Thursday, 21 May 2015

Making connections

I love the connection the internet has brought me, but inevitably it leaves me feeling brow-beaten at times.

My friends are a very moral, ideology-driven bunch – that’s why I love them – and many of the sites and groups I have ferreted out are dedicated to living simply and responsibly, following a humble path of faith and kindness. This is all fab and beautiful.

Sometimes, though, I do feel a bit backs-to-the-wall.

There have been some wars and earthquakes. A hyper-passionate blogger has been to visit women and kids fleeing in terror from ISIS in Iraq. Some personal friends have been in trouble. All these situations can do with financial help. I don’t do much, but I believe if we all chip in our little bit we can make a difference, so I do what I can.

Meanwhile at home, the media tell me food prices have dropped. Say again? Whose?

Then, my frugal, simple-living, ecologically responsible gang of good friends often post about living on little money (or none!) and buying nothing new. Clothes from Goodwill, food from dumpsters, books from the library.

And my various connections also get in touch asking me to sponsor their walks for charity, or give what I can for the trees, for the badgers, for the persecuted, for the food banks, for clean water in Africa, for individuals to keep the home they may be losing or to adopt a child in dire need or to feed homeless people.

I love the love.

BUT (isn’t there always . . .)

I feel moved to say a word about closing the loop.

Some of the lovely people I’ve met online make modest dresses for a living – beautifully. They work from home, caring for their families, promoting ethical lifestyle. No sweatshop, happy working conditions, the freedom to care for their own children but earn a living at the same time. Likewise, some make headcoverings – for those who wear such for religious reasons or because they are graceful, and for those left bald by chemotherapy.  The women who make these dresses and headcoverings are loving, responsible types – the sort who will give sacrificially of their income to rescue and support others.

Sooooo . . . if I buy nothing new, what about their business? How will they feed their families? What will happen to their charitable giving? Uh-oh.

And then, here am I writing books and my husband working as hard and fast as he can every single day to get Christian books into the world. The publishing firm he works for does a grand job, but publishers work with narrow margins – er . . . I mean, financially. We put our money to helping along a number of individuals who struggle, among them a family in Africa. My husband supported Claudine in Africa through school, then through university, and now he helps support her new-born son. She called her son after my husband, with her husband’s blessing. Without the money my husband sent, you see, she – like her classmates – would have had to supplement her income by prostitution to get through college.

If we buy nothing new, if when we want to read a book we get it from the library – just the one copy, that one reader after another can pass around, what do you think will happen? Where will the new books come from, that the library gets in? What writer or publisher will stay in business selling a copy per library? What will happen to Claudine and her new-born son if we sell no books?

It’s not realistic to buy nothing new, live as cheaply as you can, and at the same time hope that the people whose goods you didn’t buy will go on giving to support your good cause. Can’t be done.

As Jesus so succinctly put it, ‘The poor, you will always have with you.’ Quite so. For one reason and another, I know rather a lot of poor people. I don’t know if they are unusual in this (I suspect not), but though I don’t always agree with their personal choices, I notice that every single one of them always does her or his best, gives life all they’ve got, tries their darnedest to survive and keep paying the bills. I am always glad to help those friends out when I can, and I regard their strategies of frugality as inspiring and heroic.

But, if you are one of those who can and does earn a good income, if you have enough for those you love and a bit left over, then I beg you, for God’s sake, don’t just keep it in the bank, don’t just give it to charity, and don’t stop buying new. Please don’t dam the river we all depend on; keep it flowing.

If you don’t approve of cutting down trees to make paper books, buy e-books. If you don’t approve of growing cotton, buy up-cycled clothing. If you don’t approve of commodities, buy the services of someone to clean your house or work in your yard. But buy something, if and when you can. There will always be more dignity, and more people helped, by trade than by aid.


rebecca said...

"More trade than by aid"!
I like how that sounds AND the wisdom in it! Is that phrase original with you????? ♥

Pen Wilcock said...


Well, I'm not quoting anybody, it's just what I was thinking at the time, but I'd be surprised if no-one else has said it!


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Well said, Pen!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Jenna said...

Love this post, Pen. Sometimes I wonder if "simple living" mightn't create its own idolatry at times. Time and time again, we see that Abraham was prosperous, Isaac, Jacob-- "the man was made great and very great." The children of Israel prospered even in a foreign land during a famine in which the rest of Egypt mortgaged their money, their cattle, their land, and finally themselves to Pharaoh. Deuteronomy 28 is just as true as the rest of the Scripture. And one can't really help anyone else if one's own pockets are quite empty.

Pen Wilcock said...

In the Old Testament, blessing = fecundity/multiplication/fertility. It starts with the blessing of the original edict, to 'Go forth and multiply'. Thus prosperity and blessing were inseparable in the mindset of that culture.
Even so, they lived simply, for they were a travelling people (see Deut 2.27-29, in side-pane here). I think the Exodus is probably one of the best mandates for simplicity - being not only willing but ready to leave everything behind, to go when the Spirit says Go.
And the observance of the Sabbath is a reminder towards restraint - remembering the essential power of being able to stop.
Also the vision of fulfilment - a land of milk and honey, each man with his vine and his fig tree - requires commitment to simplicity to survive. Our greed, over-consumption, and obsession with material possessions and technology is what is wiping the vision of Shalom off the face of the earth.
Then came Jesus, modelling radical minimalism on the cosmic scale - kenosis. And some version of it is mandated upon those who walk in his way: ' Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men…' (Phil 2.6)
What I am proposing is emphatically NOT accumulation ('Problems arise where things accumulate' ~ Lippe) but flow. Money is called 'currency', but that's reductionist thinking. The real currency is the flow of blessing - resources - all that contributes to wellbeing. Money is but one small part of the economy of grace.
I do see, the the examples you give of the patriarchs, the wisdom of increase to see a person through hard times; and certainly Jesus, who had nothing, relied on friends with houses, money and food in the larder, for hospitality. If we consider Martha and Mary - perhaps the model for us is sometimes to be Jesus, and let ourselves receive, sometimes be Mary and set aside material things to wait on God, and sometimes be Martha serving through the offering of material goods in the service of Jesus.
It's a multi-faceted thing. The practice of simplicity is like a house in a dream that turns out to have undiscovered rooms, whole surpassing wings and unexpected spaces.

Anonymous said...

I have known of Christians who routinely give 75% and 90% of their income, simply because they never increased very much their standard of living from when they were poor, simple university students, and because they happened to fall into work/career they enjoyed that paid well. If they had chosen that they must live so small, how many other people would have missed out on these blessings that God passes through them.
Pen, can you recommend an organization such as what you may have used for reaching Claudine? I would love to do something like that but don't know which ones are actually the trustworthy.

Pen Wilcock said...


I'm afraid I am no expert. In the past when I've done a sponsorship I went with World Vision and they seemed fine. I should think Google is your friend here. They're bound to do reviews. Also, Ann Voskamp has been promoting an organisation (she seems to have considerable involvement in it - perhaps she actually runs it?) called Pre-Emptive Love. See here: