Reblog: Advent Activities

I am so looking forward to using our advent wreath this year, with the accompanying book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. We are going to inherit my parents’ Christmas tree and we’ll decorate with home made ornaments created using origami and salt dough. Today is ‘make Christmas cards’ day, using cards from last year 😀

I am also thrilled to be trying out Ann’s guide to a grateful Christmas, where the focus is gently moved away from consumerism and back towards a celebration of the birth of the most special baby.

My Make Do and Mend Year

As Christmas of My Make Do and Mend Year approached a couple of years ago, I had a rant about advent calendars, and blogged about my idea for doing an activity each day with the Smalls.
I totally LOVE this idea, probably more than the kids do. They have been bought Lego calendars by a relative, which I am sure will be a billion times more exciting than my attempts to step away from consumerism, but I am determined to persevere with this idea!

So for anyone else wanting to do a similar thing, here is my list of 24 Advent Activities for you to pick from if you’d like 🙂
I’ve tried to vary it a bit from last years, but some of these things are becoming tradition.
(I know it’s probably too late now, but if you are still wanting a homemade Advent calendar, then there are…

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The *^&$%#*£!!! Response to Climate Change

The passage below is from an email I received from campaign group Avaaz. As part of my degree I have studied climate change. I know this is something we continue to ignore at our peril. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Christians should be leading the way with our response to climate change. Reusing plastic bags and recycling a few tins is not enough (though it’s a good start). Read below to find out what you can do:

 

‘The last ice age happened in 6 months. 6 months for the planet to unleash an army of apartment-building-size ice blocks across Europe and the United States. It was a climate tipping point where the balance is knocked completely out of control and threatens the survival of everything — and three more tipping points exactly like it are on the verge of happening.

It’s our *^&$%#*£!!! climate moment according to a leading NASA scientist, and only a *^&$%#*£!!! massive coordinated day of action response, right now, can change the future we’re facing.

One agreement with common sense steps to end dirty energy can save us. That’s why the UN has called an urgent climate meeting in just over 100 days with all major world leaders — if we greet them on September 21st with the largest ever global climate mobilisation in history we can break through the walls of mega coal, oil, and business that prevent even the best politicians from doing what is right.

There’s no way to get around how big a task this is. But together, each small action will add up into a millions-strong movement that literally drowns out the opposition and gives our leaders the best reason to break free and build a hopeful, clean and green future. Click below to join in:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/join_to_change_everything/?bbGribb&v=41138 

“Tipping points” are feedback loops, where climate change feeds back on itself and causes rapidly accelerating, catastrophic consequences. Right now, methane gas that is 25 times worse for global warming than CO2 is frozen in our ice. But as the ice melts, the gas leaks, causing more melting and each melt loses us another layer of reflective ice shield that we rely on to keep the planet cool, more methane and less ice means more warming still, and everything starts to spin out of control. And that’s just one example… it’s why scientists are yelling from the rooftops that we have to act now.

We actually have the tools and the plan we need to make sure we don’t cross into a world where tipping points destroy us. And while it will take global cooperation on a bigger scale than ever before, our 36 million-strong movement already has the people power necessary to move leaders from every country to take the first steps. Just days ago, the United States and China announced serious new plans to curb their pollution — momentum is building ahead of next year’s critical Paris climate summit where a deal could be inked, and in just over 100 days we can take it up a notch further.

Taking to the streets in a record setting show of power and coordination is one of the most effective ways to create change — from the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa to civil rights in the US, it’s sometimes been the only way. This is our chance to bring that power to the most important issue of our time: survival and a thriving future for our families, and their families and the generations of people to come. Click below to be a part of it all:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/join_to_change_everything/?bbGribb&v=41138 ‘

Sample Letter

I wrote this post (click to open in a new tab) a little while ago about why Christians should be involved in politics, and what form being ‘involved’ in politics can take. Prompted by an email from Christian charity Tearfund, I emailed my local MP about the issue of climate change. I nearly didn’t do it, as my MP is proudly against a proposed wind farm (I don’t know the circumstances but I suspect it’s probably nimbyism). I prayed about it and this parable came to mind:

 

Then [Jesus] gave them an illustration to show that they must always pray and never lose heart.

“Once upon a time,” he said, “there was a magistrate in a town who had neither fear of God nor respect for his fellow-men. There was a widow in the town who kept coming to him, saying, ‘Please protect me from the man who is trying to ruin me.’ And for a long time he refused. But later he said to himself, ‘Although I don’t fear God and have no respect for men, yet this woman is such a nuisance that I shall give judgement in her favour, or else her continual visits will be the death of me!’”

Then the Lord said, “Notice how this dishonest magistrate behaved. Do you suppose God, patient as he is, will not see justice done for his chosen, who appeal to him day and night? I assure you he will not delay in seeing justice done. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find men on earth who believe in him?”

Luke 18:1-8 (JB Phillips)

First, I decided to pray for my MP, which is something that hadn’t occurred to me before. Second, I decided to be persistent in my letters, just like the widow. He can’t ignore me forever – and I have a feeling that my innate tendency to stubbornness persistence will prove useful.

MPs have websites where you can find their address and email address. Here is the email that I sent to my MP, which could be used as a sample letter or email:

 

Dear [insert name]

As a Christian I care deeply about the world’s poor, particularly those living in extreme poverty. I also care about the ‘green and pleasant land’ we call home. I am writing because I want to ask you to take action on climate change. Climate change will affect the poorest most. There will also be more frequent episodes of extreme weather events such as the snow experienced in 2010, the weeks of rain in 2012 and the recent devastating floods. All this will have an impact not just on the world’s poorest but on our own people and economy too.

It is not too late. If we take action now, the worst case scenario can be avoided. Please take the time to read the latest IPCC report summaries. This is probably the greatest political issue facing the world in our generation.

You can read the report here: http://1.usa.gov/1hR6qr1

Please also push for a strong manifesto commitment from your party to say what they will do to reduce our economy’s reliance on fossil fuels, particularly by increasing low carbon energy sources and driving energy efficiency, as the report says we need to. The UK is Europe’s windiest country. Wind, water and sun are much more secure ways of achieving reliable sources of energy for the British economy than buying coal and oil from Russia or Qatar.

I wish you a restful time off over the Easter recess. May I also take the opportunity to wish you Easter blessings and to let you know that our family is praying for you, as our MP.

Many thanks

[insert name and address]

The Un-paving Paradise Project: April 2014

‘A U.N. group of scientists said an immediate push is necessary to halt the worst effects of climate change. Its report showed that it is still possible to contain the worst effects of climate change, but governments must take extensive measures to reduce carbon emissions.’

From Time

There have been a plethora of news reports recently about the need for humanity to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions or the whole planet is ****** (insert expletive of your choice – this is one occasion where it’s warranted). In light of this, the Un-paving Paradise Project has taken on even more significance. I feel I should apologise for all those years of ignorance, but as one can’t apologise to the planet, unless you live in some sort of weird Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy parallel universe, perhaps it’s better to do something. It’s no use crying over spilt milk, so the saying goes, to which I would add so you’d better figure out how to clean up the mess.

 

In recent weeks I have taken on two new environmentally friendlier habits, prompted by blog posts on My Make Do and Mend Year and Eco Thrifty Living. I have also decided that, having experienced the spiritual discipline of Lent, after it ends next week I would like to continue the little discipline of fasting/abstaining, and I would like to do this alongside practical things to benefit the environment, my health and my family.

 

My most recent eco friendly habits (which are for April and May) are as follows:

It’s a thermos. That’s it.

1) When I want a cuppa, I fill the kettle with approx. 1.2 litres of water. I use roughly 200ml for my tea and put the rest in a 1 litre stainless steel thermos flask. If Frank also wants a hot drink, I boil a little more water and decant accordingly. Boiling the kettle for one cuppa five times over (which is what I would usually do) uses more energy than boiling 1.2 litres and essentially making four to five drinks, even if you only boil exactly the right amount for your drink. Thus the thermos method not only saves energy (electric kettles are big consumers of energy in the home) but also saves £££, especially if you add it all up over the course of a year.

For more information on how using a thermos can reduce your energy consumption, click here.

 

Cows produce methane. Methane is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Rainforests are the best absorbers of carbon dioxide, but they’re being destroyed to make way for cattle grazing. Unfortunately the soil is not suited to grazing so within a couple of years the farmers are compelled to cut down more rainforest 😦 Rainforest is also destroyed in order to plant soya, which is used as animal feed worldwide. Eating less meat sounds like a good idea to me. And to Daisy. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Daisy.

 

2) My second eco friendly habit is reducing my meat consumption. I have pledged via DoNation to eat meat only if I have not had it the day before. As an adult I have had the great pleasure of becoming lactose intolerant (which is far more common than you’d think – 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, but only 2% of Northern Europeans). Lactose intolerance means I don’t eat dairy because it makes me sick, so on the non-meat days I’m eating essentially a vegan diet, bar the odd free range egg. In reality, because I am trying to eat more healthily anyway, this is likely to mean me eating meat for around 15% of meals.

For more information on why eating less meat and dairy is better for the environment, click here.

 

 

Choices: Making a Difference

During the lead up to Easter known as Lent the ancient practice of fasting is observed. Fasting is designed to reorient our focus back to where it should be, away from the distractions (and sins) we so easily find ourselves falling into. Isaiah has some very interesting words on the nature of fasting that God desires:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
    and oppress all your workers…

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
to let the oppressed go free,
to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Isaiah 58: 3,6,7 (NRSVA)

 

I want to focus here on the link between God’s ‘fasting’ and politics. Things can get pretty heated around election time. Who one votes for is almost on a par with whether one is a follower of Christ or not (or so certain people would have you believe). I personally am extremely wary of placing politics anywhere near on a par with Christ as I can see how easy it would be to fashion for myself something that becomes more important than Jesus himself, i.e. to make an ‘idol’ of politicians, political parties or political ideals. I also, personally speaking, prefer to keep my political inclinations to myself. I consider the right to a secret ballot just as important as democracy itself. Also worth noting is that this prized thing which we call democracy, and over which wars are fought and men, women and children have been killed, is not in any way ‘biblical’ (and ‘biblical’ is often a term used by those advocating ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ so I generally steer clear of the word). To get to the point: democracy as we know it, where every adult gets to vote, is very much a 20th century invention.

Having said that, I cannot see how Christianity or Christians can be disengaged from politics. Like it or not, Jesus himself was a political figure. The occupied Israel of 2000 years ago was a hotbed of political resentment and various groups all searching for a new leader who would set Israel free. At that time, Jesus was perceived as a political figure despite his basic refusal to engage with those who wanted to attach to him their own desires and ideals (no wonder he got up people’s noses, he point-blank refused to engage with them in the manner they wanted). Jesus can even be said to have been a political subversive, but his subversiveness – being the embodiment of God’s Upside Down Kingdom – was totally unlike anything anyone had ever imagined. Jesus was subversive even to the subversives! We can confidently state that Jesus was a political radical. Even his death was that which was reserved for dissidents.

So what does that mean for those of us who claim to be his followers? How does this manifest itself in the 21st century? Our world is dominated by politics and although we must not allow politics to become our ‘idol’, we can’t escape the fact that we still live in a world where people are hungry, lonely, suffering, poor – a world where 19,000 children under the age of five die from preventable causes every day.

Every day.

God, help us.

How do we as Christians respond? Did Jesus have any words in this area? The answer is yes, quite a lot, actually. This is (in my opinion) his summary:

‘All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men from each other like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

“Then the king will say to those on his right ‘Come, you who have won my Father’s blessing! Take your inheritance—the kingdom reserved for you since the foundation of the world! For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was lonely and you made me welcome. I was naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you came and looked after me. I was in prison and you came to see me there.”

“Then the true men will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you lonely and make you welcome, or see you naked and clothe you, or see you ill or in prison and go to see you?’

“And the king will reply, ‘I assure you that whatever you did for the humblest of my brothers you did for me.’

Matthew 25:32-40 (JB Phillips)

 

What is interesting in the context of the 21st century is that all of these things are affected by, and shaped by, the decisions of those in power. Which leads us back to politics.

While I personally find it impossible to align myself with any particular political affiliation (because there will undoubtedly come a time when one’s faith or one’s conscience clashes with the party political line) I do believe that Christians should be actively involved in politics. You may be wondering how one does this without political affiliation. I am ‘politically active’ in that I am a member of several pressure groups involved in lobbying both the UK parliament and overseas governments on cross-party issues. In particular I support Avaaz, CAAT, 38 Degrees and Tearfund (Tearfund engages in both helping the poor and lobbying parliament on their behalf). I have just come across another group called Labour Behind the Label, which seeks to promote awareness of the conditions in which garment factory workers carry out their work. I have just written an email to my local Member of Parliament (MP) asking him to sign a motion calling for the companies involved in the Bangladesh garment factory disaster in 2013 to pay the compensation the victims are due. Several big brands, including Benetton and Matalan, have yet to pay a penny. You can read more here.

If you find you’re not in a position to actively do very much by way of caring for the hungry/homeless/lonely, etc. (see Matthew 25, as quoted above), because you have other commitments or find yourself, like me, feeling the effects of ill health, one way you can still be active is by signing petitions and communicating with your government representative (here in the UK it is my MP whom I write to). It doesn’t take more than a minute to read the details of a petition and add your name. It doesn’t take more than a quarter of an hour to write an email or letter to your MP. For me, it’s good to know I can do something.

Two_Roads_Diverge_in_a_Green_Park,_In_the_Middle_Stand_an_Obelisk_01

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

from The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

 

It ain’t half hot mum…

I was going to write a climate change blog post myself after yesterday’s IPCC report was released, but I was too angry. No good sounding preachy or self-righteous, is it? Also I have to admit that until just over a year ago I was just as ignorant and thought that environmentalists were a bit soft in the head or overreacting. Now I wonder why we are sleepwalking into catastrophe.

I am thinking of taking on the challenge of a ‘make do and mend year’.

 

 

My Make Do and Mend Year

Hot water.
Isn’t it awesome? And how lucky are we to have it on tap?
But it comes at a price. Both in terms of energy and cold hard cash.
So today for the Great Energy Race, I am looking at how can we use less of it, without feeling the chill…?

Hot Water Generation and Storage

  • Most hot water heating systems rely on some kind of tank to store the hot water in. Make sure yours is nice and cosy and has it’s very own coat to stop the heat leaking out

Doesn't that look cosy?! Doesn’t that look cosy?!

  • As well as insulating your tank, don’t forget the pipes!

    Hubby has been busy lining our pipes... Hubby has been busy lining our pipes…

  • I get a bit lost (bored) by the science right about now, but I think I am right in saying that using your immersion heater, is one of the most energy inefficient ways to heat…

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