Friday, 24 March 2017

Minimalist home

Halfway through Lent, and we are persisting with our pruning of possessions.

We’ve been surprised to discover in our household’s pursuit of minimalism, the extent to which its benefits are not apparent in advance. The clarity and peace are phenomenal, and affect life broadly.

We’re also surprised over and over again by the way getting rid of a tranche of stuff leaves us thinking, “Right, that’s it; I couldn’t possibly live without my remaining possessions, only to find ourselves thinking quite soon afterwards, “Why did I keep this? I don’t need it.”

In our Lenten clear-out, at one point one of us went up into the attic to fetch something down. There she found a couple of boxes belonging to her. Mystified she looked inside, and there found a collection of belongings she’d completely forgotten existed. “Oh, there’s my grey coat!” she exclaimed; “the one that was always too tight. And there’s my sunhat that I never wear because the wind always blows it off my head.” And so it went on. Another couple of boxes out of the door.

Then there were the boxes themselves. We rarely throw out cardboard packaging – and we have quite a lot because we do most of our shopping by mail order. Packets, envelopes and smaller boxes we tear up and use for kindling. We also put cardboard on new veggie plots to keep the weeds away, and that can go into the compost heap when it’s done its work. But large, strong boxes we stash in the attic – and the useful smaller sizes, like shoeboxes (some of those are re-used for Christmas shoebox appeals).

Then, O joy! In the notices at the beginning of the service where I was preaching last week, the steward appealed for cardboard boxes. He said the Young People wanted to build a wall. Perhaps Trump mania has reached Calvert Methodist, or maybe they just want to keep the politicians out? Anyway, they wanted cardboard boxes in large amounts and the bigger the better. We were right round with a carload by sunset. I don’t like to waste them, but I do like them to move along. Usually someone moving house sends out a call for boxes on Freegle – that’s where they generally go.

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy a peek into some of the unexplored corners of our minimalist home; so one evening while some of us were out at choir I wandered round with my camera.

In one room, someone had already put her bed out ready for when she got home.

In another room, everything was quiet and peaceful. I didn’t put the Big Light on because I didn’t want to wake up our friend asleep in the armchair. Can you make out his ears?

Another corner of the same room.

And the nook where the Badger and I sleep.

That overhead light hanging down is a lovely Taotronics lamp, and the white stick thing on the right is my bedside lamp  it folds down and keeps the light out of your eyes for resting, and folds up to shine down on a book for reading. They're fab  we can charge them during the day when we have free electricity from the solar panels, then they last for a few hours at bed time. Which is handy because we have no electric sockets in our sleeping nook - just in case it's really true that electric current interferes with our brains.

We have a table the Badger made at the foot of the bed, and the wall-hanging his mother embroidered on the wall above.

So we continue our pruning and chucking – amazing where all the stuff comes from; you can see we don’t have much. This week we’ve lugged bags of loot to the charity shop. Good stuff, too.

I didn’t photograph it all. Here’s a representative mini-selection; True Junk (an empty perfume bottle, originally – when full – bought second-hand from a private seller on eBay) and an item of bric-à-brac. Out they go!

Meanwhile, outside in the Real World, the spring is advancing. Our front yard is in bloom.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Daniel Suelo - a prophet for our times

I think I’m not alone in having trouble concentrating theses days – in watching a long movie, reading a long book, listening to a long sermon. The electronic revolution has changed many things, including this.

But every now and then I come across something I value so much it’s worth the effort of staying with it. In fact this gives me a measure of what’s important to me – what do I stay with?

By nature I wander off. I have been so often disillusioned – things, people, promising much delivered little. Things that looked big from afar were little close at hand. Institutions announcing themselves as holy, as receptacles of the Gospel, turned out to be nothing of the sort. I wander off.

But just here and there I come across something worth listening to, worth staying for, worth following.

The work of Daniel Suelo is exactly that. I have come across no wiser man.

After a long silence, he has put into words the thoughts he has been developing and allowing to put forth blossoms and fruit.

Listen to this man. He is like no one else I have come across. He is a prophet for our times without a doubt.

His recent talk, about the physics and spirituality of the gift economy, is published on his blog. It was given in a book-shop, with accompanying powerpoint slides that are important to follow as he speaks, but unfortunately the camera misses the slides as they appear on the screen, reasonably concentrating instead on Suelo as he speaks.

So in the blog post, Suelo has included the powerpoint of slides for us to advance and follow while watching the video. It took me a short while to get the hang of it, but the content of the slides is so helpful it was well worth doing.

His blog post giving both the video and the slides is here.

The video by itself on YouTube is here.

The talk is an hour and twenty minutes long, so you need to find a stretch of time when you can settle down without distraction – but I cannot recommend it highly enough. He offers wisdom, sense, grace and illumination.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A Bible passage revisited.

 You know how it is? You read something in the Bible, read it stacks of times, know it all your life. And then suddenly, there you are at a marvelously advanced age, read it one more time and bingo! You suddenly see what it’s saying and its application in real life.

Well that happened to me today.

My readings for personal devotion this last little while have been travelling through the book of Genesis. This morning in the bath (acts as a kind of Thinking Centre for me) I was mulling over some of what I’d read.

In our house we have a lot of people and one main bathroom, so in the mornings it’s helpful for the others to be able to get in and clean their teeth or whatever they need to do. Not being someone with issues about nudity I therefore generally leave the bathroom door open when I’m in the bath.

And I was thinking about the story in Genesis 9 about Noah and his youngest son Ham. I guess if a Jew* calls his son Ham in the first place there’s bound to be trouble, isn’t there?

So Noah plants a vineyard, makes a load of wine, imbibes a generous amount and gets blind drunk, staggers into his tent and passes out cold. Not being in a fit state to pay attention to his dignity, he is blissfully unaware that the skirts of his robes are all over the place, leaving his crown jewels exposed for anyone who comes along to see. Which Ham does. And then rushes out to tell his brothers Shem and Japheth. This is the equivalent of Ham snapping a photo on his i-phone to post on Facebook for a laugh.

His brothers see the situation differently. They take the dignity of their father seriously. So they don’t see exposed what should not be, they walk into the tent with their faces turned aside and a coat laid between them on their shoulders to shield Noah from their view. They lay the coat upon him, and leave him safe and sound in the tent until such time as he has slept off his drunken stupor and wakes up with a crashing headache and a mouth like a stream bed in the dry season.

The next bit is what I sat in the bath turning over in my mind – in  Genesis 9.24, that talks about “When Noah woke up and found out what his youngest son had done to him”.

So Shem and Japheth obviously made known to Noah exactly what had happened – no sniggering behind his back.

And Noah is livid; he curses Ham and blesses Shem and Japeth.

And in the bath, I thought – you know, that is seriously unreasonable. Why is Noah angry with Ham? Surely he brought it on himself. Surely this is Noah’s problem, not Ham’s. What does he mean, “what his youngest son had done to him”? If you don’t want bad things to happen to you, take responsibility – don’t get drunk. If Noah had been sober there’d have been no indignity to behold, and whose fault is that?

So I took the passage into my prayers – always a good idea if you want to actually get anywhere useful with the Bible – and what came to my mind when I did that was, “Brock Turner.”

And suddenly I understood.

This story is about not taking advantage of each other, even (or maybe especially) when we are vulnerable or stupid or blind drunk.

This is about taking seriously the dignity of the other members of our human family – watching out for them, having their backs.

This is the biblical text to have in mind when we think about rape culture.

No matter what the victim was wearing (Noah didn’t bother with underwear apparently), no matter if the victim is drunk, you look out for each other.

No voyeurism, no laughing and calling others to come and look, no pics on Facebook, no taking advantage.

Made me see the passage in a totally different light.


* Please don’t write to me explaining that Noah was before the establishment of Judaism. I know. It’s a joke.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Minimalist no-gift birthdays

Yesterday, one of our household had a birthday.

A few years back we stopped giving Christmas gifts, but continued to give birthday presents. Then a couple of years ago we began to feel that, too, was something we felt uneasy with – not least because it creates a pressure to reciprocate, which can be difficult for low-income people. So last year, as the birthdays came round, we had a last-birthday-with-a-gift scenario, the birthday presents being very modest but still happening. Now this year we’re on to no-gift birthdays.

However, we do like to celebrate. We talked around the idea of maybe going out for a meal, but decided that would be even more expensive than buying gifts.

Yesterday’s birthday followed what will – loosely – become our tradition, I think.

First, we asked the birthday person what she would like to do on her birthday – and she, like all the rest of us, mainly likes to chill out and have a quiet day, enjoying the company of family; not go anywhere or do anything in particular. That was her idea of a happy day, and it’s certainly mine too. I did have a party one year, but to get round the horrors of socializing, it was a silent party. My birthday is in the summer, so we invited friends to our home and garden within a two-hour time slot, just to be peaceful in the sunshine among the flowers, enjoying the nibbles we provided. It actually didn’t work so well because some unscheduled relatives who had not been invited to my party (so didn’t know it was on) showed up wanting to socialize. I managed to corral them into a separate room where they proceeded to chat loudly for most of the two hours. Sigh. Lord only knows what they made of the silent people dotted around our home.

So anyway, what we do now follows what’s becoming a pattern.

The day generally starts with those who are not the birthday person getting up early to make the birthday altar. Here’s yesterday’s:

It has flowers; cards; chocolates; and little booklets of quotations, pictures, jokes etc, made by those of us who like to do that as a memento of the occasion.
We put on some music, and have our breakfast drinks from pretty china, sit around and chat for a while. Then, yesterday, three of us completed a batch of choux buns they’d made ready the day before. Half were filled with whipped cream and had coffee frosting on the top, the other half the same but with lemon curd folded into the cream and lemon frosting. So at elevenses time we had those. And they were delicious.

Four of my five daughters live in this house, and their fifth, married sister managed to snatch an hour from family responsibilities to come and hang out with us – which made it perfect. Such a happy time. She doesn’t feel quite the same about no-gift birthdays so she brought a most brilliant gift, with the stipulation that the recipient should feel free to get rid of it if ever it just became redundant junk. Her gift – which felt just right for the times we’re in both as our little family and as a global family  was a cream canvas tote bag with hot pink carry straps, bearing the words "nevertheless she persisted".

We had quiche and salad for lunch, and settled down in the afternoon to watch an old movie together – the 1990s version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (the one with Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth).

Having enjoyed each other’s company all day, we began to drift into solitary peace as it came towards evening – and then one of us made everyone a scrumptious supper of sausages and gravy with mashed potato, steamed cabbage and peas; because that’s a favourite.

And that’s our idea of a minimalist no-gift birthday – so happy, so relaxed.