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

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.

Going Green for Halloween – Seven Tips to Consider

Halloween lantern

Halloween lantern

This morning I was reading through Green America and came across an interesting article on Halloween. Now I am not an advocate for Halloween. It always seems weird to me that Christians celebrate it as much as non Christians. But here in America it is such a part of the culture that this rarely seems to be questioned. And I certainly know it is coming because the number of horror movies on T.V. has increased astronomically. So instead I thought that I would turn my thoughts to preparations for the season.

First some thoughts from the Green America article and elsewhere you may want to consider:

  1. Face paint: A 2009 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 10 out of 10 children’s face paints tested contained at least trace levels of lead. This article provides some DIY alternatives.
  2. The Candy Problem: 41 million kids in the U.S. go trick or treating. Last year Americans spent something like 2.2 billion on Halloween candy. No wonder one out of three children in America are overweight and many will develop diabetes. Consider making your own healthy treats, giving out non food items like polished stones, temporary tattoos, or friendship bracelets.
  3. Swap costumes: Millions of costumes are purchased in the U.S. each year. Consider holding a pre Halloween party to swap, mend, make or borrow costumes from your friends.
  4. Reverse Trick or Treating: I wrote about this a couple of years ago in this article. My growing concern for just working conditions for children makes me a strong advocate for this. I think it is a wonderful way to raise awareness of these issues and show consistency for our values.
  5. Hold an All Saints Party. Rather than celebrating Halloween celebrate All Saints Day November 1st. Have kids dress up as their favourite person or saint. Share stories, decorate pumpkins if you must but also consider some alternatives like decorating window panes with non toxic paints, making Christmas decorations and wreaths.
  6. Organize a Community or Neighbourhood Event. Green Halloween started in Seattle but grew into a national phenomenon with community events at more than 50 locations. You might want to join in the fun and get to know some of your neighbours.
  7. Make the most of you pumpkins: Kids and adults alike love carving and decorating pumpkins, but I hate to watch them slowly rotting on the porch. So here are some thoughts to use that pumpkin more effectively. Save the seeds and toast them in the oven with a little salt. Use the pumpkin flesh (discarding any melted wax) to make pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup and pumpkin bread.

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?

The Ugly Tomato

Yesterday I received notice from our friends at Soulsby Farm of their upcoming Ugly Tomato contest. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing the entries though unfortunately I am not sure that my own tomatoes will be ripe enough by the end of August for any photos at all. This is definitely shaping up to be an ugly tomato season here in Seattle, though I must confess I usually think that about this time of the year and am usually pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately there are other ugly aspects to tomatoes I have been learning about this week that are not quite so much fun. Like this story that International Justice Mission shared in their Recipe for Change newsletter this week.

Mariano’s Story

Thanksgiving week of 2007, Mariano punched his way through the ventilation hatch in the ceiling of a box truck in the farming town of Immokalee, Florida. He and his co-workers were held against their will for more than two years, violently forced to labor in Florida and South Carolina tomato fields, and padlocked into the windowless box truck at night. One worker was chained to a post by his employers, the Navarretes. That day during Thanksgiving week, after escaping, Mariano found a ladder and went back to help his friends get out. Read more here

It is hard for many of us to accept that slavery occurs in our own backyard. Yet it does and all of us can make a difference just by deciding where to shop and what to buy.

Today the nation’s largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida’s largest tomato growers to confront slavery and other abuses on Florida’s tomato farms. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers’ basic rights. We’re calling on Publix, Kroger and Ahold to join too!

Unfortunately it is not just the tomato industry that takes advantage of workers. As we shop at farmers’ markets and fair trade stores we realize the true cost of our food and consumer goods – if all those who produced what we eat were paid a fair wage. Christians should be at the forefront of movements like this that raise concerns about how we treat the disant neighbours who produce our food.

My biggest concern is that we look for the same cheapness regardless of the costs to others when we view our faith. Several years ago I wrote about this in Cheap Faith? 

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. Read more 

So what do you think? How does our quest for the easy life with cheap food, cheap clothes and cheap living extend to our faith and impact our values?

The Call To True Freedom

Grievance wall at Wild Goose Festival

Grievance wall at Wild Goose Festival

This morning I posted this prayer on facebook

God you have called us into freedom,
May we use it to follow you with our whole hearts,
May we use it to serve one another in love,
May we use it to grow your kingdom of peace and wholeness.

It came out of my struggle with the whole concept of Independence Day and our assumption that because we live in America that we are free. To be honest I struggle with the very word Independence because God calls us to interdependence and not independence. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t see anything wrong in a nation celebrating its independence. It is when Christians celebrate with the same fervour as though independence is a part of our faith that I struggle.

I also struggle with what we mean by freedom. Even in America there are many who have very little freedom.

Yesterday I signed up for International Justice Mission’s Recipe for Change  initiative which highlights the plight of tomato pickers in Florida. I talked about this last year in a post The Price of Tomatoes – Keeping Slavery Alive in Florida.  Then I read this article by Greg Valerio who together with his wife Ruth is a great advocate for fair trade – especially jewelry. Purity of Fair Trade Gold at Risk

Then I read Chris Smith’s article Let’s Celebrate Interdependence Day

And I rounded it up with watching this video by Micha Bournes – When America Dies

watch?v=3ctXPDwLlwk&feature=player_embedded

These issues make me very aware of the fact that our freedoms are so often dependent on the enslavement or exploitation of others. It made me more than ever aware of the fact that none of us are truly free until all God’s children are free and also that the only true freedom is what we find in our relationship to God. What do you think?

Valentine’s Day Is Coming – How Do We Help to Encourage Fair Trade Practices?

Yesterday I received my email copy of ePistle Evangelicals for Social Actions weekly electronic communication.  This article caught my attention:

Ivory Coast is on the brink of civil war, and chocolate companies could play a critical role in saving lives and bringing peace.

In November, former President Laurent Gbagbo lost democratic elections but is clinging to power despite united international pressure, ruling through his brutal army that has killed hundreds. Cocoa is the country’s largest export, and if chocolate companies stop doing business with Gbagbo now, his cash supply to the army could dry up — and he could be forced to step down.

This situation could spiral into all-out war within days. Let’s flood our favourite brands with messages to suspend trade with Gbagbo now and commit to working only with the legitimate government. Click to send a message directly to leading companies — and we will publish which companies have cut their financial ties to Gbagbo.

To send a message click here

However it occurs to me that we need to do is more than send a short message of protest.  We need to protest with our feet too – (or maybe I should say with our mouths).  Are you planning to buy chocolates for Valentines this year?  If so where are you planning to buy them from.  Are you supporting conflict chocolate…yes, conflict chocolate, like conflict diamonds but with more caffeine.?  If we only buy chocolates that are produced by fair trade and that do not support civil conflict then I suspect it will create even more reaction than our sending of protest letters.

Cadbury’s in the UK already uses only fair trade chocolate for its milk chocolate bars, but there has not been enough outrage here in the US for them to consider making the same change.  And Hersheys has made no strides in this direction at all.  So Valentine’s day is a great time to educate ourselves and others about the Dark Side of Chocolate and how buying fair trade makes a difference.

And if you are afraid that you will need to cut back on your chocolate consumption think again.  There are lots of companies out there that produce high quality fair trade chocolate.  Divine chocolate is truly divine and Theo chocolates produced locally here in Seattle are a real treat.  In fact how about planning a tour of Theo chocolates as a Valentine’s “date” this year?  It is fun, educational and even supportive of a just world.