“Social and Environmental Impacts of Everyday Food Choices” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life

To see a general overview of Simpler Living, Compassionate Life click here.

In this section (Social and Environmental Impacts of Everyday Food Choices): “The Pleasures of Eating by Wendell Berry (105-109); “The Great Hunter-Gatherer Continuum” by James T. Mulligan (110-116)

Berry begins this section by arguing that eating is an agricultural act that we, as consumers, have been disconnected from. The industrial economy has demanded higher quantities for lower cost and has left quality in product and experience behind. In this disconnection we also eat rushed food and lose not only the pleasure of eating but the pleasure of cooking.

The conclusion of this essay will be welcome for those who have been reading this work and appreciating the theoretical arguments, but wanting examples of action they can take. Berry gives seven suggestions for ways that readers can make their eating more responsible and enjoyable. Mulligan then places all the ways in which we gather food on a continuum from the most culturally normative to the most earth friendly. He argues for a move to the earth friendly side of the spectrum, buying from farmers markets and gardening, whenever possible. Both authors introduce accessible changes that readers can make to take a step away from cultural over-consumption and toward a more simple, earth friendly lifestyle.

“How Much is Enough?” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life

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In this section (How Much Is Enough?: Lifestyles, Global Economics, and Justice): “The Big Economy, The Great Economy” by Michael Schut (73-79); “Christian Faith and the Degradation of Creation” by John B. Cobb Jr. (80-89); “How Much is Enough” by Alan Durning (90-98); “Word and Flesh” by Wendell Berry

For simple living to truly be a meaningful and Christian lifestyle, it must not only serve to restore the ecological creation but also those members of the human creation whose lives are impoverished. This section begins to tie together the seemingly disparate sections of our own individual choices and their larger impact on human lives and the economy. The section opens quote from Robert Stivers reminding readers that the Bible, in no uncertain terms, calls believers to seek justice and protect the poor.

Any attempt to contextualize global economy could easily become unwieldy and difficult for the average reader. These essays outline how the habits of the biggest consumers have created an economy that has consequences for those who consume significantly less. It argues that both consumption extremes, over-consumption, and poverty are bad and invites readers to consider a middle path of mindful consumption.

Food is introduced as one example of our unjust over-consumption. In the industrial economy, we’ve created a population separated from the growing process of the food they eat. The supply lines between natural resources to consumer are long. One significant change each of us can make is to commit to shortening the supply lines between us and our food. The section that follows will explore more specific steps that thoughtful consumers may take to disrupt long supply lines.

“Your Money or Your Life” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life

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In this section: “Spending Money as if Life Really Mattered” by Evy McDonald (59-66); “Money” by William Stringfellow (67-72)

Many people are uncomfortable talking about money. Discussion of income, savings, or giving often makes people blanche. The taboo that the American culture places on talking about money makes conversations of faithful stewardship of one’s money difficult. However, McDonald and Stringfellow bring nuanced approaches to bear in this section, which is the first to really analyze our use of money.

McDonald shares her realization that time = money. She reflects on how her life, especially as a consumer, changed when she began asking whether an item she was considering purchasing was worth the hours of work it would take to make the money needed to buy the item. If an item is not worth the time, she moves on. McDonald’s essay doesn’t vilify money, but encourages readers to become thoughtful consumers.

Stringfellow holds a mirror to the idolization of money. His essay recognizes that the obsession with money has made it a moral measure as well. We’ve come to believe that more money = moral excellence. Stringfellow calls for freedom from this idol. He affirms that money itself is not bad, but our placing money and the acquisition of money above God is wrong.

This section calls the reader to question their own relationship with money, which is helpful preparation for later sections that will widen the scope, turning to larger societal structures.

After Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, Michael Schut also published Money and Faith: The Search for Enough. To learn more about this publication click here to be taken to his website.

“Time as Commodity, Time as Sacred” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life

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In this section: “Excerpt from The Overworked American” by Juliet Schor (33-37); “The Spirituality of Everyday Life” by Cecile Andrews (37-41); “Entering the Emptiness” by Gerald May (41-51); “Contemplation and Ministry” by Henri Nouwen (52-58)

This section invites the reader into a greater thoughtfulness in conception and use of time. The opening excerpt from The Overworked American reveals the age of this collection in a way that few other essays throughout the work do. Written in the earliest years of the technological revolution, it fails to address the multitasking and attachment to technology that we experience in everyday life.

Cecile Andrews and Henri Nouwen offer insightful reflections on the need for mindfulness and contemplation. Nouwen believes that those involved in pastoring need contemplation to see and respect the complexity of the world and to position one’s obedience toward God.

Gerald May’s essay on emptiness and “the myth of fulfillment” speak to the universal experience of longing. He critiques popular religion that offers false promises of blissful contentment, arguing that “we were never meant to be completely filled..In this way we participate in love becoming life, life becoming love.” (47) While I found a number of May’s arguments to be compelling, I was deeply troubled by May’s note that “oppression by other humans…can teach the secret (hope of emptiness).”(48) He goes on to quote Frederick Douglass, but does not condemn oppression seen throughout the world as an incarnation of evil. There seems to me to be a very dangerous romanticization of oppression and failure to confront the horrific history of slavery in this statement, which could fall dangerously into ideology asserted by many in the nineteenth century that somehow slavery was “beneficial.”

Despite my concern with May’s essay, this section on the whole encourages individuals to embrace and cultivate quiet time and space in their lives. Its placement within the book suggests that simple living needs reflection on how a lifetime is spent.

Profile: Michael Schut

Image courtesy of mikeschut.com

Michael (Mike) Schut is an activist for faith-based environmental action and education. He has worked for numerous organizations in this intersection for more than twenty years. Schut is the editor and author of three books: Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian PerspectiveFood and Faith: Justice, Joy, and Daily Bread; and Money and Faith: The Search for Enough. 

Currently, Schut is available for writing, retreats, conferences, and more. To contact Schut or to learn more about his work, you can access his website here.

“The Sacred Journey: Seeking an Abundant Life” in Simpler Living Compassionate Life

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In this section: “Introduction to The Sacred Journey” by Frederick Buechner (19-22); “The Good Life and The Abundant Life” by Michael Schut (23-32)

This introduction argues for a change in perspective. Buechner calls readers to recognize and celebrate the movement of the divine in everyday life, to reclaim the sacred in the ordinary. To hope for living more simply and compassionately, we must begin with a recognition of the sacred reality of the lives around us. Later in this book other authors will argue that life is not just human life, but life of plants, animals and the universe itself.

When we are tuned into a generous understanding of the sacred we can recognize that we have uplifted the idol of “the good life.” Schut argues that as we have pursued good lives, we have revered “cultural idols” more than we should. He points to materialism and economic growth, productivity, anthropocentrism and individualism, and simplicity itself. Only simplicity rooted in a faithful understanding of the sacred can move us closer to an abundant life.

In the arc of this book, this early section is a wonderful foundation on that to confront other issues found later. The theme of sacred will continue throughout this work. Those intrigued by Buechner’s ideas about sacred in the everyday might also consider Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary.

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life edited by Michael Schut

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Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective  (1998) grew out of a curriculum created by Michael Schut in 1996 and published by Earth Ministry. The early success of the curriculum led to its expanded publication as a larger collection. Featuring essays by Cecile Andrews, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner, and many more, this collection touches many topics surrounding humanity’s relationship to our earthly home. In addition to the essays, the book includes 70 pages of additional material to help guide communities as they engage this book, making it a wonderful choice for book groups. This book is obviously meant not just to be read, but engaged, and engaged in community most of all.

Any work attempting to examine the global economy, everyday food choices, social structures, justice, and more will confront a problem of accessibility for readers without theological or ecological degrees. However, for those willing to take the time to move a little bit more slowly and intentionally through the selections, readers will find that Schut’s careful curation has created an accessible approach to the interconnected nature of our relationship to the natural world. The authors who contribute to this collection argue for a new way of moving through the world, voluntary simplicity inspired and grounded in a Christian faith that recognizes the sacred nature of all life.

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life can be found at most major book retailers, including Amazon here, and through your favorite independent bookstore. More detailed information on the sections of the book, including reviews for each section and author profiles can be found at the hyperlinks below. (Hyperlinks currently in progress.)

Profile: Wendell Berry

Image courtesy of Hans Howe

Prolific American author Wendell Berry is known for his poetry, essays, novels and his activism. His experiences as the son of a farmer directed his work later in life as an author and activist. His activism began in 1968 with A Statement Against the War in Vietnam” which was published in 1969 in a collection of essays. His activism has continued throughout his career and he has taken a special interest in environmental issues.

His work has received numerous awards, most of which can be found here at a fan website. In addition to his many already published works, Mr. Berry has two books to be published in the next year: Fidelity: Five Stories (Aug 2018 – rerelease; original publication date 1992) and The Art of Loading Brush New Agrarian Writings (Jan 2019).

Beloved for his insightful and steady voice which argues for a profound reflection and connection with the earth, Berry has been an influential American voice through the last half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. There are many recommendations for the best place to start when reading Wendell Berry, but there is agreement that the most important thing is to start.

For Wendell Berry’s own website click here. A fan website has collected many online resources for those interested in Wendell Berry, which can be found here. Berry’s published work can be found from major booksellers and your favorite independent bookstore. Click here to be taken to his author page on Amazon.

I Love God’s Green Earth by Michael and Caroline Carroll

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I Love God’s Green Earth is a three-month devotional for kids who want to connect their Christian faith to learning more about the world and how to care for it. The devotional offers ninety days of exploration of the creation and faith. Each day begins with a Bible verse and short devotional on the topic of the day. Daily connections link the devotional to personal faith and “What can I do?” gives examples of easy actions to take care of God’s creation. “Crazy facts” and jokes sprinkled throughout the devotion break up the serious topics.

A wide range of topics are covered including energy production, endangered animals, and creative solutions to recycling. In the first ten days, I was disappointed that many of the “What can I do?” sections recommended reflecting and “relaying” thoughts to God instead of specific actions that can be taken. However, after the early days, the book managed to find a balance of action and reflection in its recommendations. It also offered many websites for readers to learn more about topics they were of interest and take their own initiative in creating change. This section of the devotional also gives space for children to reflect and engage big conversations around creation care from nuclear power to endangered animals.

While it does not take as strong a stance on global warming as I would have liked, it recognizes the changing climate and acknowledges human influence on the changing climate. I was impressed by the range of topics it covered and pleased with the action suggestions. Though it was published in 2010, this book’s introductory approach to faith and care for creation has prevented it from becoming outdated. This is a wonderful resource for families and Sunday school leaders across Christian denominations. It can be purchased through most major retail sellers as well as the publisher’s website directly, which offers discounts for single and bulk purchases.

To visit the publisher’s website click here. For a 25 page excerpt of the devotional including the table of contents click here. A brief bio on author Caroline can be found here and one on Michael can be found here.

Grounded by Diana Butler Bass

Cover image courtesy of dianabutlerbass.com

Acclaimed public theologian, Diana Butler Bass’s 2015 book Grounded explores the connection of contemporary spirituality and nature. In opposition to many voices within the church who run in fear from the changing American spiritual landscape, Bass sees an invitation to participate in a spiritual revolution. Throughout the book, Bass deconstructs a vertical theology in which the divine is above and separate from humanity and the Earth and turns instead to an understanding of the divine’s immanence. She also recognizes the need for something stable in an age of change. She turns to the presence of the divine in dirt, water, and sky to find her own ground.

Bass recounts her conversation with a man who was a writer and farmer whose own experiences in close encounter with the ground had led him to a profound spirituality. In the chapter on water, Bass looks at current events and argues that water is vital to a flourishing spirituality. Bass gracefully reconciles the big bang theory with the book of Genesis in her chapter on sky.  For the second half of the book, Bass considers more specific structures of human experience, finding the presence of the divine in roots, home, neighborhood, commons, and revelation.

This book is a bridge from a disconnected church and culture to an Earth created in beauty. Bass’s utilization of memoir contextualizes her theological analysis making it remarkably accessible. For those questioning where to turn in an unstable spiritual time, Bass offers a hopeful perspective that uplifts a twenty-first century faith firmly rooted in human experience of the natural world. The ecumenical approach found in this book makes it a wonderful choice for book groups across Christian denominations.

To be directed to Diana Butler Bass’s website click here.

Grounded and Bass’s other works can be found on ebook or in print through Amazon, other major booksellers, and your favorite independent bookstore.