Stewardship of Life


The Hundred Pound Life

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on September 27, 2010
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Could you do it? Seriously, could you pack two suitcases weighing no more than 50 pounds each and one carry-on bag with enough clothes and worldly goods to see you through a year?

Minimalism as a lifestyle is gaining more and more followers. A growing variety of blogs and publications deals with the topic, ranging from how to reduce your possessions to no more than 100 items to how to live a minimal lifestyle with a family to how to pursue a car-free life. Clearly, it can be done and done well.

I thought about these things as I watched my daughter pack for a year abroad teaching ESL. Yes, she would be provided with basic accommodations, but 100 pounds is not very much when it gets right down to it, especially considering six or so pounds was gifts of honey and apple butter for her co-teachers and administrators and a major portion of her wardrobe was attire suitable for teaching.

My reduction of moving a household from North Dakota to Tennessee in two cars suddenly didn’t seem like such an amazing accomplishment. Granted, she left the equivalent of about 14 large plastic tubs of stuff behind (dishes, skates, movies, books, games, her Xbox360, and clothes) and one small dog, but still, could I—would I—do what she just did?

It would be probably be difficult, even though I would like to think that I could make a conscious decision to do so. After all, I have come a long way in a short time–from over 100 boxes of books alone to two small folding shelves of books, from two hanging wardrobes and boxes upon boxes of clothes to about 100 articles of clothing, and from enough stuff to fill a 2600 square foot parsonage to capacity to comfortably inhabiting a two bedroom apartment (and still feeling like it is too large).

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy (6.7-8), he says, “for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” Jesus also seems to have thought that an abundance of possessions was overrated, instructing his disciples in Matthew 10.9-10, “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.” Somehow, I don’t think these principles fly too well in contemporary western culture, unless one is committed to the principles of “freeganism” or intends to become a Buddhist monk with a begging bowl.

Still, there is an allure to minimalism. To not be possessed or controlled by one’s possessions or debt or the visible trappings of success can look like some pretty green grass on the other side of the cultural fence. Looking at the issue from a biblical perspective, when one is not ensnared the desire for more, one is able to look outward and see the needs of one’s neighbor. It becomes more possible to forge community and meaningful relationships. Wants AND needs are few when life is viewed from this perspective, but meaning is large. For example, consider the lifestyle choices of those individuals now known as the “new monastics.” Few possessions, solidarity with the marginalized and dispossessed, and a joyful, almost sacramental approach to living in the present and following the example of Christ are markers of this growing movement.

While I would certainly not class my daughter as a new monastic, I do see her as a part of a generation less enamored with the trappings of success, fed up with current patterns of overconsumption, and much more interested in defining life in terms of relationships and experiences. It is this approach to living that enabled her to reduce her possessions to 100 pounds and fly half way around the world to live and work, to trust that enough is indeed enough, and that there is much more to life than MasterCard.

Perhaps I can learn a thing or two from her. Let’s see…what would be the first thing to go?

Photos by Lu, Rene Earhardt, and k_hargrav used under a Creative Commons license. Thanks!

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Shopping: Drug of Choice for the Masses?

“Shopping makes everything better!”

Sweta, Rockaway, NJ (from a Dove chocolate foil wrapper)

I like Dove dark chocolate. You want to make me happy? Give me a bag full of Dove darks, and I’m one delighted woman. Not too long ago, however, I was chowing down on a Dove bite and read the above saying on inside of the wrapper. I was not impressed. Shopping makes everything better? Are you kidding? Sorry Sweta, I must disagree.

Shopping, for all intents and purposes, has become the drug of choice for the American masses, an opiate for all that ails us. If you don’t believe me, just look at your mall parking lot on any given weekend. You’ll certainly see more cars parked there than outside most houses of worship. Even in a time of national crisis, one of our former presidents urged us to go shopping, a passive act of patriotism more appealing to most Americans than planting a victory garden and rationing aluminum foil.

Before you start calling me a tightwad, goody-two-shoes, party-pooper, hear me out. I’m not trying to criticize you if shopping is your favorite leisure activity; I’m simply suggesting that we as a nation needs to analyze our habits and behaviors in order to understand what we do and why we do it. Heaven knows, marketing professionals are doing this every day and tailoring campaigns to convince us that our lives will be better, more complete, and satisfying if we will only purchase/consume their particular product. If you want to “shop-till-you-drop” in search of the ultimate bargain, more power to you. As for me and my limited spending capacity, I’ll choose a quick stop at the Junior League Bargain Mart and the Goodwill and spend the rest of the day reading or taking a walk outside (as opposed to the carpeted halls of some American consumer mecca (a.k.a. shopping mall). No better, no worse, no judgment: it’s a matter of personal choice and belief that shopping simply does not make everything better.

I’ll give you an example. I know a woman who is bi-polar. She lives for the shopping networks and for acquiring new clothes and trinkets. This woman has more than 200 pairs of shoes, two large closets full of clothes, and four vacuum cleaners (even though she doesn’t clean house). She spends a ton of money on her hair and nails and on expensive vacations, while her family was reduced to filing for bankruptcy twice and even lost their home. Shopping is a recreational activity for her, a way to try to fill the hole and an attempt to medicate herself. Sadly it doesn’t work, and the depression that follows a major spending spree is awful. In her case shopping certainly hasn’t made anything better; it’s made this particular family’s life a living hell.

Teenagers are another example. Our teens have more disposable income than ever, and marketers want the lion’s share of it and are ready and willing to invest whatever time, energy, and methodology it takes to see that they get it. Why are some brands cool and others not? Why will someone pay $40 for a t-shirt when a similar one with a different label can be bought for $14? Can a tiny label or logo really be worth $26 dollars? Is the purchasing experience that much better in the store where the shirt is $40? Is it possible to derive $26 worth of pleasure from swiping your card in one store and carrying that store’s bag around the mall? I guess for a lot of folks that answer would be a resounding “yes.” For a few of us, finding that same shirt at the resale store for $4 will provide an equal rush and an even greater one as we invest a cool $36 in something else that matters to us. Like I said, it’s all about choice.

If you are interested in exploring this topic in more detail, check out American RadioWorks series “Consumed.” The producers of this series pose an important question:“What does our consumer culture say about who we are?” They also examine the distinct possibility that our consumer lifestyles are not sustainable. You’ll even find an online game to play called Consumer Consequences that aims to measure the sustainability of your consumer habits. (For complete disclosure, my score was 2.5.)

So tell me, do you believe like Sweta that “shopping makes everything better”? I’d like to hear from you. Please consider sharing your thoughts.

Photos by designpackaging, retinafunk, and llimllib used under a Creative Commons License.

Lessons from a Happy Closet ala Audrey: Round Two

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on July 28, 2010
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Six months ago, I wrote about streamlining my wardrobe and trying for a more unified, basic, yet stylish look. In the interim, I have made a 1500 mile move and downsized significantly. Before the move, I completed one more closet purge and felt like I had managed to reduce my wardrobe to a really good size. What I owned three months ago fit easily in the six foot closet of my apartment bedroom.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking again about the Audrey Hepburn wardrobe and whether I’m really inching any closer to my goal. In case you forgot, here’s the basic wardrobe:

  • 2 pair classic Capri pants
  • 2 white shirts
  • 6 pairs of shoes
  • 2 basic black dresses
  • Trench Coat
  • 4 classic sweaters
  • 2 simple skirts

Here’s where I am right now:

  • 1 pair classic black Capri pants (just bought used at the Junior League bargain mart for $3)
  • 1 white shirt (Yup, it’s still the same old Eddie Bauer button down oxford classic)
  • 1 black dress (a three quarter sleeve Hanna Andersson knit that my daughter proclaims a fashion casualty)
  • Trench Coat (Classic London fog with zip out wool lining—wish it was black, but khaki will have to do)
  • 6 classic sweaters (1 long teal cardigan, 1 long navy cardigan, 1 long orange cardigan, 1 red cable cardigan, 1 purple cap sleeve cardigan, 1 three-quarter sleeve ruby cardigan) All are cotton or wool/cotton blend, so they can be worn virtually year-round in Tennessee.
  • 7 simple skirts (1 gray pencil skirt, 1 black all-season wool skirt, 1 dress khaki skirt, 1 casual khaki skirt, three above the knee casual skirts—black, dark denim, and khaki)
  • 6 pair shoes (1 black ballet flats, 1 black heels, 1 black Birkenstocks, 1 black boots, 1 brown boots, 1 pair tennis shoes)
  • 3 pair sandals (1 black Keens, 1 brown vintage Italian leather, and 1 brown beaded flip flops)
  • 3 suits (black, teal, and navy)
  • 3 clergy shirts
  • 3 casual blazers (navy, khaki, and lavender linen)

I also have a pair of old khakis, old faded jeans, nice dark stretch jeans, and black leggings. I have four sleeveless cotton shells, seven solid t-shirts, and four other shirts/blouses. I have one dark green velvet Mandarin style dressy dress, an oatmeal-colored linen dress, jeans jacket, two pair khaki shorts, four pair running/soccer shorts, one swim suit, and about a dozen assorted t-shirts, two windbreakers, several scarves, two purses, two belts, and an ample supply of undergarments and pajamas.

I continue to downsize and have given away three bags of assorted clothes since moving here. The rule is two things out for every one thing in. I also have one plastic tote of winter clothes, including a sapphire wool coat and the gigantic Irish sweater that I simply could not leave behind.

Am I where I would like to be? Well, no, I’d still like to simplify more, but it is a process. I am under 100 items, not counting undergarments and accessories, and it still feels like too much. I plan to cut out another 10-20 items at the end of summer, but I am still looking for that perfect white shirt and a pair of khaki capris. Form, function, and comfort are the key elements over trendy style. I have way more than enough, and as items wear out, my plan is to only replace them with the best possible quality that I can find. That may mean splurging on a really nice pair of leather flats (I’ve already re-heeled the ballet flats twice!), but every purchase will be carefully analyzed.

How about you? What’s the state of your summer wardrobe? Moving any closer to the 19 classic Hepburn-inspired items? Men, what’s the state of your closet? Would you consider yourself more of a Jack Johnson or Cary Grant kind of dresser? Do you own six pair of shoes or 36? Do you worry about what to wear?

As long as we’re talking about a wardrobe ala Audrey, here a few timeless tips from the paragon of style herself:

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” – Audrey Hepburn

Photos by katerina w, Theresa Thompson, and pwbaker used under a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

Be Ye Neither Hot nor Cold—Just Air-Conditioned!

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on July 26, 2010
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It’s hot here in southeastern Tennessee, a triple digit kind of hot with a side of smothering humidity. I know, I know, it’s just as hot or hotter still in other places across the northern hemisphere. After all, it’s summer! It’s supposed to be hot. So why do we carp and moan about the heat? It’s not like most of us spend much time out in it anyway.

Oh, wait! I know why. The first reason is that complaining about the weather serves as an absentminded conversation starter, just something to say that will fill the already humid environment with even more hot air.  No, it’s the second reason that concerns me.

We have become a nation of climate-controlled lightweights. There I said it. Thanks to the advent of refrigerated cooling in our homes, places of business, and cars, we possess the illusion of climate control anywhere at any time of the night or day. Summer is no longer a time to sit on a shady sun porch in the heat of the early afternoon, the fans humming, glasses of tea and lemonade sweating onto coasters, while rocking slowly on a porch swing after dinner. No, now we can wear sweaters into 70 degree air-conditioned comfort of our favorite coffee shop to drink our choice of hot beverage and scarf down any number of pre-packaged sandwiches while working on our laptop in delightful isolation—all while the thermometer inches toward 100 degrees in the shade. Then, for just a few minutes we experience the real weather as we dash to our car and crank up the air, fretting and fuming the whole time.

Don’t get me wrong. Air-conditioning has done a lot of good in our world. It’s kept the most vulnerable of our population at least somewhat protected against the dangers of excessive heat. It’s made settling the desert possible. It’s made living on an island of concrete and asphalt tolerable. I wouldn’t want to live without it in my present location—a rather poorly insulated top floor apartment with no cross ventilation or ceiling fans.

There are problems associated with any good invention or innovation, and air-conditioning is no exception. The problems with AC revolve around the way in which we humans choose to use this invention.

  • We use air-conditioning thoughtlessly (for the most part).
  • We use too much of it.
  • We selfishly fail to see the bigger picture.

I have been guilty of contributing to all three problems in my 49 years of life. First of all, until my attempt to live justly in 2010, I really didn’t give much thought to how I used the good ‘ol AC. I’ve always liked open windows and fresh air better, but I also don’t like to sweat buckets and walk around with my derriere outline damply showing on the back of my skirt. So if the AC needed turning on, then by gum let no one stand in the way of Lucas family comfort.

Moving back down south was a real AC eye-opener. My teen likes to sweat even less than I do, so last month we had this running battle over the thermostat. I’d set it at 78, and she would covertly drop it to 65. I’d hear the unit running like a train to nowhere, and readjust it accordingly. “But, I’m sweaty! I can’t sleep, much less get dressed in this heat,” came the teenage lament. I caved and bought a tower fan for her room (which is considerably hotter than the rest of the house thanks to lousy ductwork and an old AC unit).

Our June bill was $115, way more than it should be considering that our other use of electricity is modest. We had a little heart-to-heart talk about consumption, waste, expense, and so on. With the fan and changing the six light bulbs above her bathroom vanity from heat-producing 60 watt monsters to greener CFLs, she has been somewhat placated.

The real clincher happened when I happened on a New York Times article (thank you, Compact friends) about scientist and author Stan Cox and his research and questions about the health and environmental effects of our “air-conditioned lives.” Cox and his spouse live in Salinas, Kansas, and do not use air-conditioning. His book, Losing our Cool, has spurred great controversy, and he has even received death threats for his take on the issue. I read the first chapter of the book on the ColdType Reader web site and was convinced that I could do better.

Yes, it is hot here, but what if adjusted my habits just a little bit more? Can we stand 80 degrees? It’s been almost two days since I upped the thermostat two degrees, and so far it’s been pretty tolerable. When it is 10-20 degrees cooler inside than it is outside, one does feel the difference. Plus, the trusty AC unit is not running nearly as much!

What about you? How are you coping with the summer heat? Do you use the AC? I’ll let you know how we’re faring down here in the dog days of August. I’m thinking about upping the themostat another two degrees on the first of August, but for now some cool water with a slice of lime is sounding pretty good.

Photo Credits: Sharron Lucas and Playingwithbrushes used under a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

Minimalist VBS

Vacation Bible School is a major event on most church summer calendars. Let’s assume you are the designated person in charge of producing your community’s VBS program. If you are lucky, you have an abundance of talented volunteers, an adequate budget, great facilities, and an easily reachable population. If, however, you are like most of us, at least one but probably more of these categories will be somewhat lacking. What do you do? How do you create a great experience for families in your community with less than perfect tools at your disposal?

First of all, I suggest that you identify your goals and objectives. Asking some of the following questions may prove helpful:

  • What do hope to accomplish through your Vacation Bible School?
  • What is your budget and how does this break down per student? We spent $2 on craft supplies, less than a $1 on snacks, and about $1 on photocopies and supplies per student. That’s around $4 per student for five days of VBS. Our family picnic cost around $200 (hotdogs, chips, cookies, fruit snacks, fruit, and lemonade). We had 140 children registered for the week.
  • How many participants are you likely to draw? (We had 140 children registered for the week.)
  • How will you publicize and spread the word of your event?
  • What kind of volunteer support might you reasonably expect? What volunteer jobs are available? (Remember to secure more volunteers than you think you will actually need. People get sick and run into scheduling conflicts, so it is crucial to have adequate staffing.)
  • What is the one thing that is most important for the children you will serve to learn? What do you want families who participate in your VBS to take away with them?

If you find that you have few volunteers, not much time, and lots of funds, then purchasing a pre-packaged curriculum from Augsburg Fortress or other publisher may be your best option. You won’t need a lot of time to create your own materials or train volunteers. Purchased curriculum will afford you a turn-key experience, a consistent look and theme, and solid theology.

If, however, you find that you are short on funds, have creative and flexible volunteers, and a willingness to try new approaches to time honored traditions, then I suggest you rethink the traditional purchased curriculum approach to Vacation Bible School and explore the possibilities of hosting a minimalist’s version of VBS. Try to involve a small group of congregational leaders in a brainstorming session around these questions. Take good notes. Think outside of the proverbial Christian education box. Be creative. Dream.

Remember, Vacation Bible School doesn’t have to be a Disney production to be a meaningful experience for the children in your community. Young children thrive on simplicity; they are creative, innovative, and willing to suspend disbelief. You are not competing with Nickelodeon, so don’t even try to mimic them. Sure, there are big faith communities with amazing technical resources, professional musicians, elaborate sets and huge staffs, but those things are not a requirement for your congregation’s successful VBS.

Pick a Theme

The Bible is full of rich thematic material that will fit into a three to five day format, be it daytime, nighttime, or even one designated night stretched over several weeks. Consider picking a few biblical characters for exploration. How about focusing on a few miracle stories of Jesus or some parables? You might create a theme around the “Fruit of the Spirit Orchard,” and delve deeply into one text while pulling supporting material from other biblical texts. How about a Journey in the Wilderness with Moses or a Missionary Journey with Paul and Silas?

Surf the Net

The web is full of great resources, many of which are free. You can find skits, crafts, coloring pages, music, and ideas for how to host a fun week. I’m not knocking purchasing denominational VBS curriculum; for many congregations that is the clear choice and best option, but don’t let budget or dissatisfaction with what you find available stop you. Create your own!

Collaborate

Find out what your colleagues and partners in ministry have done and are doing. Try not to duplicate, but do draw on the experiences of others to find out what works well and what might need revisiting. Perhaps you can even partner with near neighbors for a combined effort that will make for a lighter work load and a larger group of children. We combined efforts with our congregation’s Parents’ Day Out Program. Without their staff, energy, and expertise we would not have been nearly so successful nor had such a strong turn out.

Seek Volunteers

Determine what you need and ASK. Be specific. Broadcast your need for volunteers, supplies, food, etc. Don’t forget to network and make individual calls or personal appeals. Merely putting your needs in the newsletter or announcements is not likely to have folks beating down the door to help, but a personal invitation may do the trick.

Don’t Overlook the Details

Ever heard the saying “The devil is in the details?” Well don’t let that be the case for you! Involve many people in looking at your plan to make sure you have not overlooked anything important. Have a child safety expert review your plan for registering, checking students in and out, and safety and emergency plans. Be extra careful about food allergies if you are serving snacks. Read food labels carefully. This year we stuck with pretzels, air-popped popcorn, and animal crackers. Water was our beverage of choice, and we served everything on the playground to cut down on mess. Do you plan to have a picnic or cookout on the final day? If so, communicate the details to parents early on and provide a way for them to r.s.v.p. so you will have good numbers.

Thank your Volunteers and Staff

Be sure to say thank you with a personal, handwritten note if possible. If you choose a small token of appreciation, avoid giving trinkets that will simply create more junk. This year we gave organic, fair-trade chocolate bars made by Divine Chocolate Company, a cooperative supported by Lutheran World Relief and other major non-profit entities. Again, think outside of the box.

Don’t Forget the Follow-Up!

Part of the purpose of Vacation Bible School is to introduce your congregation to families in the community that are seeking a church home or spiritual center. Plan a way to invite them to worship. Perhaps host a VBS Sunday where the children will sing or where you will have special recognition for VBS families and volunteers. Be sure to provide information about your Christian Ed programs and family ministry.

Be sure to evaluate your program after the event is over. Ask staff and volunteers to complete an evaluation. Seek their input about what went well, what could be improved, and what might be fun to do next year.

Pray

Finally, don’t forget to pray, and pray, and then pray some more. Seek God’s guidance, the Spirit’s presence, and the love of Christ to be present with you as your congregation ministers to the children and passes on the faith. A Minimalist VBS can be a great experience for everyone involved, can put less strain on the budget, cut down on waste, and still proclaim the love of Christ and great stories of faith on a shoestring budget. May God be with you.

Your Turn: Have some ideas or experiences that you would like to share? Please do so! We’d love to know about your favorite links, great craft ideas, tips, and ideas. We’re all partners in ministry, and the more we share the better!

Photo Credits: Carolyn Seneker, used by permission

Dis-attachment: Lessons from a 20 pound Puppy with Separation Anxiety

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on July 15, 2010
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Let me ask you a question. How attached are you to your stuff? Chances are you don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it because we Americans are much more likely to keep on amassing and discarding stuff than we are to contemplate the “state” of our stuff.

I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the state of my stuff in recent months, considering my family made a 1500 mile move after selling or giving away almost all of our stuff. I thought that I had made great strides with this move; it did feel liberating. Packing your worldly belongings into two cars and a few boxes mailed ahead is an enlightening experience. Yet here’s what I’ve learned.

It is hard to stay enlightened, and it’s difficult to keep things simple in a culture of attachment and consumerism, especially when you are not the only person in the household. You see, initially my daughter looked at this move as an adventure, but it is hard for a teen to remain excited about living with a couple of air mattresses, a few plastic totes, and a couple of chairs. My idea of waiting until we could find suitable furnishings via Freecycle or gleaning was not at all appealing to her. I can understand that. So we compromised.

Turns out the road to consumer hell is paved with compromise. We bought a used washer and dryer, two new mattress sets at a deep discount (even I am squeamish about some things), and an inexpensive little table and chairs. The big issue came with what to do about a couch. We couldn’t find a used one upon which dear daughter would deign to plant her backside, and I was having real issues with buying anything new. Again, we compromised, this time on a really nice and comfortable but reasonable 50% close out floor model couch and love seat combo. We’ve been given a nice table, gleaned a small wardrobe, a lamp, a desk, and a couple of shelving units and purchased a simple entertainment stand and a couple of inexpensive chairs for the porch resulting in a comfortably furnished albeit eclectic apartment. Yes, in less than four months we amassed quite a lot of stuff and began a slippery slide back toward comfortable consumerism.

Oh, but not to worry; the cosmos sent a small agent of mass destruction to teach the Lucas family a valuable lesson in “dis-attachment.” Dexter, the newest arrival to our household and terror extraordinaire, actually belongs to my oldest daughter. She was about to get kicked out of her summer sublet for having him, so in a tearful weekend road trip, I became a foster-dog parent to this one-year-old adorable, mixed-breed Jekyll and Hyde of a puppy. Everything went pretty well for the first couple of weeks, as he reserved his appetite for smaller possessions—a shoe here, article of clothing there, a stuffed animal, organic cotton sheets, and so on.

Evidently we weren’t getting his cosmic message that stuff is just stuff, so on the fourth of July, the birthday of our great consumer nation, Dexter decided to have his own celebration by de-stuffing one of the pillows on the really nice and comfortable but reasonable 50% close out floor model couch. I returned home after watching fireworks across the Chattanooga skyline to find a veritable snow storm of polyester fluff decorating the living floor. We assessed the damage, determined it could be fixed, re-stuffed the pillow and put it on the table before leaving again. Of course, when we returned, the pillow was back on the floor—minus its fluff. This time all the loose pillows were relegated to a temporary home in my daughter’s bedroom behind closed door.

Dexter, however, would not be deterred, and soon chewed two conspicuously-placed holes into one of the seat cushions—leaving a permanent reminder that nothing lasts forever. Yes, the dog is still alive and well, and the sofa has lost its lovely new look. Sometime I’ll look into what an upholsterer might be able to do, but not until the canine appears to have lost his appetite for couch cushions and other consumer goods.

Yes, I was frustrated by the whole chain of events; I won’t lie. However, Dexter made a very good point, although I believe Jesus said it first: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). In the grand scheme of things, I would hate for my heart to be reduced to the equivalent of a microfiber couch cushion or any other temporary possession. People—and even the peskiest of pets—are worthy of the affections of our heart, not the shiny, pretty “stuff” with which we build flimsy walls and castles around us. All the same, Dexter, it sure is a good thing you’re so cute!

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 30

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 30, 2010
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That’s All For Now…but it’s not the End

As soon as I finish this leftover squash and (yes) disaster-averted black bean tomato cornbread with salsa, the SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge is history. Thanks again to Katy Wolk-Stanley (The Non-Consumer Advocate) for issuing the challenge.

During these 30 days I have spent a lot of time thinking about food, about hunger, about the causes of poverty, and about privilege. I am among the privileged, even though my present financial situation is best described as precarious. I am fortunate, and I have a network of family, friends, and faith community that are willing to lift me up in time of trouble and stand by me come what may. I am not alone. Five years after an experience with breast cancer my health is good. I have a combination of employment that allows me to live out my three passions: ministry, writing, and teaching.

Even though I have participated in this challenge, I do not know the kind of gnawing hunger that can’t be satiated. I do not stare into an empty pantry and wonder how I will feed my children. If my daughter is hungry, it is only because she’d rather have the processed junk food that isn’t in our house any more. I have skills, education, and hope—and leftovers.

You see, even having leftovers is a gift. I will NEVER look at leftovers the same again. So what have I learned? Many things I already knew, but the challenge served to remind and reinforce those things: while I may focus on buying local whenever possible, being conscious of the carbon footprint of the food I choose, and picking whole foods over highly processed ones, many others are simply struggling to put enough of any kind of food on their table. Hunger is real, but the root causes are complicated. Because the issue is complicated, it is easy to push it aside. Life is busy, right? What any one person can do is limited, right? Didn’t Jesus say something about always having the poor with us?

Is that what you really believe? Or does that make it easier to deal with not dealing with the tough questions, with the pain and suffering that is part and parcel of this world? I can’t answer these questions for you any more than you can answer them for me.

What I can say is that this is not the end of the story. It will go on, one day at a time and one person at a time, and we are part of the narrative. What will you do? What will we do?

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

State of the Pantry

Well, suffice it to say that there is about as much in the refrigerator and pantry as there was when I started 30 days ago. There is not as much variety (no milk, cheese, or meat other than tuna fish), but there is food, and for that I am thankful. I will not bore you with the contents. We made our goal with a little over $7 to spare.

Website of the Day

I invite you to go back to The Non-Consumer Advocate and check out some of the stories of other participants in The Challenge. There are some truly interesting stories and good perspectives. Thanks to all who contributed to the effort by participating!

Photo Credits: Mr. Michael Phams, Bennylin0724, and Dan4th used through a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 29

Food Stamp Fatigue Edition

One more day and the SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge will be history. Well, it will be history for those lucky folks for whom this is only an educational challenge and not a daily reality and way of life. Among my blogging friends who have participated in the June Food Stamp Challenge the conversational tone has ranged from energetic and creative to ranting and grumbling. Most of us have found ourselves focusing on food way too much, and some of our family members have been at least mildly resentful of the limits placed on the fridge and pantry for the month of June.

I do think that all of the participants whose blog entries I have read at least recognize our location of privilege. Even on a SNAP budget we have far, far more than most of the world’s population has in terms of a food budget and access to a variety of healthy food and clean, plentiful water. When I have told people about what the SNAP budget is (at least as far as the national average goes) several have commented that they could live quite well on that amount. Some of them live well on significantly less. That fact is a humbling one for me. How dare I complain about having more than $200 a month to spend on food (for two people) when the average person in this world only earns $7880 a year (click here for more information). Even this figure is misleading, because according to the World Resources Institute, the world’s rural poor live on around 77 cents a day or $255.50 a year. That makes me seem very wealthy, even though currently as a single parent of two children (who receives no child support) I live month-to-month and sometimes struggle to pay the bills. I am blessed. I am beyond fortunate.

This morning I was talking with our parish nurse about the difficulties families face and the enormous need that people in social service vocations see and deal with each day. There is a high level of burnout and emotional fatigue that comes with working in these jobs, and one of the things she sees is a disturbing desensitization and depersonalization that appears necessary to survive. She talked about a former pastor’s spouse who worked with SNAP clients. The woman had finally quit because it disturbed her to see the lack of respect with which these clients were treated and the thick hides and cynicism that seemed necessary for many of the employees to survive in the difficult environment. Even though the conversation we had troubled me a great deal, I can understand how this might happen. Conversely, I can understand how those trapped in chronic poverty come to behave in certain ways that are expected and that “work” to meet needs, regardless of how unhealthy these patterns may be.

I’d be willing to bet that some readers are pretty tired of hearing about our paltry pantries and food stamp rants. If so, take heart, tomorrow is the last entry. That said, I do hope that our efforts have at least made you consider the co-mingled subjects of poverty and hunger in a little different light. I hope we will all endeavor to see our neighbor as a person worthy of respect and relationship.

Remember, we may not have a clue what our neighbor is facing. Perhaps the young couple that looks so normal is only a few dollars away from living in their car which is only one payment away from being repossessed. That genteel elderly woman may be making the difficult choice between medicine and food or even paying her electric bill. The business professional down the street, who is now into “consulting,” may be wearing Gucci loafers and a Hermes tie, but he may also be about to lose his car, his house, and his family after being let go from his job 18 months ago. These people may not have an EBT card in their wallet (yet), but need is there nonetheless. The best way to avoid fatigue is to seek to see the person and not the stereotype or the condition. Maybe we all need to grab our cardigan sweaters, step out the front door, and start humming “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts. Lunch was black bean and tomato cornbread and cherries with a cookie for dessert. Snack was an apple. Supper was leftover chicken enchilada casserole and veggies. Let’s hear it for leftovers! Yahoo! The dear daughter ate the two leftover hamburgers and drank a lot of tea. She’ll probably eat the rest of the enchiladas for late night snack.

Websites of the Day

I mentioned a couple of these websites in the text above, but do take time to visit these four sites. If you don’t feel rich after reading these reports/articles, well, all I can say is that you should.

Click here to visit the World Resources Institute website and read “Global Average Income of the Rural Poor.”

The Boston Globe world news website reports on “Average Income Worldwide” in 2007. Click here to visit the site.

Click here to visit the UC Atlas of Global Inequality and read about “Income Inequality.”

Finally, be sure to visit The Physics Factbook, edited by Glenn Elert and written by his students. Click here to read about “Income of the Average Person on Earth.”

Photo Credits: Sharron Lucas, Rikynti Marwein, Aoife city womanchile, and Filipe Moreira through a Creative Commons License. Thanks!

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 28

Leftovers Edition

 

There are only two days left of the SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge, and it looks like I’m going to make it just barely under budget. We still have a lot of food left in the pantry, so I think it will be about an even swap out in terms of how we started out except that there is no meat in the freezer (just lots of black bean and tomato cornbread and soup stock). In retrospect, there are ways I think I could improve on the purchasing and planning, and I did learn a lot, but those things I’ll save until Wednesday when I wrap this thing up and give a full accounting.

Today I want to share a few odds and ends with you in hopes that you will continue this quest within your congregations, community groups, and family units. Hunger is a problem for all of us. It is my conviction that as long as one person is hungry, we are all culpable because there are enough resources on earth for everyone to be fed.

So what can you do? Here are three suggestions.

Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR)

This program was started in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association and the GWA Foundation. The idea is for everyone who plants a garden to dedicate one extra row to growing vegetables to give to soup kitchens, food banks, and hunger programs. So far over 14 million pounds of produce providing over 50 million meals has been donated through PAR. Click here for more information about PAR and how you can become involved.

Ed Hume Seeds donates a free package of vegetable seeds each year to the first 250 people who e-mail and agree to participate in PAR. Click here for more information.

Participate in Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters

Bread for the World is headed by David Beckmann, a Lutheran Pastor and economist who was recently named a 2010 World Food Prize Laureate. Click here to visit the web site where you will find a variety of resources and suggestions for how to be involved and make a difference. Even if SNAP is your monthly reality, you can help by contacting your elected leaders through Bread’s programs.

Clicking for Good

As long as you’re surfing the web, try these two ways to help end hunger. Visit the Hunger Site each day, and click to donate a cup of food. You might even find a fair-trade gift from one of the sponsors, but there is no requirement to purchase. The donations come from sponsors and advertisers. Click here to visit.

Click here to visit Freerice.com and improve your vocabulary or try your hand at answering questions on other subjects. For each question or word you correctly answer/identify you’ll give 10 grains of rice to help feed the hungry. This is a great way to involve children and teens in a learning activity that has a great purpose.

The main point I want to make today is that we can all do something to alleviate hunger regardless of our economic standing, location, or interests. Importantly, we are all responsible for raising awareness and lifting up the need.

State of the Pantry

No purchases today! Breakfast was oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts. Lunch was leftover spinach salad and a cookie. I had tea, coffee, and water to drink. For snack I had some cherries and a Dove dark chocolate. Supper was leftover cauliflower and a burger with no bun. (We’re out of bread with the exception of a lone whole wheat tortilla.)

Websites of the Day have already been provided so I’ll recommend a book instead.

One of the best books about thrift that I’ve ever read is Doris Janzen Longacre’s Living More with Less. You may also know her as the author of the More-With-Less Cookbook. This book is packed with a wealth of tips and ideas AND reasons for consuming less.

Photo Credit: MoToMo through a Creative Commons License. Thanks!

SNAP to it Challenge–Day 27

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 27, 2010
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dumpster Diving on the Sabbath?

Today I went dumpster diving. Before you recoil in horror, hear me out. I live in an apartment complex with a fairly large population of transient young adults, and I am constantly amazed at what people leave behind. Since I moved here almost four months ago, I have seen mattresses, couches, tables, chairs, book shelves, linens, kitchen goods–you name it, I’ve probably seen it. True, a few of the things are in pretty rough shape, but most items could easily have another life and a happy home.

This was my third foray into dumpster diving. The first time I nabbed a plastic recycling tub. The second time I scored a small computer desk for my daughter. Today, I hit pay dirt! I found a nice lamp for my living room and a Danish shelving unit for my daughter’s room that needs a little work but that will be quite nice when repaired. My friend and neighbor found an almost identical lamp for her daughter’s room and an extra wide overstuffed chair in great condition from a manufacturer of fine furniture. There was much more inside of the two side-by-side dumpsters, but neither one of us was willing to get a ladder and venture any deeper into the odoriferous mire. We were both, however, delighted to save four items from the landfill, and to repurpose for free what would have cost $800-900 if purchased new.

There’s an entire culture built around dumpster diving, curbside junk cruising, and repurposing other folks’ cast offs. Why throw out perfectly good items? Why not share our extra stuff? Unfortunately, we are accustomed to life in a throw-away society, and it’s simply poor stewardship to not make good use of our resources. In addition to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” we might also consider saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Food waste is a related issue of even more preposterous proportions. Several sources I checked claim that the United States throws away half its food. An anthropologist at the University of Arizona, Timothy Jones, found that the average U.S. household throws out 14% of food purchases. Of that amount 15% is unopened product still within its expiration date. Jones believes that the average family of four discards $590 in meat, fruits, vegetables, and grain products. That means nationwide we discard up to $43 billion or 29 million tons in household food waste each year. To make it even more personal, that means the average U.S. citizen wastes more than half a pound of food each day. Our children waste about $2 billion in taxpayer dollars through the National School Lunch Program. If you doubt that figure, go stand by the cafeteria garbage cans in your local school. Another report estimates that wasted food in the U.S. could feed more than 200 million adults each year. I’m sorry, but to me that sounds criminal.

Freegans and dumpster divers try to reclaim some of this food. Some stores make it easy, like the bakery known for putting its excess goods in a readily accessible place by the back door. Others, usually larger well-known chain and big box stores, keep their dumpsters behind locked fences and have even been known to pour bleach over the food to keep people from salvaging food. I have to admit that I have not yet been on “safari” for dumpster food, but I’ve been told there is an active freegan community in Chattanooga.

Regardless of how one feels about the freegan philosophy and dumpster diving, the fact is that we waste too much food and stuff in this country. Remember the story of Boaz and Ruth and the concept of gleaning (see Ruth 2:1-23, Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)? Maybe we should rethink when we decide to dump that leftover broccoli in the trash. Why not keep a soup fixings container in the freezer for those random veggies, rice, and small portions of broth? Why not take home the remains of your restaurant meal? Instead of tossing your excess stuff and adding to the landfill, make it accessible to someone who could use it. It’s a question of stewardship. Hey, I wonder what Jesus would say about dumpster diving on the Sabbath?

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was a whole wheat burrito filled with peanut butter and coffee to drink. Lunch was my mom’s treat at her place. She sent me home with extra spinach salad that I’ll take for lunch tomorrow and two chocolate brownies. Supper was leftover chicken enchilada hot dish and squash, shared with my neighbor who also provided some awesome cookies. She gave me two and a half bags of dried beans, as well.

Website(s) of the Day

Click here to check out this article about food waste by Jonathan Bloom on the Culinate web site.

Click here for the story of the Secret Freegan who has gathered more than $52,000 worth of food in 20 months and distributing about 400 pounds weekly to the hungry in the Phoenix area. The waste is shocking. Thankfully, this Good Samaritan is making a difference.

Photo Credits (used through a Creative Commons License…thanks!) Special KRB and periwinklekog

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