Live Simply: let others live, by Edward P Echlin.
London: Progressio, 2007, ISBN 1852873248, £2.
Christian ethics is rooted in the story of Jesus of Nazareth and in the
stories to which he appeals, namely the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible. In
this passionately written pamphlet Edward Echlin shows us how, through hearing
Jesus’ teaching and by following him, we can discover our own place in the Earth
community and learn to live simply. Genesis 2: 4-15 insists that we humans are
earthy and earthly creatures. We are adam (soil beings) from the adamah (arable
earth). Put simply, we are humble humans from the humus. Immersed in his own
land or bioregion, Jesus learned ‘ecological wisdom’. His life was embedded in
the land and he shared the fruits of the land–staple foods–in simple meals with
his followers. In short, Jesus embodied in his life, his teachings and in his
work, what it means to live simply, sustainable and in solidarity with the poor.
Today, here and now, we need to embrace the call to live simply if there is to
be a future for the Earth community.
As Christians we know that irresponsible lifestyles and comfortable ignorance
are attitudes condemned by the Bible. Scripture confirms that we will be
accountable for what we have done to nature and to our fellow humans. ‘All
things are connected’, writes Echlin (p.2). This is to say that the collective
well-being of the community, local and global, forms part of the well-being of
each person. So, living simply means living with sufficient, with what is enough
for ourselves and our dependants, as opposed to ‘growth’, or ‘progress’ which
disregards ecological limits. ‘Enough is best’, rather than ‘more is better’, is
wise on all counts, material, moral and spiritual. Edward Echlin offers many
specific suggestions on how to work this out in practice. ‘What we do does
matter’ (p.9). I name just a few here. Use proximity as a guiding principle. So,
grow, play, trade, work, holiday, etc., as close to home as possible. Cut the
carbon. Our fossil fuel-addicted lifestyles damage the climate for others, near
and far, and for ourselves. It’s time to create habits of thought, feeling and
action that respect the integrity of creation and that connect the consequences
of our actions for the lives of others, both here and in the global south.
Bio-fuels, carbon trading, carbon offsetting just allow us to sidestep the
difficult task of using less energy.
We have to face up to it – we must change our human behavior or lose our
precious earthly home. There is no way forward other than to ‘cut the carbon’
immediately (p. 11). Grow your own. Here, every little helps–a window box for
herbs, a roof garden, a communal allotment. We are all responsible for the
quality of the soil in our local communities. Moreover, in growing our own we
are preparing for ‘peak oil’, for the time when we will all be dependent upon
locally grown food. Campaign. Raise your voice in holy rage against practices
which degrade the Earth. Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, GM Freeze, People and
Planet – these and many similar organizations need our support. Finally, follow
the five R’s of refuse, reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle. Perhaps of all the
five, the refusal to engage in the excessive comforts of contemporary consumer
lifestyles is the most powerfully prophetic action we can take. Christianity,
together with almost every religious tradition, teaches us that the truly
abundant life is one of self-discipline and restraint upon material desires. The
good news is that we do have it within our faith to give us hope for the future
and power to act and to change. Edward Echlin provides us with the vision and
the practical wisdom to make a start and to follow through. We can make amends.
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