Stories of Simplicity – Reimagining the Good Life

The Simplicity Institute put out a call for stories for a book which aims to provide more insight into the various ways people are living simpler lives. It is worthwhile to browse through these stories. If you have your own story to tell, please submit it here: Stories of Simplicity.

The first book is available online and for free: “Stories of Simplicity – Reimagining the Good Life“. My own contribution can be found on pages 149 to 151 of the book.

Image

For more publications from the Simplicity Institute you can follow this link: Publications.

Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen? – My God, why have you forsaken me?

Here a few thoughts on Good Friday, inspired by the bible verses in Mark 15:34 – Einige Gedanken zum Karfreitag, inspiriert von den Bibelworten im Markusevangelium (15:34)

Chad2

These children are the children of God in today´s world. They are bearing the cross for us who enjoy the privileges and the security of an affluent life. They are only a few months old, with the facial expressions of an old person facing death. They look us straight in the eyes with little or no energy to show the slightest emotion. But I can clearly hear their question:

“Why have you forsaken me?”

This is a question that touches me directly and encourages me to fight for more social justice, in my immediate surroundings as well as on a global scale, that mandates me to act for the well-being of all humans and the creation, and that is not simply of interest in a ancient religious text that can be interpreted in a spiritual context. Back then, Jesus was nailed to the cross – these children die with the same innocence in front of our eyes. Therefore, it is very important for me to always recognize the divine in every human being I have the honour to meet on my journey through life.

The suffering of the children of God is unnecessary and avoidable. Death shall be the rounding off of a fulfilled life. This week, I was able to cry a few times in remembrance of my contribution towards easing the suffering; a commitment I need to renew on a daily basis.

Chad1

Diese Kinder sind die Kinder Gottes von heute. Sie tragen das Kreuz für uns, die wir alle Privilegien und Sicherheiten einer wohlhabenden Gesellschaft geniessen können. Sie sind einige Monate alt und tragen die Gesichtsausdrücke eines Greisen der kurz vor dem Tod steht. Sie sehen uns direkt in die Augen ohne auch noch die Kraft zu haben das geringste Gefühl auszudrücken. Aber ich kann ganz klar die Frage hören:

“Warum hast du mich verlassen?”

Dies ist eine Frage die mich direkt betrifft und mich anspornt mich zu wehren für mehr soziale Gerechtigkeit, im Kleinen wie auch in Grossen,die mich beauftragt mich einzusetzen für das Wohl aller Menschen und die Schöpfung, die nicht nur in einem alten religiösen Text steht und rhetorisch-spirituel interpretiert werden soll. Jesus hing damals am Kreuz – diese Kinder sterben heute genau so unschuldig vor unseren Augen. Ich finde es für mich immer wieder wichtig, das Göttliche in jedem Menschen zu erkennen dem ich begegnen darf auf meiner Reise durchs Leben.

Das Leiden der Kinder Gottes ist unnötig und vermeidbar. Der Tod soll ihr Leben abrunden nach einem erfüllten Leben. Diese Woche konnte ich einige Male weinen in Erinnerung an meinen Betrag, den ich jeden Tag neu leisten muss, um diese Leiden zu verringern.

(Photo credits: Brian D´Cruz)

The medical emergency interventions through Doctors without Borders/MSF were giving one of the pictured infants a second chance in life. For the other one returned to God prematurely. الله يرحمه ويدخله فسيح جناته (May God have mercy on him and make him enter His vastest paradise). – Die medizinische Nothilfe durch Ärzte ohne Grenzen/MSF hat einem der abgebildeten Kinder eine zweite Chance im Leben ermöglicht. Das andere ist vorzeitig zum Schöpfer zurück gekehrt. الله يرحمه ويدخله فسيح جناته  (Möge Gott ihm Gnade zeigen und in Sein Himmelreich einziehen lassen).

For more information on my encounter with the pictured children, see the following blog entries: – Für weitergehende Informationen über die Umstände meiner Begegnungen mit den abgebildeten Kindern, kannst du die folgenden Beiträge lesen:

With MSF in Chad

Hope on the Horizon and Hope on the Horizon (the movie)

Feast Day of Service and Community: Maundy Thursday – Gründonnerstag

"The Last Supper - Abendmahl". Painting in the rural chapel of Helshoven in Belgium by an unknown painter of Flemish school (16th century). Gemälde eines unbekannten Malers aus einer flämischen Schule (16.  Jh)
“The Last Supper – Abendmahl”. Painting in the rural chapel of Helshoven in Belgium by an unknown painter of a Flemish school (16th century). Gemälde eines unbekannten Malers aus einer flämischen Schule in der Kapelle eines ehemaligen Johanitterspitals in Helshoven, Belgien (16. Jh)

During meditation this morning, it occurred to me that Maundy Thursday is the day during the lenten season and the holy week that embodies the calling of my life: To be of compassionate service and to live in community. Maundy Thursday is the day of the biblical last supper and the foot-washing ceremony, two strong symbols for community and service.

I took the above picture during my journey on foot through Belgium. In the following article, you can read how I came across this painting that is not quite a Rubens, but nonetheless left a strong impression with me. En route –  from Brustem to Tongeren (Belgium) , with more pictures here: Brustem to Tongeren (the pictures)

Während der heutigen Morgenmeditation wurde mir klar, dass der Gründonnerstag der Tag ist während der Fastenzeit und Karwoche, der meine Berufung im Leben am besten verkörpert: Im Dienste des Nächsten und gemeinschaftlich Leben. Am Gründonnerstag wird in der christlichen Tradition das letzte Abendmahl und die Fusswaschungszeremonie gefeiert. Das sind zwei starke Symbole für Dienst am Nächsten und Gemeinschaft.

Das obige Bild habe ich unterwegs durch Flandern in einer kleinen Kapelle geknipst. Im folgenden Beitrag kannst du mehr erfahren über die Reise die mich zu diesem Bild führte, das zwar kein Rubens ist, aber doch einen starken Eindruck bei mir hinterlassen hat. En route –  von Brustem nach Tongeren (Belgien) mit mehr Bildern von unterwegs: Brustem nach Tongeren (die Bilder)

The Last Supper celebration at the Capuchin friary in Rapperswil. Das Abendmahlsfest in der Kapuzinerkirche in Rapperswil
The Last Supper celebration set-up at the Capuchin friary in Rapperswil. – Der Tisch ist gedeckt für die Abendmahlsfeier in der Kapuzinerkirche in Rapperswil
Inviting the community to the table! - Die Gemeinde an den gemeinsamen Tisch einladen!
Inviting the community to the table! – Die Gemeinde an den gemeinsamen Tisch einladen!

Enjoying the wealth – Das Geniessen von Wohlstand

Allium ursinum (Bärlauch; Wild Garlic) in the monastery garden at Rapperswil. This unassuming green is a welcomed addition to the early spring diet, providing a source of enjoyment and well-being for those who set out to harvest it.
Allium ursinum (Bärlauch; Wild Garlic) in the monastery garden at Rapperswil. This unassuming green is a welcomed addition to the early spring diet, providing a source of enjoyment and well-being for those who set out to harvest it.

Die deutsche Übersetzung folgt weiter unten.

Let us celebrate the beginning of spring, the season of fresh greens and hope. The thoughts on wealth were inspired by a comment on the story of the ascetic in the palace.

Celia shared her thoughts to the story: “People with wealth often feel guilty about being wealthy because there are so many in this world who live in poverty. Therefore, they cannot enjoy the wealth that they have because of those who have not. But what Love says is this: Enjoy it but do not be attached to it. We are invited to indulge in the luxuries that life has to offer but we need to remember that it does not really belong to us and therefore, we must be prepared to walk away from it, give it away and/or let it go at any time.”

There is much truth in her observations. The ascetic in the story never made any judgement on the wealth of the powerful. Nonetheless, I am very reluctant to endorse the enjoyment of wealth in such universal terms. Continue reading “Enjoying the wealth – Das Geniessen von Wohlstand”

The ascetic in the palace – Ein Asket im Palast

Statue of Nicholas de Flue, a 15th century ascetic and hermit - credited for peace building advice to various governments. - Statue von Bruder Klaus in der Jesuitenkirche in Luzern. Seine Ratschläge an verschiedene Regierungen gelten als friedensstiftened.
Statue of Nicholas de Flue, a 15th century ascetic and hermit – credited for peace building advice to various governments. – Statue von Bruder Klaus in der Jesuitenkirche in Luzern. Seine Ratschläge an verschiedene Regierungen gelten als friedensstiftened.

The ascetic in the palace

Der deutsche Text folgt weiter unten

A hermit lived in a simple dwelling outside city limits. He was revered as a holy ascetic; many people were seeking his advice. Even the head of government became aware of him. She wanted to get to know this man. One day, she appeared in front of the cabin and asked him, whether he wanted to move up to her stately house.

“If you think so”, replied the hermit, “I will follow you anywhere.”

The head of government was surprised, but did not loose her composure. She did not anticipate that the hermit would accept her offer. Would a true ascetic not have to refuse such an offer? The head of government had some doubt. But, because she made the offer, she took the man to her stately house where she arranged for a beautiful and comfortable room and a delicious meal.

What did the hermit do? He enjoyed the beauty and the comfort of the room as well as the delicious food. Continue reading “The ascetic in the palace – Ein Asket im Palast”

Hope on the horizon – the movie (+de)

Hope on the horizon: The short experimental film Healing in Babalmé has been officially selected for screening at the Dawson City International Short Film Festival 2013.

DCISFFlogo

Healing in Babalmé – A story of hope from a marginalized place tells the story of a humanitarian worker’s lived experiences during a malnutrition crisis in Chad, where a pastoralist community on the edge of the Sahara desert mobilizes its own resources to overcome effects of marginalization. This short experimental documentary is a witness to the power of supportive non-intervention and true community development.

für eine deutsche Übersetzung klicke hier: Hoffnung in Babalmé
I am pleased to announce, that my creative spirits have persisted, thanks to the encouragement of Celia and others, to revise and re-edit the animated audio-visual presentation based on my experiences in Chad. I still feel blessed that I have been able to witness the events that inspired me to write the story. They are still a source of hope for me. The events illustrate for me that there is “that of God in everyone”: People with nothing can make a difference if we don’t crush their individual and collective agency with might and paternalistic intentions.

The 2013 Dawson City International Short Film Festival will be another venue to share the message of hope with a wider audience.

You can enjoy the preview in this YouTube version anytime by clicking the arrow button:

Dedicated to the people of Babalmé and the North Kanem/Chad Continue reading “Hope on the horizon – the movie (+de)”

A new life – first news from behind the walls

KlosterRappi3

(Deutscher Text folgt weiter unten)

Working in the garden, I had a chance encounter with a school group. I helped to collect waste on the steep slope between the friary and the old city walls of Rapperswil. People who spend time on the other side of the wall to relax (and sometimes to sing beautifully and to play the guitar) dispose some stuff carelessly. We also cut shrubs and bushes to limit the extent of the wilderness in the small space between the monastery and the city.

I just wanted to drag an armful of branches and shrubs through the gate of the monastery when I first met the group of students. Continue reading “A new life – first news from behind the walls”

Before I dance with Death… (+de)

Tafel 45 des Totentanzes auf der Spreuerbrücke in Luzern - Panel 45 of the Danse of Death series on the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne.
Der Bauer: Tafel 45 des Totentanzes auf der Spreuerbrücke in Luzern – The Peasant: Panel 45 of the Dance of Death series on the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne.

Ach Pur wie sur gwünst du dein Brot. – Ich gwüns mit Arbeit Angst und Not. –
Wil läben doch lieber ein Pursman. – Als gstorben für ein Edelman.

(transcribed in: Der Todtentanz: Gemälde auf der Mühlenbrücke in Luzern, 1881) Continue reading “Before I dance with Death… (+de)”

En route – Antwerpen to Brustem

This morning, I have left Antwerp by train. The beautiful weather from yesterday is gone, replaced by the one that I would have expected for this region and this time of the year: A rainy grey, but at least not freezing.

It was good to get on the train, to put some distance to the port and the city. And the landscape changed slowly, from the urban to the industrial, from the commercial to the suburban, then fields and forest, creeks and towns. I feel better in these more rural settings. Although Antwerp did not strike me as extremely loud in term of ubiquitous advertising and commercial overstimulation, I was able to feel that hollowness of the commercialized city life.

Who is Who in Leuven - the extravagant Gothic town hall
Who is Who in Leuven – the extravagant Gothic town hall

Now I sit in a side chapel in the gigantic cathedral of Leuwen. Continue reading “En route – Antwerpen to Brustem”

Is Providence Road a dead-end street?

Is Providence Road a dead-end street?
Is Providence Road a dead-end street?

When I think about the extent of misery I described in “Mapping it out”, there are many questions that come up for me:

When is this misery, this crisis going to end? This statement implies where we generally see the problem: The misery of “poverty amidst prosperity” seems to be the apparent problem that needs to be addressed. Why else would we find evidence of hundreds of charities and social services initiatives, both from the public and the private sector in Kensington?

Poverty is not the problem – Affluence is!

The early church fathers (5th century) have formulated it this way: “Some people are indigent for the very reason that others hold a superfluity. Take away the rich man and you will find no pauper. No one should own more than is necessary but everyone should have what they need. A few rich people are the reason why there are so many poor” (Pelagius, as cited by Wallis, p.116)

There is nothing wrong with wealth in its original meaning of the word: Being well. But affluence has nothing to do with well-being.

Affluence in the United States refers to an individual’s or household’s state of being in an economically favorable position in contrast to a given reference group.” (Wikipedia)

Jim Wallis describes how that dynamic of maneuvering into a favourable position for individuals, households, or corporations has led to a rat race that is ultimately destructive for the world. We seem to have lost some old fashioned values, like the concern for the common good. It is a sense of individual entitlement (“it’s all about me!”), and the instant gratification of wants (“and I want it now!”) that has taken over.

And we are not satisfied if we have all we need: The consumerist discourse suggests that we need to compete and get ahead of everybody else. Keeping up with the Joneses is one of the symptoms of affluenza, a non-medical disease that has become widespread in affluent societies:

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.”(http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/)

Wallis describes how the market has become like a god. It is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. We have subjected ourselves to the power of the market forces to the point where we start realizing and suffering from the symptoms of affluenza: This unfulfilled feeling.

However, the market does not give you the comfort of the divine. It is not all-loving. If we feel unfulfilled, the market will produce yet another consumable for us and will give us the promise that everything will be taken care of. It sounds like providence

Kensington is a prime example of the hollowness of that market providence. It is not meant to be shared among all human beings. It is not meant to be shared for the sustained well-being of all of creation. Most of us are aware that natural resources are limited. We have made everything on this planet and beyond a commodity that can be exploited for short term gain. Few decisions are driven by the concern of the seventh generation from now.

A perpetual and unregulated growth society needs millions of impoverished and middle-class people that sacrifice themselves and contribute to the extreme accumulation of wealth by a few. Wallis gives stunning examples of the growing gap between the rich and the rest in America and the world. The 400 wealthiest people in the United States control more assets than the 160,000,000 people at the bottom end of the wealth spectrum together!

And the gap is widening every year. That is why I am convinced that poverty is not the problem. Once we rediscover that we are happier with less, and that we are all in this together, we will be heading towards a state of providence. If we redesign our economy and polity, as an expression of the divine will, there will be enough to meet the needs of every human being.

Street scene along Providence Road in Media, PA
Street scene along Providence Road in Media, PA

In the meantime, the self-proclaimed “road to providence by perpetual and unlimited growth and consumption” is indeed a DEAD END. It has led to the financial collapse of recent years, and it will lead to further crises and catastrophes down the road.

Unless we decide to plan for de-growth and create a culture of sharing, we will have to ask ourselves again and again: when will this misery going to end? Wallis suggests that we better start with the question: “How is this crisis going to change me?”

Wallis, J. (2010). Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street; A moral compass for the new economy. New York, NY: Howard Books.

Daily Random Act of Kindness #6 (+de)

Norwegian icebreaker at work on a river in Northern Canada – Norwegischer Eisbrecher im Einsatz auf einem Fluss im Norden Kanada’s (photo credit: joe-ks.com)

But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Denn die Pforte ist eng und der Weg ist schmal, der zum Leben führt; und wenige sind es, die ihn finden. (Mt. 7:14)

As silly as the scene in the picture looks, it represents several important lessons for me:

  • A problem always has a solution.
  • Direct action can be more effective than waiting for outside/government help.
  • Self-help is more sustainable than professional solutions.
  • Employ the simplest means to get a job done.
  • Make the best with what you have.
  • Live your life adventurously!

What does this picture represent for you?

So blöd wie die Szene im Bild erscheinen mag, ich ziehe mehrere Lehren daraus:

  • Für jedes Problem gibt es eine Lösung.
  • Direkter Einsatz kann viel effektiver sein als auf Hilfe von aussen/der Regierung zu warten.
  • Selbsthilfe ist dauerhafter als eine professionelle Lösung.
  • Wende die einfachsten Hilfsmittel an um eine Arbeit auszuführen.
  • Mach das Beste mit dem was du hast.
  • Lebe dein Leben abenteuerlich!

Was sagt dir denn dieses Bild?

A good person out of the good treasury of the heart will bring forth that which is good; – Der gute Mensch bringt aus dem guten Schatz seines Herzens das Gute hervor. (Lk. 6:45)

Map it out – the extent of obvious misery

Here I am in the Kensington area of Philadelphia.

The row houses in the Kensington area were originally built for workers in the vicinity of the factories that employed them. They are a monument to industriousness and dignity. The factories were not social institutions, but apparently it was possible for many families to live in their own little house in the neighbourhood. It was a short commute to the workplace. There were many little corner stores selling things of daily needs, and bars for those who had daily or occasional wants. Some avenues were commercial districts with a variety of stores and shops. I have seen a library in a park, schools and a hospital – all in a similar architectural style making use of brickwork, just the way the factories were built. And there were many churches to comfort the ones hit by hardship and to celebrate with the ones who were able to make it.

Industrial Beauty - a restored factory portal in Kensinton
Industrial Beauty – a restored factory portal in Kensington

Continue reading “Map it out – the extent of obvious misery”

Daily Random Act of Kindness #3

The Kensington neighbourhood might be one of the rougher places in Philadelphia – the City of Brotherly Love.

There must be a way...
There must be a way…

Allegheny Station of the subway system is not particularly accessible. The trains are running elevated at the level of the third and fourth story of the adjacent houses. The station exit is not fitted with an elevator – just long concrete stairs down to street level, moist and slippery from the melting snow mixed with the grime of an administrative district with low-priority for proper maintenance. Continue reading “Daily Random Act of Kindness #3”

what is truth?“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1968

.For more of my own writing related to the above quote, please follow the links below:

The significance of the insignificance of self

Die Bedeutung der Geringfügigkeit des Selbst (in German)

 

2012 in pictures

Here is my 2012 in pictures! For thoughts to go with each picture in the slideshow, keep reading: Continue reading “2012 in pictures”