Monday, April 30, 2007

Impulse Buys

In an effort to save money and the environment, and to increase my daily sacrifices, I decided to forgo the car twice today. While running errands I parked on one side of the complex and walked (with the baby in the stroller and my son running alongside) to the opposite end and back again to do my shopping. When my son wanted to go to the Dinosaur Park we walked the six blocks instead of driving.

My back doesn't hurt for the first time in, well, let's just leave it at years. I think I need to make walking a daily activity, and maybe throw in some yoga or other stretches. But while my back is fine, my feet and my conscience are both hurting.

I think I spent too much on clothes today. Research, research. It's key. I have to know what I'm going to buy and where I'm going to buy it (and how much I'm going to spend) BEFORE I walk into the store. So much of retail marketing is directed at the impulse buyer. "Oh, look! Matching hats to go with the shorts I just bought! And here, batteries are on sale! We may as well get a few. And they have beach balls marked down from $7.50 to $4.99! Well, since they're on sale..."

I made myself put back an adorable blue print dress, two shorts, two swimsuits and a pair of sandals that I knew I didn't need to buy, but had somehow ended up in my cart anyway. I did buy two hats, six pairs of shorts, a vest, a red, white and blue baby outfit suitable for Independence Day and a pair of sunglasses for my son. I have a box of summer clothes (hand me downs and gifts) that I need to go through and determine whether my kids really need 6 pairs of shorts, or whether they can get by with 3. Or 2. When you really take a look at what you need, it gets harder and harder to justify buying anything. I bet the red white and blue outfit is going back. I bet the vest is going back.

Looks like I didn't save that much on gas after all, since I need to make a whole other trip to the store. Live and learn, I guess. It's part of the process. Let this remind me that when I go out for curtains, I should return home with nothing but curtains.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Good Cause

I'm hoping to get to a point where I can enjoy myself without feeling guilty about it. I know logically that there's nothing inherently sinful about being happy, celebrating a holiday or deriving pleasure from something material. God created us with an aesthetic sense so we could appreciate beauty. He gave us creative minds, a sense of humor, and the ability to laugh. He wants us to enjoy His creation, to build things and take pride in our accomplishments. He wants us to have a joyful spirit and to be happy.

That's part of why I created Take the Poor With You. I think there's a way to enjoy ourselves while simultaneously recognizing how lucky we are, and doing something positive for those who aren't so lucky. The philosophy of giving back isn't meant to be onerous -- it's meant to be freeing.

But it requires that we recognize the disparity in our world. We can't simply wall up that portion of our hearts that cares for the poor and tell ourselves "I'll think about them later. Right now I just want to enjoy myself." If we compartmentalize in order to soothe our consciences, we may stop caring entirely. And it's that sense of caring we need to always have with us, to lend us strength when we're tempted to ignore what's right and do instead what feels good.

A key compoment of this is to know what sort of things are happening to our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world. An educated soul recognizes its blessings. But more importantly, educating ourselves as to the true nature of this world is the only way to make informed decisions about what we are going to support. There's a link on the side of this page titled "Profiles of the Poor" that navigates to some of the events we need to be paying attention to. It's painful and difficult. But we have to know. Closing off our hearts isn't the answer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A few Rs to Remember

Taking the poor with us is a mind frame, a way of operating that keeps those in need in the forefront of our thoughts. Ideally, it will prevent us from consuming to excess, help us appreciate what we have, and motivate us to give from our hearts to alleviate the plight of the poor throughout the world.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Probably among the best advice possible for living a simple life. First and foremost, reduce consumption. Do I really need that latte? Can I make myself a cup of tea at home? Can I fast in solidarity with the poor and offer my caffeine deprivation to the Lord? We must strive to buy only what we truly need, and not simply whatever we want. What about the things we already own? Let's reuse them as much as possible. Tear up old t-shirts and use them as rags. Repair the scuff on that shoe and use it for another season. Borrow a party dress or a suit from a neighbor and give them one of ours in return. There's lots of life in our current possessions, if we get creative with them. And when something is no longer usable or used, we can give it to Goodwill or to our parish. Both HP and Dell offer free recycling for their old computers, printers and scanners (Dell will also recycle other brands for a small fee.) The Salvation Army takes old furniture. Almost anything can be given away with Freecycle. There's plenty of opportunities to give, if we just look for them.


We need to be informed as to the impact our decisions can have. Look into fair trade and support companies that engage in profit-sharing with the workers who manufacture their goods. Boycott companies whose practices oppress the poor or fail to fairly compensate them. We should always know where our purchases come from, and what it took to bring them to our doors. Conscientious Consuming has a good overview of the principles of responsible buying. Perhaps the company we shop with is on the National Labor Committee's watchdog list. Before buying anything, google the company to see whether they conduct ethical business practices, and what their policy is towards the global market. Get informed, stay informed, act on the information.


The problem of poverty is man made. It must be solved by man.

That means us.

Those of us who by the grace of God were born into a free country and given the opportunities to receive an education and provide for our families are in a position of power and responsibility. We are the stewards, the leaders. Our actions can perpetuate the disparity between rich and poor, or we can help alleviate it.

When we accept that our good fortune requires us to give back, we accept our responsibility. From there, we must act on it. Some good sites to begin the journey of discovery are the Fair Trade Federation, Institute for Policy Studies, and the Center for Economic and Social Justice.

On a more personal level, we must be responsible stewards of what we have been given. That means first and foremost staying out of debt. Always live within our means, never trap ourselves into a cycle of unpaid bills and credit. Invest for our future, secure our children's education, plan for our retirement. Keep a cushion of money for medical bills or unforeseen emergencies. We can't help others if our own financial situation is a mess.


Perhaps the most important step of all. We know that God answers prayer. As our loving Father, He wants all good things for us, His children. We can turn to Him for guidance, help, and support. Pray every day for the poor, but pray too for the rich. Pray that we may change our hearts and be generous, sympathetic, compassionate and brave.

Pray for miracles.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Indulging my Laziness

It's too easy to go out to eat in this country. The food is good, the service is quick, and it's relatively cheap. In our town of 30,0000 people there are almost a hundred take outs, restaurants, fast food places and eateries. And I'm always craving something I can't make very well myself, like a good Indian curry or a salty lamb saag. We have the disposable income to eat out occasionally, and we certainly don't go to overpriced gourmet restaurants where it's more important to be seen eating there than to actually enjoy the food.

But cooking a meal at home has to be one of the easiest ways to take the poor with you, especially because there's so much more to it than the simple economics of saving money.

The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well-fed, one-third is under-fed one-third is starving. Over 4 million will die this year.

To translate this to my family, it would mean that my husband eats three meals a day, snacks when he wants to, and has chocolate cake for dessert. I would get lunch every day. My kids would be starving. Knowing that no decent man would allow his wife and kids to go hungry while he stuffed himself every day, how can we indulge ourselves knowing that 2/3 of the world are in need?

And the problem is growing. Bread for the World reports that 854 million people across the world are hungry, up from 852 million a year ago.

Photographer Peter Menzel and author-journalist Faith D'Alusio have highlighted this disparity in their beautifully photographed and informative book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. When compared to the family of five in a refugee camp in Chad who live off five pounds of millet and a jar of peanut oil per week, my fully stocked pantry, fridge full of food and fifty-item grocery list seem ridiculously extravagant.

And I think that's the point. If there isn't a need to eat out, then doing so is an extravagance -- a treat that by definition should be a rarity. Wanting to order in a pizza just because I don't feel like cooking is almost a slap in the face to those people who stand in line for hours to get a bag of rice.

So is there ever a justification for eating out? I think so. Meals are celebrations, occasions for people to gather together and appreciate the bounty of the Earth. Cooking is an art form, and done well, it can literally enhance every aspect of our being. We receive nourishment and fulfillment through our pleasure. Eating at a restaurant is an act of appreciation that gives us the opportunity to further the cook's art. And it's inherently enjoyable.

In fact, I think it's one of the fundamental rights of human beings -- the right to enjoy an abundance of food and social interaction within our communities. Of course, there's many people who can't eat out because they're starving, or poor, or because their community is at war and it isn't safe to leave their homes. People in areas of famine do not enjoy an abundance of food; they can barely imagine the idea of leaving a home filled with good things to eat and paying extra money for someone else to cook and serve us.

If we eat out, let it be for the right reasons. Let it be to fully appreciate the blessings we have been given and the delight of a varied Earth. And let's take the poor with us. For every meal we eat outside our home, donate half what we spend to a charity providing food to the needy. For those of us who eat out on a monthly basis, consider Bread for the World's monthly giving program Bakers Dozen.

Most importantly, when we say grace before our meal, think of those who will never know the satisfaction of a full belly, or the security that comes from having the liberty to say "I don't feel like cooking tonight. Let's get a pizza."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Goals and Aspirations

Without a lot of fanfare, I want to start this. It's something I've felt called to do for years now, and I'm letting a lack of support and direction prevent me from making something real out of it. So let's begin. Let's start the journey and learn along the way.

Here's the goal: Take the Poor With You.

In all I do, think first about the impact on the poor, and adjust my actions accordingly. Each day, blog about the decisions (especially purchases and activities) that I've made and assess whether they had an impact, what it was, and how I can better serve my fellow man.

Be with me, Jesus, and guide me as I seek to serve You.