A Reflection On Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

This morning two images have merged in my mind. This Martin Luther King quote from the Idealist  and another quote from Randy Woodley’s book Shalom and the Community of Creation

When we cease to trust the Creator for our daily provision, evil takes over and oppression occurs. Shalom, with its embedded concern for the poor, the marginalized, the animals, the birds and the earth, is the divinely preferred way for humans to live. Justice and righteousness are weapons to be employed in order to combat evil, once the systems begin to become corrupted. Truth, which I define here as following the natural paths of God’s intentions, is also one of the main weapons that humans have been given in order to fight the temptation towards self-reliance (80)

When we don’t do what is right and trust our God for provision but rely instead on the values of greed, exploitation and oppression, evil does indeed take over. We have seen it in the enslavement and genocide of peoples. We have seen it in the confiscation of native lands. And we have seen it in the destruction of the earth’s animals and habitats. My home country Australia is suffering from record breaking temperatures that have soared to over 50C or 122F. sparking hundreds of bushfires.  The government’s climate commission admits that climate change had contributed to making the extreme heat conditions and bushfires even worse.

Surely there has never been a better time to refuse to look the other way. All of us need to do what is right for those who are still oppressed and marginalized in our world. We need to do what is right to reduce emissions and reduce our consumption to contribute our small bit to the fight against climate change.

As Martin Luther King suggests, our souls suffer along with our bodies and our world when we do not do what is right. I pray that today all of us will catch a fresh glimpse of God’s incredible shalom kingdom in which all humanity is set free, creation is restored and we all live together in peace, harmony and mutual concern.

What do you think?

10 Ways to Help Kids Give Back At Christmas

Make Your Own Christmas Gifts

Advent and the Christmas season are racing towards us at warp speed and the hyper-consumerism that has already invaded our favourite stores is incredible. How do we refrain from responding with a frenzy of buying and more importantly, how do we stop our kids from being drawn into the “got to have this, and this and this” mentality? One possibility is helping kids to enjoy the blessing of giving rather than receiving. The list below is adapted from one that I found in Parent Map

1.Support Kids of the World: Helping your children understand that other kids don’t have the privileges they do and need their help can be an enjoyable experience. I love what VIVA, a UK based organization does in sponsoring Christmas parties in poor communities around the world. They are engaged in many ways to help keep children at risk safe and healthy. I have used their child friendly educational prayer resources for years. You may also like to consider organizations like Save the Children and Feed The Children.

2. Buy a livelihood for families. Gifts that provide a livelihood for those who struggle with hunger and poverty can be particularly meaningful as they empower children and make them realize we can all make a difference in this world. World ConcernWorld Vision and Heifer Project are just a few of the organizations that now provide opportunities for the giving of livestock – from chickens to cattle but as I mentioned in a previous post on Advent resources for Kids, this can sometimes be a little confusing as the chair of our Board found out when he tried to give 1/2 a goat to his parents for Christmas. His mother asked “What will I do with 1/2 a goat?” Tearfund UK has a program where you buy a gift voucher and then the recipient diecides what they will give. This might be more fun for some kids.

3. Donate a Bedtime story. This was a new one for me. Many families have few or no age-appropriate books in their home and kids miss out on the important literacy building ritual of bedtime stories. First Book is a non profit that works to distribute new books to low income families in schools in the U.S. and Canada.

4. Hold a Make Something Party. Some years ago Adbusters started a Buy Nothing Day campaign to counteract the Black Friday shopping frenzy of North American Culture. I prefer the Make Something Day idea which places a far more positive spin on the idea. You may in fact like to organize a party where your kids can help make gifts for underprivileged kids in your communities. There is something very special about a gift that has been handcrafted. I can guarantee that the recipient will hold onto it for years to come.

5. Make a Loan, help a family. This is a great suggestion for older kids that you not only want to encourage to give but who you also want to learn about investing and financial responsibility. KIVA and Hope International are two of the many Christian organization that facilitate micro-lending.

6.  Shed a Light on a Brighter Future. One Million LIghts is a non profit that aims to provide sustainable, usable lights to homes without electricity in developing countries through a buy one give one model. Buy solar-charged lanterns and you keep one and a family in need gets the other – a brilliant (pardon the pun) idea.

7. Give Hope for Tomorrow: Plant a Tree, Buy a Stove. In Plant with A Purpose’ alternative gift catalogue, a tree only costs $1 and a fule efficient stove is $30. I think that this type of gift can be a wonderful educational tool to help children understand the consequences of environmental degradation. Again the fact that we can actually do something to change the situation can be very empowering for young people.

8. Invite International Students Over for Christmas. There are lots of students from around the world that do not have anywhere to go for Christmas. Consider inviting them over on either Christmas eve or Christmas day. Contact your local college or university to find out how to extend this invitation. We have done this for the last couple of years. It has become a real highlight of the Christmas season for us. In conjunction you may like to get your kids to read up on Christmas traditions from around the world. Christmas Around the World has a wonderful description of traditions from a variety of countries that you might like to discuss.  The Worldwide Gourmet has a wonderful array of recipes associated with the Advent and Christmas season in many different parts of the world.  Just reading through some of these had my mouth watering.

9. Go Fairtrade with all your purchases. There are a growing number of organizations that provide fair traded gift items. Ten Thousand Villages is one one that we have frequented for years. Another possibility is One World Futbol’s smart soccer ball requires no pumping and never goes flat. Each time you purchase one another is donated to a community in need. Or for those that live in the Seattle area take you kids on a tour of Theos Chocolates and end by purchasing gifts for all the family.

10. Protect the World’s Animals. There are many creative ways to help protect the world’s animals. You might like to adopt an animal at your local zoo or contribute to an animal shelter or participate in one of the World Wild Life’s projects. One of my standard Christmas gifts is National Wildlife Federation’s monthly magazines – Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr.  It is an award winning educational magazine that provides entertainment and instruction throughout the year.

I have probably said enough but if you want to check out some other ideas:

Momastery – Mastering the Mom  has a great suggestion.

And you might also like to check out my post from a couple of years ago

Celebrating Advent with Kids

More resources to come – this is obviously a huge area of interest.

Have We Settled For Cheap Faith?

Death to the World

This morning in my post The Ugly Tomato, I included a link to a post that I did on Cheap Faith a few years ago. I have been thinking about that ever since and decided that I would update and republish it. Part of the reason for this is that I am struggling because more and more speaking invites expect us to work for free. The real cost of a conference or event is not really taken into account. And Christians don’t want to have to pay the full cost. Yet I know that in the secular world people expect to pay much more because they know and accept what it costs to put on a conference.

MSA has not held a large conference in the last few years mainly because of some of these concerns. We have always liked to start planning a conference by asking “What are God’s kingdom values we want to represent at this gathering?” It is often an uncomfortable conversation, hopefully not just for us but for everyone who is involved.

In all that we do, I grapple with how to provide resources, technology and events within the constraints of a limited budget. I struggle with how to live and operate our ministry sustainably without jeopardizing our concern for the environment and for the poor.  Fair-traded tea and coffee is more expensive than regular coffee.  Lunches from Fairstart that provides jobs for the homeless are more expensive than the local supermarket that only pays workers minimum wages. Environmental concerns create even more constraints as we struggle to reduce waste & provide environmentally friendly alternatives.  How do we bring in speakers and participants from around the world in fuel guzzling aeroplanes and still show respect for the environment?

I love the way Shane Claiborne approaches some of these concerns.  Whenever he travels he gets people to commit to reduce their fuel consumption in compensation for the additional fuel he is using by flying.  Not easy but I think it is a great way to show how seriously we take these issues.  Or maybe we should all cut back our fuel consumption for a month beforehand to compensate. Maybe we should hold more local events that don’t require a lot of travel or expensive accommodation and encourage us to cooperate with each other in what do.

Not easy but why should I expect it to be easy?  It is never easy to choose deliberately to live by God’s kingdom values in all our actions.  Unfortunately we live in a world that wants everything especially food, clothing, household goods and technology at bargain prices but, at what cost to the poor and the environment?  For us to have access to bargain priced food, technology and resources often means that those who produce and sell our goods are not paid a living wage.  Our bargain goods often are produced in conditions that devastate the environment and add to our polluted air.

What concerns me most is that our obsession with bargains extends to our faith as well.  We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change.

It is not surprising that in a culture like ours, few people practice fasting and self-sacrifice during Lent anymore.  Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross never comes at bargain prices, it is very costly.  In fact it demands our whole lives but it is absolutely necessary if we want to become the disciples God intends us to be.  It means recognizing that the true self is made in the image of God and reflects the characteristics that are true to Gods image love and compassion, concern for justice for the poor and freedom from oppression…considering the needs of others as more important than my own.

I think many will get a shock when they enter the kingdom of God.  It will be a real cross-cultural experience for them because the bargain price values they have lived by will be totally worthless.  Fortunately, Gods spirit continues to work within all of us enabling us to confront the false self and its cheap values.  It constantly breaks down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and Gods ways.

The question I find myself asking this morning is “Where do I still go after a bargain and sacrifice God’s values as a consequence?”  Maybe you would like to ask the same question.  Where is the spirit of God nudging you to change so that your false self will be transformed into the true self that reflects the glory of God?

What Does a Person Need?

MSA intern Chris Holcomb

MSA intern Chris Holcomb

MSA intern Chris Holcomb is starting a series of posts at the MSA blog on experiments in simplicity.

One of the questions that I’ve been grappling with over the last several years is this: what do people need? No, I’m not trying to think of a product to sell, or an innovation to change the world; I’m thinking in much more basic terms than those. What does a person need to survive, and what do they need to live a happy, fulfilling life?

Check out the first post here

The Overflow Project by Brian Wolters

Water is life

Water is life

This morning’s post comes from Brian “Wolt” Wolters. Wolt is the executive director of the Overflow Project . The issue of access to fresh water is one that I am particularly concerned about and I think that The Overflow Project is a very creative response to this issue.



I remember a report in my church’s bulletin the week after Easter titled “Easter by the numbers” sharing the number of Easter volunteers, attendees, services, and flowers. In general, churches promote and plan well in advance for Easter by decorating sanctuaries, orientating volunteers, and expanding parking lots. This year a church even rented out the Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle for its Easter gathering. Clearly, a phenomenon exists where people attend a church service on Easter more than any other day of the year, and churches make a big deal about it.

I am fascinated with Jesus, the very one people celebrate coming back to life on Easter Sunday. Joyfully and ironically, Jesus doesn’t disappear after Easter Sunday. In fact, Jesus lives on earth after his death before he ascends. The Holy Spirit then arrives on Pentecost. Easter is a season that spans 50 days.

Why do people – including churches- typically stop celebrating the day after Easter?

An alternative exists: living a life similar to Jesus as he actually teaches by being light in this world where there is so much darkness, caring for the poor and broken, and celebrating the hope and new life of Christ that he offers to all. Enough is enough. You have all that you need in Christ. Jesus ushers a new way of living in the world post-death as a testimony to us.

What does Easter and the significance of how Christ lives after his death mean to you? What would it look like to form new habits of faith and live intentionally? Could you go beyond writing checks and instead live and give generously out of the overflow in your life?

This year a small team and I launched a new endeavor called The Overflow Project to invite individuals and communities all around the world to participate in a new kind of living. During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost we developed resources for groups and churches to celebrate and live simply to break down the barrier that divides rich and poor and to free us from ignorance about poverty.

Providing water brings life

Providing water brings life

Currently about 1 billion people in the world live without access to clean safe drinking water –a basic human right and a fundamental need for empowerment and economic development.

On Pentecost Sunday we will receive participant’s collective contributions to support sustainable clean water projects in Uganda. This effort changes our lives by opening our eyes to a different kind of life and changes Uganda through investing in clean water solutions and hygiene training.

The Overflow Project’s 50-Day Challenge is still happening right now. Anybody can join, even for the few days that remain.

We have so much to celebrate today! Christ has risen. Remember Easter for what it is, even today, nearly 50 days later.

Brian “Wolt” Wolters