Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle

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Break Forth into Joy!
Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle

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Break Forth into Joy!
Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle

A Modern "Christmas Carol"

(with apologies to Charles Dickens)

This file contains the complete Video Script/Transcription and the Study Guide

Video Script/Transcription


Ultimate, unforgettable, feel good, you need more, make your dreams come true, simple, easy, complete satisfaction, you can have it all, power, set your spirit free, magic, escape, alive with pleasure, the perfect body, you need more, you deserve love, exciting, have it all.

If I am bored or if it is a day where I feel very bad about myself the first thing I think about doing is well maybe I will go to the shopping mall, if I can just get to the mall and buy something new I'm sure I will feel better.

The less you have the more emotionally stable you are because there are less things consuming you.

The problem with defining ourselves by our jobs and work we do is that when we are not doing we lose ourselves, so when we lose ourselves we have to find something else to do. Very often the whole business of consumerism is filling that gap.

TV is a drug, I really think it is, it draws you in, it saps your mind, it feeds you messages that you maybe wouldn't be feeding yourself. After a while you don't hear it our see it any more, you just accept it.

Consumerism is all around us, we can't get away from it. In my neighborhood there are billboards, people look at TV all day and you are constantly bombarded with what to have and what to want. Everything glitters in America.

For many, life is more crowded that it use to be, there is more to experience, more to buy, more than we can fit into our lives. Our families, our spiritual lives, meaningful work, rest, all are crowded out by the demands of getting through the day. Not enough sleep, not enough money, too much pressure and stress, too many bills to pay. We are convinced that if we buy one more this or one more that we will be happy. Time after time we are disappointed.

America is a real difficult country, I think, to exist in and not be a consumer. It takes a great deal of fortitude and strength to say no to all the temptations that are thrown in front of you. If you don't you will constantly want, and that is not the answer.

The difference between want and need is that when you take care of a need it is satisfied - my need for shelter, food, transportation. But when I take care a want there is always one right behind it. As soon as I satisfy one want there is something else screaming out "buy me, get me, have me." I never satisfy that. I never quench that thirst.

You have so much and harvest little, you eat but you never have enough, you drink but you never have your fill, you clothe yourself but no one is warm, and you that earn wages, earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.

The fact is that the culture we have created is not just damaging to our individual lives, it affects all of creation. The environment suffers, other people suffer, our souls suffer.

If you are poor in a consumerist society, you double up quite a bit of anger when you don't consume because you see everybody else consuming, and that anger can turn into violence.

We are all stewards on this earth to me, and it is a matter of how much do I take for what I want, how much do I see I need and then therefore try to go after.

A lot of people have tendencies to be people pleasers and so we get involved and say yes to too many things. We don't help each other to say no. Sometimes I think we secretly like the fact we are asked to be so busy because we derive our worth from it.

American lifestyle is just fast pace, we have to accomplish so much, we have to do so much, we have to compete and keep up with our neighbors. If our neighbor gets a new car, we have to get a new car. If our neighbor takes a vacation, we have to take a vacation. So what you end up doing is not being yourselves but end up emulating others to keep up with them to say I've done something. It is not a real you.

We just didn't feel good and we were young, we were supposed to feel good and we remember saying, "Why aren't we feeling the way we think we should feel?" We both had CAT scans for headaches and did the whole medical thing. We finally just decided it was the way we were choosing to live our lives.

Everything we were doing was wonderful, all the things we volunteered for. The work we did was terrific. It was all meaningful but it was too much. I have come away with the question that I have yet to hear a good answer to, "Whoever told us we are suppose to burn ourselves our for the Lord?"

How do we change our direction? How can we change our relationship with the culture that pressures us so constantly? How can we become individuals and communities that are accountable to God and the whole of God's creation?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.

In the Native American community we often say that there is much noise in the universe. Some of it is empty noise. Some of it is noise feeds the soul. If it feeds the soul, it feeds also the entire being, and by feeding the entire being it feeds the entire creation.

We spend all of our time acquiring things, possessions, and protecting our possessions, and sometimes it takes real tragedies in life to bring us to the point where we understand what really counts; that is friends, families, and helping other people.

It is not that people can't have things or own things, it is that we don't want the things to own us. And that is the problem we started to have. Things started to own us and we were working to have things. When people overextend themselves emotionally, financially, or timewise, they are really putting themselves in little prisons.

That is what things are, they are only for a moment, and after that you are looking for something else to fill that void. I think you need to find it within yourself with a relationship with a higher being, a higher spirit.

I think our motivation should be to do what we love doing and that we don't pay ourselves back with dollars but with gratification about where we make our marks. Are we affecting some type of change? Are we being life-giving to people around us?

If we are understanding that everything around us is a gift, a created gift, then we tend to handle it with more gentility than we do when we think something is just a material possession that we can discard.

Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that I need.

How do we live this out? If we believe the Bible, how can we translate it into our daily lives? It is a scary prospect to think of changing our lifestyle without knowing what will happen as a result. How can we find joy? Where do we begin?

Credit cards probably are inherently evil. Now it doesn't mean that I don't have them, but that is also why I know. It makes things to easy. It makes it easy for us to do irresponsible things that if we didn't have a credit card, a ready cash flow sort of speak, we would have to thing about it, we would have to plan for it, we would have to decide whether it is important enough to save money to do.

Not choosing to go into debt, not choosing to buy a house that would just cost a lot of money, or to buy a fancy car. For me there was freedom with that because when you don't have bills or the monthly payments you can think about other things like what you want to do with you time.

After we got so overextended in so many ways we sold the house and moved down, decreasing our payments and taxes and everything by more that half. The best thing it did was to buy us time, we didn't have to work as many hours, both of us full-time, so it bought us time with our family. Our kids were already learning that we may have less money and can't keep up with the other families in purchasing clothing for instance with certain names on it, but I remember my daughter saying "but we have our Dad back," and that is what made it worthwhile.

Often the most simplest things are the most treasured things, and one of the most treasured things today is time. We feel that in order to be productive or in order to our self worth we always have to be busy; busy doing things, busy keeping up, or having full agendas, or being on this board meeting, or going to this church meeting, when in reality it has little to do with how we love or reaching out to help someone else or having special places in time in our day for God.

It is hard to tell somebody who has not had that having it won't solve the problem. You have to have the experience, or some type of experience that brings you to the realization that it is not about things.

I find it is a real sense of liberation for me to understand that no matter what comes into my parameters, to my personal space, that I have the opportunity to say yes or no, and if I say no very often it may not be no never again, but no, this is the right thing but this is not the right timing.

Kids are kids, and they do want things, so we try to oblige them to a point. We practice a game when we go shopping , they can like as much as they want, "I like it, I like it, I like it," is fine, "I want it, I want it, I want it," is not fine. I think that has been helpful, because they can like as much as they want, but you don't have to own everything you like.

When our daughter Rose was thirteen she wanted to get a job so she could earn some money. She was also interested in Candy Striping at one of the local hospitals here. So we told her that for every hour she volunteered we would give her a dollar for school clothes. So she volunteered 268 hours that summer, treated it like a forty hour week and was able to buy all her own school clothes which meant she had to decide what was important, an $80 pair of sneakers or three outfits.

Simple life ought to be described by words like 'celebrative', or 'eucharistic living.' Instead of feeling that it is confined and a great poverty, let's open it up into the fullness that it is.

The world cannot give an American lifestyle to all of its inhabitants. We need to do some evening out in the world. I think voluntary simplicity is a nice place to start.

It is not an easy task to struggle against a culture so solidly based on buying and consuming.

I still suffer with seeing things that I think I want, but now I take time and realize that I really don't want them, and that is a good feeling.

It is not easy to walk against the prevailing winds, but our lives, the life of the world, depends on the conversion of the spirit, a transformation of the mind that will begin to set straight the twisted tangle of whom we have become as a people. For what counts in the end is people living in a global community perched on a dazzling God-given blue planet delicately set in space.

For thus sayeth the Lord, ye have sold yourselves for not and ye shall be redeemed without money. Break forth into joy, sing together, for the Lord hath comforted the people.

TESTIMONIALS (Out-Takes/Bonus Segments)


Freedom & Possessions

Simple living should be described with words like celebrative, or eucharistic living, instead of feeling that it's confined and a great poverty, let's open it up into the fullness that it is. In the Old Testament the prophet Hosea said "you shall eat and eat and not be satisfied." That was a curse. It's this excess and inaccessible appetite, that's the unfree life. I think what we are talking about are words like more freeing, more celebrative, and more eucharistic, or thanksgiving. If you never know when you have enough you never know when to say thanks.

Proverbs says give me neither poverty nor riches, but feed me with that which is needful for me, lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God or lest I be rich and say "who needs the Lord." I don't think there is freedom either in poverty or in too much, that's why we are talking about sufficiency. That's the freeing, you are not addicted to things and you are not spending all of your time trying to find enough to live. There is nothing freeing about either of those. Our culture very easily sees there is no freedom in poverty, but we tend not to see that there is also no freedom in affluence that has gone overboard. (John Schramm)


Some time ago Jorgen Lissner who was with the Lutheran World Federation had ten reasons for simplifying your lifestyle. We have condensed them into four issues because it is easier for me to remember them.

One is a faith issue. To me that means I that I need to trust what Jesus said, that our needs will be met. Even when Jesus talked about how rich God's blessings are for us he talked about the image of a bushel basket shaken down and overflowing. I think our problem is that when our basket gets full we go with even a bigger and bigger basket and say, "Well, God, you filled up this first little basket. Let's see what you can do with this bigger one." So we never know what enough is and we have to decide that for ourselves. So the faith issue says that I can trust that God is always going to supply my needs.

The second issue is a freedom issue. It is not freeing to feel addicted to stuff. Ernest Becker said it very well when he said, "We drink or drug ourselves into oblivion." Or we go shopping, which is the same thing. It is not freeing to have to always try to be accumulating more and more when we could be desiring less and less and then realizing you have to protect it, or clean it, or shine it, or store it, or these other things we don't like doing.

The third reason is sharing and solidarity. I know if I change my lifestyle it is probably not going to change a lot in the world. But it gives me a sense that my brothers and sisters who have so much less than I do, that I am in solidarity with them. There is no reason why six percent of us in this country need to consume 30 to 35 percent of the world's resources.

And the fourth reason is a witness. Again it is what Peter said, it is being able to speak to the hope that is within you. I don't do that very well because my lifestyle looks like everybody else's. I wish that I could get to the point where my lifestyle wasn't one of poverty but was one of sufficiency and that I would joyfully live that way so that people came up and say, "Gosh, you don't have a lot of this worlds goods or your car looks pretty crummy or why are you dressed in those clothes?" But I could give reasons why I want to live more simply and why those things shouldn't be so important to us. (Mary Schramm)

If you look at the person of Jesus and the way Jesus chose to live his life when he was here, the way he chose to interact with people and not possessions, that is our role and model and it is a good model. It is one that has my best interests in mind and the world's best interests in mind because he loves us. I can trust his lifestyle, I can trust his teachings to be good. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)


One of the reasons I was brought into some of the simplicity changes after she led the way was because my son was born about six years ago and he was born with a birth problem, a physical problem. I had been used to having an older car or a toaster and just throwing it away and not fixing it and making do. And suddenly I had this little body that didn't quite work right and we had to do therapy with him twice a day to help it work right. I learned something that we need to do better with what we are given, have better stewardship with what we are given and make do. I was ready for more I the lifestyle changes then I think.

We had a realtor once when we moved into our new smaller house that was real blunt and said "why did you buy such a small house?" We tried to explain about the reasons of trying to downsize, and he said, "Well, my wife and I don't have any kids and we bought a huge house with a million dollar loan," and was trying to impress us. I asked him why he bought such a big house and he said, "Because I can." In those three words he summarized what has made the American dream an American heresy. People get as much as they can because they can. One of the chapters in our book is called "Because We Can"- that we can downsize, that we can live simpler lives. Why? Just because we can. (David Sorensen)


I have had a chance to just do some of anything and everything I have wanted to do. But at the same time that sense of fulfillment was not there. The things, it turns into what Tracy Chapman talks about in her album, just a mountain of things. They don't mean anything and I think as soon as people get to that realization that "things don't mean nothing" you can get on with your life and really make meaningful contributions in terms of interacting with other people, in terms of giving back to your community, to your neighborhood, to your government; in terms of really having a quality life with your family and instilling some type of values that don't depend on material things to make them real. (Young Hughley)


If we define the individual in relation to community, being in a community itself is a job, is work, is fun. Whereas if you are an individual, how do you keep yourself going? You better do something otherwise you are lost, you are alone, your life becomes meaningless. I think the individualness of our community does affect the way we see ourselves. When I think of older people in India, when they are not doing anything, they have retired, they don't have a job to do, they are sitting at home, but just being with other people is living, living fully, living abundantly. I think that perception of being with others, itself, has a way of dividing yourself. If you are left alone as an individual how do you look at yourself? You can look at yourself only in the things you do, not just being there. (Thomas Thangaraj)


I'm not being tied to a department store, I'm not having an intimate relationship with a department store with a credit card company. Maybe perhaps before that was my God, that was where my power came from, my self-esteem, I have a $2000 limit! I can use it! I am enough myself. I don't have to have things and purchase things to have some kind of power. I am more powerful as my own person. (Kathleen Connolly)


To try to live more simply is going to be in a direct collision course with our culture; because sufficiency is a justice lifestyle is not the what the capitalistic system demands. If we can't have more needs so that we buy more things our system isn't going to work. Someone that is very content reading, visiting with neighbors, sexually very happy, enjoys their family, and doesn't spend a dime, they are not doing to be very good for the capitalistic system. So I think there is always a subtle push to consume and to consume and to consume more stuff. It doesn't feel weird to me as a Christian to be anti-materialistic. It feels weird to me in the society in which I am living. It is a very subtle seduction. You feel very strange because you are out of step, you hear a different drummer, you want to go down a different path. There is a subtle seduction of the American churches and of American Christians in general. (Mary Schramm)


What I see going on in the culture was described by Thomas Merton when he left New York City and went to a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. He said "I am going to leave the world of manufactured needs that are met with manufactured goods." I think we have created what are essentially luxuries and made them into needs so that we really do have our satisfaction and well-being in consumerism and materialism. (John Schramm)


A quote from Schliermacher, a German theologian, "We don't lie in the bosom of the universe, we are running around." We need to lie in the bosom of the universe. There is fun in simply being in the universe. Isn't it fun just to be here? Looking at the trees, the birds, the clouds, the sky; there is simple beauty in being. If we can record that and not define ourselves by what I am doing and achieving, there is fun and beauty in simply being a part of this universe, this beautiful universe. (Thomas Thangaraj)



Family & Children

Advertising probably works better on children because they can't discern if this is something they really need, then you have children fighting over. The disparity between have and have not is more evident in children when public schools are moving to wearing uniforms because children are fighting over Nike shoes. I think their self esteem, they realize when they grow up they cannot have all of those things and I fear the economy is shrinking. I can't hope to provide for my family what my father hoped to provide for mine. At some point I have to explain to children you can't have everything you see on television, you don't need everything you see on television. (Kathleen Connolly)


Money was one of the big jumps we made in the beginning, we cut working hours in half, which meant salary got cut in half, which meant we needed to make a house move. So it all kind of just worked together. Our kids were smaller when we first started out, and they had some questions. They wanted to know why we had to move. And so we had to talk about that. We had some kids that came over to play that did not feel comfortable. Just the other day they said it is easier than it used to though. They don't care so much about things they used to feel pressured on before. I know in the long run it has been good for them. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)


I remember our kids responding to having less money around the house. But our kids already learning that our family may not keep with other families with money or purchasing other clothes with certain names on it for instance, but I remember my daughter saying "but we have our dad back." And that made it worthwhile.

There are a couple of schools of thought on television. One is to say if you have cable and 49 channels you can choose really good programming for your family or your kids, etc. We have opted the other way. We have two stations we get for free. We choose not to have any others and it is working very well for us. The kids are playing and learning on the computer, making things, writing stories, and playing with each other. They interact better. We feel that time-wise and energy-wise and value-wise it is a good idea not to have too much of that. (David Sorensen)


We treat TV as a treat. It is not something that is just always available. It is kind of like dessert. We choose the programs we want to watch together. It can become a family event; which is good TV time versus bad TV time.

One of the issues that seems to be everybody's issue is time, time management, not having enough time, wishing you had more family time. So one thing that we have done that seems to be very helpful is that we limit or at least try to limit activities to two nights a week. It's not that you always get two nights a week, but if it gets more than that the offending party is told. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)

And it has been very helpful because we are busy on two nights but the rest of the week belongs to us. If meaningful activities steal time from the family, we let it happen. There are times when there are emergencies or special needs, but then we don't feel bad about stealing the time back for us later. (David Sorensen)

The thing I find so amusing is that we tend to live our lives backwards from what we really believe. If we say family is a priority then we need to give time to family, if we say a spouse or God is priority we need to give time to God and let the boss be second or let other obligations be second. We have that choice. It's like we have another voice telling us we can't give our time and energies to those things that are really important to us, we have some choices there.

One of the gifts of simplicity is learning to laugh again. We found that when we were out of sync or out of pace that we quit laughing and that is one of the danger signals that should go up. If people realize that laughter has disappeared out of their household or out of their life they need to do something about that. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)

My first year of college when I went back, I was not fashionable, I was not a fashionable person. My father believed in the basics, so when he asked me what I needed for Christmas I said, "Dad, can I just have some new clothes." And he said we could think about that. But before we went to buy clothes, you know what he made me go do. He said, "I want you to go to your room and take all of your clothes our of your closet and hang them up right there." I tell you, it seemed like it was a never ending string. By the time I had hung everything back up, he said, "Now did I understand that you needed some clothes?" (Evelyn Turner)


One of the things which is very different from my life as a kid in India compared to my life in the US is the number of toys we had. Literally we had no toys, we made our own toys. As little boys we would collect the fruit of the palmera tree, cut that in half and put a rod in between and use it as a little scooter to run around the trees. We were doing much more creative stuff making our own toys. That is something very different.

I find an additional problem there because I have to make decisions as to at what point my children will be adjusting themselves to this culture and being like everybody else and at what points they would keep their Indian culture. So when we have that kind of a struggle when the children are trying to define themselves within a culture which is not theirs they cannot afford to have too many things different from others. One of things very difficult to be different from others is the way you dress. So they are in a sense compelled to go buy the kinds of brand names their friends and peers might wear. At that point we must say, "OK, we give in." We can't say none of us would wear these. In a sense though we have given in at those points of consumerism just to help the children to feel at home in a different culture which is not theirs. (Thomas Thangaraj)


The community means that I have learned what interdependence is all about. I think that is a very biblical concept. We are taught in this culture to be very independent, to look out for number one, to make sure that I get what I deserve. When you live in a community with other people, our community happens to live in the same general residential area, we don't all live in the same house. Some single adults live together in a house because they think it is less expensive, which it is and they enjoy one another's company. But most of us live within a five or six block area and it makes it possible to share newspapers as one of my best friends does, he shares a newspaper with two other families. The four of us share two cars, we share magazine subscriptions, we share child care, we have meals together. To live in a community is very important for children, at least it was for our children. I can't imagine raising children now if there were not people of faith who shared the values that you share. There is too much going on around them from the kind of tennis shoes and jeans and the kinds of games. Hanging out at the mall has become a national pastime for our youth. If you don't have a community of people who say, "This doesn't have to be. We can get together in the evening and play games. We can do things together as a family and join together with other people who share those values." I think that is how our children have to learn that they are not just kooky all by themselves, that there are other weird people who are willing to step up and be weird with them. (Mary Schramm)

Live simpler in the sense, not to take away cars, I mean we still have cars and we still have pets and we still visit our relatives in the other states. Those are family foundations things. Simpler, and I will just talk about it in the magazines, you got the nintendo, you got the three bikes and you got the several options of sailboat school and kayaking school and those options. When you do those things is that the real world and are those the people that you deal with when you grow up and you have to live with and when you're in the workforce and when you are in society? As a child, if I were to stay in front of the TV and be on nintendo all the time, how am I going to be able to relate and be with people on this planet and right here in my own hometown? I wouldn't know how to talk to them. I couldn't just walk up to a neighborhood and just start jamming with them because I wouldn't know how to speak their language. (Tara Spuhler)

We were all taught to be citizens of the global community. We were taught that there was no person that would ever be a stranger, that ever person was our brother and sister. We would afford them the same courtesy, the same affection that we would afford someone in our intimate nuclear family. The wonderful part also that was really special for me personally was being around elders all the time. I was the youngest of five siblings, so I had a real opportunity to just leisurely be surrounded all the time by wisdom. (Adei Grenpastures)


The longer I live the more I see we don't need much. Our children don't need any more that anyone else's children anywhere on this earth. Even though I am put down in a setting with a country where I have a lot around me and I can consume a lot, where I have a lot of material and educational blessings, it's still for me an option of how much do I take and why do I take it. (Mary Spuhler)



Taking Action

Simplicity is probably our biggest peacemaking tool and we don't realize it. The "have's" and the "have not's" is a big war, at least in a lot of places it has already started and I see it as getting bigger and bigger as the years progress. The haves and the have nots, the ones who are fed and the ones who are not, the ones who have shelter and the ones who don't, the ones who are warm and the ones who are cold. God has some strong things to say about the highs and lows in life, we are all God's children and it doesn't seem like some should live so much better than others. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)


I teach a course on images of Christ in different parts of the world. We were discussing the image of Christ as a liberator, a liberator from oppression, a liberator from war, from poverty. Immediately this question came, "What shall I do?" I think they really came to a realization that they were rich. So what shall the rich do? So these are the questions they are struggling with. I told them that there were three things they could do.

One is symbolic acts of working towards justice. They are not real acts that lead to justice, but symbolic. Giving up one meal, having a prayer, these are all symbolic acts. Then there are small steps of the contributions you make, the sharing you do, that is the second level.

There is a third level of what I would call systemic acts, structural acts. Much more social-political level of acts they can engage in as they go along to change the things that we find in our society. With regard to systemic change, it is very difficult to give answers right away because it involves a lot more conversation and cooperation taking peoples. So in a sense what I am teaching my schools, is once they recognize that there is a need for systemic change, they have to find ways in which they can engage in conversation with people both within the church and outside the church so together we can work for change. Change in laws perhaps, change in ways we relate to each other as nations, as communities. But these are not acts one can simply do by thinking "OK, let's do it." No, we need to engage in conversation. There is a lot of negotiation to be done, there is a lot of commitment to cooperate with each other. (Thomas Thangaraj)


Well, for many many years I didn't know how to go about helping other people, I was disturbed by the disparity between people who have money and ones that don't, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the differences in resources. After many years I read an article in 1983 by Tony Campolo, who said that if we are to follow Christ we must learn to sacrifice, to give, to share. Christ himself set that great example. He has so little, in fact he was homeless, but he shared what he had with others and taught others to do he same. (Alan Harris)


What I have been doing the last six years is to help people move from the paralysis guilt. So I tell my students in my classes, it is very easy for me as person outside the U.S. to take just five minutes and paralyze you all with guilt. I can give you horror stories, that is enough. But that doesn't help. The one to do that is that the kind of sin we are talking about, the kind of problem we are talking about, is not an individual problem. It is a problem that is linked to the whole community and the way we are organized in the world. The way we are organized in the world, socially and politically, that is what determines this kind of unfair sharing of resources. So that means we cannot simply be changing individuals, we need to work together so that we can change the way we are organized in the world. But that kind of activity, we need individuals who feel forgiven of their participation. So in that sense I am really offering, as a person outside the U.S., a certain assurance of forgiveness to people so that will remove them from the guilt, but move them towards doing something, not simply giving up one meal but working toward structural organizational change. I think people can never act if they are burdened by guilt. So to act they need forgiveness. (Thomas Thangaraj)


There is a bigger issue here than just choosing to live a life so we feel better or we have less and less to care for, that's still kind of a "me" message. The real issue is that we chose to live that way to free up some resources that we didn't have available before. Some of those resources are time, but some of those resources are money. It enables us to live more like the rest of the world lives. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)


In many ways talking about simple life is a middle class luxury. Most of the world lives simply because they have no other choice. For some of us to say we want to simplify a little bit, that is a middle class luxury. There is also a violence in saying to poor people "you really don't want this, we've had it but it's really no good." You try that in a poor neighborhood and you get a reaction, "Oh sure! Great! Now that you've had it and you are tired of it, we shouldn't want it." And there is every reason that they will want it, that poor people do want some of the stuff we've had. That doesn't take away from the reality that too much is still a curse and that what we are talking about is a kind of sufficiency for everybody, not having everybody come up to the level of living we are doing. The world cannot live the way we are living. (John Schramm)


The world is getting smaller. We need to learn how to get along better. Living more in sync with one another is a good place to start. (Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen)


There are some benefits to buying at the discount places because you can buy 100 pounds of rice and you can buy enormous quantities of things, which is in one sense better stewardship of your money, you can buy more with what you have. On the other hand there is the struggle of the small business person, especially in the small towns. Sometimes simplicity for us means that we allow people to afford something themselves as well. We struggle between supporting the local business and being able to do financially a responsible job. It is a struggle still for us. To live a simpler life ourselves we need to be careful not steal simplicity from other people. That means recycling. It means precycling - making good decisions in the first place so you don't also have to recycle later. That way you live a life that is not only simpler for yourself but it makes it possible for future generations to have that as well. (David Sorensen)


I think people that volunteer feel a sense of ownership in our community. They get involved and feel they can affect some positive change. It is easy to sit back and just say "Oh, why bother, nothing ever changes." I don't think that's true. I think that when people come together and work for a common good. Unfortunately for most non-profits or in a community we are trying to provide more and more service with less and less dollars. If we don't start pulling together with people, that is the only way we are doing to affect a change. (Kathleen Connolly)


We are obligated to share our excesses. If we have extra income that is not vital to our basic needs then I feel, as a Christian, we are obligated to share what we have with others. In some ways that is a radical thought because the average Christian probably gives two to three percent of their income. We feel that we are called on to make a much greater sacrifice and not to spend too much money on ourselves. We feel a deep obligation and a privilege to be able to help other people who have so little, no place to stay, no food to eat, no way to get from one place to the other, no income, sometimes mentally ill, and sometime no one to fall back on. So we feel an obligation to share what we have with others as best we can. (Alan Harris)


When Alan retired in 1988 we decided as a family to go to Africa and learn about hunger firsthand and to see if an American family could make a difference. We didn't go with any special program, the push only to learn. And while we were there my mother died. My mother had been mentally ill for many many years. Looking at the village and looking at the baby's lives that died from simple diseases like diarrhea and malaria. When my mother died we decided to go ahead give her estate, a total of $30,000 to the women of the village if they could come up with a program that would save the lives of their children.

Somewhere in this village in a country called Burkina Faso, a country most people have never heard of, is this nutritional center built in the honor of my mother, that actually saves lives of the children. One of the thing we promised these people, when we came back to the U.S. that we would do, these people we very poor, very hard working, and very honest, is that we would tell their story with justice in all that we do.

It transformed us, and ever since then what we decided to do is to volunteer full-time, working with the poor, working with the homeless, not because it just is the right thing to do, but because we reach highest when we stoop lowest to help somebody up. We are inspired and nurtured and meet Jesus in those that have so little. Why? Because they are closer to God than maybe alot of us are because we have things that are getting in the way where they don't. They have their faith and strength, they take each day as it is a beginning of a new day and the last day of their life, and that's how they live it. So it is alot to be inspired by and learn from working with the poorest of the poor.

I think that what we are all striving for is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God comes from within, not through consumerism. Once we discover the kingdom of God within us, then God helps us discover our neighbor. And once we discover our neighbor we are able to go out and love and serve our neighbor. And that is what life is all about. (Nancy Harris)


Original Copyright 1995 ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living, 1973-2011

"Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly"

Gerald Iversen, National Coordinator, 1995-2007; Founder, 2011, Simple Living Works!

BREAK FORTH INTO JOY! - Beyond A Consumer Lifestyle


Study/Action Guide


So many of us are overwhelmed by daily demands - too many bills, not enough money, long work hours, not enough sleep, too many commitments, and not enough time for family, friends and God. In our desperate search for "the good life," we seem to have forgotten what is truly important. We long for a life more fulfilling and joyful. Break Forth Into Joy! helps us take a critical look at our lifestyle choices and the shape our lives have taken. It helps us examine our search for fulfillment and security through material possessions, and reminds us of biblical teachings on wealth and poverty. We realize how our obsession with buying and owning affects the Earth, other people and the human spirit. By sharing feelings, thoughts and practical ideas from a variety of people who struggle to live faithfully in the consumer society, this video calls us toward a lifestyle that is more fulfilling and joyful. Break Forth Into Joy! itself is a 15-minute video. Included on the video also are three additional 10-minute sections with longer clips of people featured in the main part of the video. These additional sections have themes of freedom and possessions, family and children, and taking action.



Break Forth Into Joy! is ideal for use with adults or senior high youth. Use it in church school classes, workshops or other special gatherings. Allow about 45 minutes to an hour to view and discuss the main part of the video. For further discussion, use the additional sections provided (see page 4).

VHS; DVD; YouTube.com/JubEcoMinSimple
15 MINUTES with 3 additional and optional 10-minute sections. Original Copyright 1995 Alternatives for Simple Living



After viewing the video, share your immediate reactions.


You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough, you drink, but you never have your fill, you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes. Haggai 1:6

How do you differentiate between "wants" and "needs"? Is a dishwasher a need? Is a car? A new pair of shoes? How do our lifestyle choices affect what we consider wants and needs? What wants have we turned into needs?

Mary Spuhler said in the video, "We are all stewards on this earth, to me. And it's a matter of how much do I take for what I want? How much do I see that I need and, therefore, try to go after?" What does being a steward of God's creation mean to you? How can we begin to be better stewards of the resources we have?


Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God -- what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12.2

How are you pressured to conform to the pattern of this world? How do advertisements, peers, family members, your own sense of self affect your lifestyle choices? What parts of the consumer lifestyle are especially attractive to you? What makes it easy to consume?

Barbara Sorensen said,"...When people overextend them selves emotionally or financially or time-wise, they are putting themselves in a little prison." Do you ever feel overextended? In what ways? How can you distance yourself from the demands of consumption and begin a process of transformation?


... give me neither poverty nor riches;feed me with the food that I need. Proverbs 30:8

What lifestyle examples does Jesus offer? Does this sort of lifestyle seem possible in today's world? Why or why not?

Some of the people in the video shared ideas of how they live more simply - not buying an expensive house, changing work and income goals, rethinking needs and wants. What are some other ideas? Which ones might work for you? How might your family respond to changes?

For thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought, and ye shall be redeemed without money... Break forth into Joy, sing together... for the Lord hath comforted [the] people.... Isaiah 52:3,9

Remember a time when you felt especially joyful. What brings you joy? Is your life a form of worship?

Freedom from debt, closeness to God, more time with family and friends, energy to reach out to those in need these are all ways people in the video experience joy in simple living. What small steps can you take to experience more joy? What might happen as a result?

Brainstorm then discuss where you go from here. Think as individuals, family members, church members, community members, global citizens.


Discussing the Testimonials

The three additional sections which follow the main-part of the video can be used to foster further thought and discussion. Consider planning additional sessions or break into smaller groups, letting people participate in the section that is most appealing to them. Each part is about 10 minutes long.



1. Make a list of all of your possessions, item by item. Allow ten minutes. Were you able to get them all down on paper? Were you surprised by the amount of things you own? One person quoted Thomas Merton saying, "I'm going to leave the world of manufactured needs met with manufactured goods." He goes onto say, "We've created what are essentially luxuries and made them into needs." Review your list and mark all the needs with an "N" and the luxuries with an "L."

2. How do you define yourself - by your job, what you own, where you live, your credit limit, your bank account? One person shared that she felt like she had an intimate relationship with a department store or credit card company. She said, "My power, my self-esteem cam from things I have. . . . I'm enough now?

3. When do we know when enough is enough? Does your lifestyle feel hectic, too fast-paced? Why or why not? What would make your feel free?



1. How are children affected by advertising? by peer pressure? Share a story about how you have seen consumerism affect a child.

2. One person shared how his children responded to changes he made to work hours, income level and buying power. He said, "Our kids learned we may have less money and can't keep up with the other families in purchasing clothing with certain names on it. But I remember my daughter saying, 'but we have our dad back.' And that made it worthwhile. How would your children and/or your spouse respond if you suggested living more simply? Do we need to make compromises so that kids "fit in"? What might those compromises be? How important is having a community to share in your struggle to live simply?

3. What role does TV play in your household? Is it better to have lots of channels so that you can choose good programming? Is it better to have fewer so that you don't watch much at all? Image what your family life would be like without television. How would you find out the news? What would you do for entertainment? How would you know about the latest electronic toy or department store sale?


1. Some people are compelled to live more simply because of stress, because they want to feel better. What are some other reasons? What affect does our way of living have on other people in our community and world?

2. One person suggested three ways of working toward a justice lifestyle - 1.) symbolic acts: giving up one meal, having a prayer vigil; 2.) small steps: making contributions, sharing; 3.) systemic/structural acts: engaging in conversation, working together to changes laws and the ways we relate to one another. On a piece of paper, make three columns and number them 1, 2 and 3. Write down other symbolic acts, small steps and systemic acts you can think of. What of those things are you able to do?

3. One person said, "We reach highest when we stoop lowest to help somebody up. We are inspired, and nurtured and meet Jesus in those who have so little. Why? Because they are closer to God than maybe a lot of us are because we have things that get in the way." Are those who have less closer to God? How does God call us to reach out to those less fortunate? How can we become partners with the poor?


Break Forth Into Joy! was produced for Alternatives by Fran Burst-Terranella of Burst Video/Film, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia.


About Alternatives

Alternatives was a faith-based non-profit organization that provided materials on responsible living and celebrating. Simple Living Works! continues its mission and offers its resources free of charge. Started in 1973 as a protest against the commercialization of Christmas, Alternatives challenges the values of our consumer society and encourages celebrations that reflect conscientious ways of living. Alternatives is supported in part by the American Baptist Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Methodist Church, and works closely with other denominations and a number of Catholic dioceses.

This video was made possible by grants from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, John and Eleanor Yackel and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and by special donations from Rebekah Beerbower, Joy Crosby, Bob and Peggy Hewitt, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - Southeastern Synod, Pete and Jan Ostrowski, Leslie Reindl, John and Mary Riehle, Carla Vendeland, Betty Voskuil, Harry Wetzler, WHEAT (World Hunger Ecumenical Arizona Task Force), and Janet Young.

Special thanks to those people who agreed to be interviewed for this video:

For information on responsible living and celebrating, visit SimpleLivingWorks.org.

Original Copyright 1995

ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living, 1973-2011
Gerald Iversen, National Coordinator, 1995-2007
Founder, 2011, Simple Living Works!

"Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly"

Resources for responsible living

Page updated 4 Oct. 2013

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