It was great to see so many folk at first of our Sunday evening sessions during Lent. The ‘Possible World’ course asks if a different world is possible – ‘One where strangers are welcomed, creation is valued, stuff is just stuff, and justice is the norm.’ Yes, is the answer, if we follow Jesus’ radical challenge to embody in our daily living the values of God’s new society.
On Sunday night we explored the challenge of consumerism. We looked at Luke 18:18-27, and discussed in what ways Jesus’ challenge to the rich young ruler is relevant to us. In small groups we shared our experiences of living in a society which shapes us to be ‘consumers’ and where success is often measured in terms of material wealth.
Then we watched a short video in which a couple of people reflected on consumer culture in the light of their experience of living in Pakistan, and a young woman talked about her alternative, counter-cultural way of doing business. This was followed by discussing as we explored the implications of what we had heard. There seemed to be a lot of lively discussion going on in each of the groups.
This coming Sunday evening at 6pm, the subject is ‘The environment: for God so loved the world’ – challenge to view the environment as a treasure from God entrusted to us. Duncan has pre-viewed the video, and says it’s really powerful. Everyone is welcome to come along on Sunday evening!
Further thinking on our attitudes to consumerism
I guess the key thing about session like these is that we don’t just think, and agree that personal change would be a good thing, and then go home and resume the trajectory of our lives unchanged. Much better if we continue reflecting on what we’ve heard, and allow a passion of change to grow deep in us – the only way we change is when we realise that our present way of living and being is not tenable.
To encourage us to continue thinking about Sunday evening’s theme, the Possible World course manual (produced by the Church Missionary Society) suggests various approaches we can use, as individuals or in small groups. Here are some of them:
Reflect and pray
Reflect on your own feelings towards money, possessions, security and success. Ask where God is challenging you to be generous, or to live more thriftily, or to be more aware of God’s generosity and security.
What might this mean for you? As a group you could commit to not purchasing and consumer goods (with the exception of groceries and essential toiletries) over an agreed period of time. When that time is up, reflect together on how it felt and whether you might want to change what/how you consume in the future.
Make a daily note of your income and spending for a month. During and after this process reflect on your attitude towards money. Where might you need to curb your spending, give more generously, address problems of debt and live more sustainably?
Keep a daily or weekly record of specific things that you are thankful for, both monetary and non-monetary (eg friendship, health, activities and experiences.) What does this show about the value you place on material and non-material things? Do you view security and contentment any differently?
People are generally so enmeshed in their culture that it requires the shock of contact with a significantly different culture for them to realise, sometimes dramatically, that they have a culture and that it intimately influences them. (Gerald A. Arbuckle)
If you have not spent time in a different culture or context from your own, you might explore opportunities provided by CMS and other agencies to visit other cultures on a short-term basis.
Choose community life
You might feel called to explore the possibility of intentionally forming a community, either living together in a shared household, or forming a community out of several neighbouring/nearby households. This can be a great opportunity for sharing a set of values and practices for living simply and pooling resources. Not only that, but the unity and mutual care for one another shows observers that there is another way of living.
Recycle your clothes and accessories
Not sure how to go about it? Why not start with a clothes swap, or ‘swishing’ party? Ask friends to gather up their unwanted clothing, accessories, unused cosmetics etc and bring them to an event where people can exchange their items. What’s unclaimed can go to a charity shop.
Bless others extravagantly
In gratitude for God’s own extravagant self-giving, make a one-off extravagant gift or host a party.
There are many books and websites that offer information and suggestions for shopping ethically, with information on products, shops and financial institutions. As a starter, some suggestions include:
www.ethicalconsumer.org The leading source of information, product guides, research and insight in the UK since 1989
www.goodguide.com The US and world leader in ethical consumer product ratings – over 100,000 products rated
www.fairtrade.org.uk Home of the Fair Trade Mark – and everything Fair Trade
www.fairtrade-institute.org One of the leading guides to publications on this most critical of ethical consumerism issues.