Taking personal responsibility for peacemaking: an Advent plea for simple living.

2001 Justpeace Advent Simply Living Calendar ! HOME

The Advent journey is upon us. We hear words of warning and watchfulness. We see a lion that lays down with the lamb, a green shoot springing from a stump, people of all nations going to the mountain of the Lord's House during the reign of justice and peace. Verdant pastures and fertile deserts are before us, the hills of Lebanon once again are crowned with cedar. John the Baptist calls us to repent, to forsake evil ways, and to bring forth works of penance for our sins.

We hear of the Lord who keeps faith with his people, who does not forget the poor but who gives sight to the blind, justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, and freedom to those in slavery and captivity.

The prophet Isaiah says, "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!"

These are important images and messages for an Advent which greets a world at war, where 30,000 children die of hunger-related causes every day, and half the world's population lives on less than $2.00 a day. This winter, millions are at risk of starvation.

How can we walk a path of peace in this world of war? When powerful nations have their minds set on something, they usually proceed to the inevitable conclusion. And as always, the price will be paid by those least able to protect themselves. It would be all too easy to give into despair, or to bash our heads bloody against unmovable walls, but is there not a better way to be found?

Many are looking for big solutions. They not only think globally, they are trying also to act globally. But the big solutions seem a bit elusive these days. Perhaps it really is true that wisdom is to act locally, while continuing to think globally. It appears easier to agitate for a future imposed from the top down, but that journey is filled with dead ends and impenetrable mazes. It is more difficult, but more promising of success, to grow better, more humane times from the grassroots up. Like charity, effective action for justice and peace begins at home.

Yes, we obviously have a crisis of leadership, and this has a tendency to draw our attention and effort, but that crisis is rooted in deeper problems at home. The United States is continually at war because We the People, in our individual families and households, are at war with ourselves and our neighbors. We make unreasonable and selfish demands on our government. Our cities are surrounded with piles of toxic waste and useless rubbish. Too often we seek fulfillment in transitory instant gratification. We look for meaning in an ever more ravenous addiction to conspicuous and wasteful consumption. Our political system is manipulated to confer unearned and unfair advantages and to allow some to evade the consequences of their actions. We demand cheap oil, so our leaders do their best to meet that voter demand, no matter how many people have to suffer elsewhere. Where the people go, leaders will follow. The present crisis of leadership is first and foremost a crisis of "people-ship."

If we want something better for ourselves and our children, we must somehow learn to live at peace with ourselves and our neighbors. We can stop creating toxic waste, recycle our mounds of rubbish, and find fulfillment in spirituality and our relationships with each other. We must end the deadly cycle of conspicuous consumption which is destroying so much that is good in our cultures and communities.

Greed and gluttony will not save our nation's economic bacon nor increase our national security, despite the number of prominent experts advocating such strategies these days. Their counsels of desperation are rooted in the increasing instability of the globalized and integrated national economic systems. In the US, even before the recent sharp economic downturn, bankruptcies were at all time highs. The personal savings rate is now a negative number: more money is pouring out of savings than is going into the bank. Low and middle income families are deeply in debt, and millions are no more than two paychecks away from homelessness.

Thus, for most people, the conspicuous consumption strategy is not only nonsense, it is dangerous. The effects of economic hardship on family stability are well documented. If our economy is dependent upon people making bad economic choices - that is, on going into debt to fund gluttony and conspicuous consumption -- then we've created an unsustainable monster instead of a humane and sensible economic system. For a stronger, more sustainable economy, people must stop making bad economic decisions and start making better and wiser choices. More bad decisions will lead to greater economic chaos, war; environmental degradation and collapse. Good choices lead to a sustainable economy and peace for ourselves and our children's children.

Imperial households are the foundation of imperial systems; sustainable households are the firm and stable grassroots of peaceful nations. None of us are exempt from this call, if we indeed are serious about our commitment to peacemaking. It's a rare person who can rally a nation, but everybody has control over their personal household, expenditures, and lifestyle choices and so that is where to begin.

The connections among greed, gluttony, conspicuous consumption and war are clear and numerous. We vote for peace or for war by the choices we make in our personal households and lifestyles. Every dollar counts. As long as we support the War Party with our dollar-votes, there will never be a lack of wars. Thus, each step we take to make our households more frugal and our lives more simple is an effective political action directed at building a world of justice and peace. Frugality, simple living, justice, and economic temperance are the pathways to peace. Together, they constitute a "little way of non-cooperation with evil."

There is much that everybody can do. Nobody should consider themselves so important that they can somehow escape this examination of conscience and the resulting call to a new way of living on this good earth. Now would be a good time to learn the questions you should be asking about your lifestyle. To help you with this we are presenting our 2001 Justpeace Advent Simple Living Calendar, with 23 sets of suggestions, one day at a time, of practical things you can to do live a simple, frugal, just, and peaceful life.

The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The fact that there is a lot to do shouldn't be used as an excuse for procrastination. And never tell yourself that what you do doesn't matter. It does - for good, or for evil. Every step you take toward a simple, frugal, and sustainable lifestyle brings everyone closer to a humane society of justice and peace. We start small, or we don't start at all. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. This is the year, now is the time, for you to begin to be the change you want to see happen.

This was the attitude of Mary, who was not afraid to be a small beginning of something wonderful. It has ever been the attitude of saints throughout history, who have been happy to become smaller so that others could increase. Let us live simply, so that others may simply live.

Robert Waldrop

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City

On the First Sunday of Advent, AD 2001.

2001 Justpeace Advent Simply Living Calendar ! HOME