Simple Living Works!

Archive for March 2013


Spirit of Simplicity
4. Peace & Justice

Integrating Voluntary Simple Living into the Life of Peace

You’ve heard it said, “Vote with your dollars” at stores that are Earth-friendly, that do not sell sweatshop goods, etc. Now we can “Vote with our dollars” to help work for Peace.

In addition to working with your local and denominational peace organizations and supporting national groups like Pax Christi and Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), here are some ideas worth pursuing.

1. Former Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich has proposed that a cabinet level Department of Peace be established. To learn more, visit

2. Peace Universities. Let’s encourage our governments to allocate at least as much for teaching peace and conflict resolution as for teaching war, such as establishing departments of peace at universities, funding at least equivalent to military training, such as ROTC.

3. Let’s encourage our governments to establish a Peace Tax Fund, whereby people would have the option of not having their taxes used for making war. To learn more, visit


Some folks are tax resisters, refusing to pay taxes to pay for war. For a copy of the updated classic “War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support for the Military” ($15) from War Resisters League, call 212/228-0450.

If you feel like this but are concerned about the possible legal consequences, here are a couple strategies.

1. Pay a “Voluntary Earth Tax.” Give your money away instead of giving it to the government. Support those human services that the government underfunds so that it can spend more on “defense.”

Whenever we buy something, set aside an appropriate amount to give away.

* For benign things (made of renewables) – pay 50%

* For harmful things (non-renewables) – pay 200%

For example, if your electricity is generated with coal, set aside 200% of your energy bill each month to support your local public schools, your regional Earth fund, a national non-profit or an intentional relief agency. So, if my electric bill is $100, I’ll give away $200 to a tax-deductible fund.

The Earth Tax is a GOOD idea. It respects the tradition of freedom strong in the US but it realizes that we need to pay for the natural capital that we are depleting. Though the Earth Tax currently has NO chance of becoming law, we can still use it as a personal model.

2. Keep your taxable income so low that you pay little or no Federal income tax. For a couple filing jointly that’s $14,000, plus $3000 for each dependent.

Charles Gray’s World Equity Budget in “Toward a Nonviolent Economics” is much lower than that!

Invest in Socially Responsible tax deferred funds – such as IRAs and 401(k)s – with the hope that by the time you can withdraw the money, a truly Earth-friendly administration will be in power. Invest in tax-free bonds, especially municipals and state, not federal.

How can two live on $14,000? Voluntary Simplicity! Make a budget that truly reflects our values and stick to it! One way to start, for a two income family, is to give away enough so that you pay no federal income tax on ONE of the incomes.

For example, if your two incomes are $25,000 and $50,000, decide which you want to pay no tax on. You may start with the lower, since that’s the easier, then later shift the higher. If you file jointly, your combined taxable income would need to be $14,000 to pay no tax. If you can’t reduce it all at once, develop an income reduction schedule over, say, five years.

Yes, that’s a challenge. But think of how much good you’d be doing! Every dollar you give away will go where you want it to go, instead of half of it going to the military (for current operations, past debts and future fantasies).

According to the War Resisters League, almost half of our federal budget each year is for military purposes – 27% for current military and 20% for past military (excluding money for recent wars that have been “off the budget”). For details, visit

Yes, it costs more to give it away than to give it to the government. The system’s designed as a disincentive to do what we’re suggesting. You only get credit for the money you give away based on your tax bracket. If you’re in the higher brackets, a dollar you give away is only “worth” 28% on your taxes. But it’s worth a lot more to people who really need it and appreciate it.

Some folks say, “Give without regard for your own benefit” or “Give without regard for your taxes.” In a perfect world that may be true, but in a world where our government supports corporations that work against the Earth, reducing our taxes is a political statement. Let’s vote with our dollars!

DISCLAIMER: To see HOW (not if) this will work for you, talk to your tax consultant or lawyer. Otherwise, I could get into big trouble for giving tax advice.

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Graphic: Spirit of Simplicity
2. Building Community

Maybe it’s a guy-thing. I really don’t like unsolicited advice. My spouse Rita says that women offer each other advice all the time.

So, when I’m complaining about something that didn’t go as expected, she used to pipe up with, “What you shoulda done is. . . .” That’s what you’d expect from a teacher. They’re fixers, problem-solvers.

Oh, ya, that’s another thing guys don’t like – being should’ed.

Now after 40+ years of marriage, when I complain, Rita empathizes first. She says, “Aint’t it awful! [pause] Would you like some input?” [pause]

I take a deep breathe and say, “Sure.” She asked my permission before giving me advice. It’s wonderful to be treated like an adult instead of a fourth-grader!

The second of five Life Standards of “Living More with Less” is “Nurture People, Not Stuff.”

Respect is a big part of Nurture.

Coming Soon: the Five Life Standards of Voluntary Simplicity from “Living More with Less” If you’re an over-achiever and want to skip ahead, this link leads to the blogs, audio, text, podcasts, etc. Or you can take it step-by-step and enjoy the ride.

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Spirit of Simplicity:
2. Building Community

Wouldn’t it be great to learn in worship What a Christian Life Might Look Like? So much of the time in worship we hear generalities. Yes, adult education may be more specific, but fewer than ten percent of worship attendees go to Adult Forum.

Generalities leave people to their own devices. Each person has to “reinvent the wheel,” do all their own research, try to figure out whom to trust.

Pastors have a good reason to avoid specifics in worship. There’s a chance someone will be offended. And people who are offended tend to give less.

So, pastors urge the faithful to “do what you can.” This can easily get translated as “do what’s convenient.” It’s OK to stay in your comfort zone.

What a bore! Yes, it’s safe. But it’s hardly the dynamic model that Jesus showed us.

Yes, it is critical to avoid “shoulding.” Shoulding is about law – Thou shalt not! The Gospel is liberating. A simplified lifestyle, for example, is liberating. It is such a joy to get the burden of stuff off our shoulders. Stuff steals our time, money and energy – buying it, maintaining it and disposing of it properly.

What Might a Christian Life Look Like? is a way to set out positive, helpful suggestions, preferably a few at a time, so that people can picture themselves doing them, without becoming confused or overwhelmed.  Specific, concrete suggestions can be offered in numerous ways during worship – during spoken announcements, in the worship bulletin, as “blurbs” on a screen before worship, and most importantly as part of the sermon or homily. Best is the integrated approach – use all these media to convey the same message on the same worship day. So, the people see and hear the suggestions during the same hour. Now let’s work on getting smell and touch involved!

A Christian Life Might Look Simpler

Simple living is fun, challenging, healthy and rewarding. It is not about deprivation or sacrifice!

It is fun because it can be a game. We get to learn new ways to simplify from places like Then we get to “play” by incorporating those new techniques into our lives, so they become rewarding habits. For example, as we decide what charities to support, it’s fun to look up information about them, instead of just reading their promotion literature or web site. Several sites are really helpful. rates charities and gives from zero to four stars. It also lists the salaries of the CEO and other top officials. No matter how big the organization, a CEO might top out at $250,000. Above that, give elsewhere. and are also helpful.

Simple Living is challenging because it can be counter-cultural. We can defy advertising that would try to control our pocket books. We can ask, “How can I use this system that would control me, my family and friends against it?” For example, I will buy only sale items from traditional commercial retailers so that I can have some funds left over to practice Fair Trade. I’ll feel really good supporting Fair Trade co-ops while getting some things I need at lower prices.

Simple Living is healthy because it sees our bodies as the Temple of God and all the Earth as integral parts of God’s Creation. Humans are not superior to the Web of Life. We are part of it. There is no American exceptionalism! That vision helps us see, for example, that our eating habits are critical to our own happiness now, and that they are also critical to the survival of our grandchildren.

Simple Living is rewarding because it provides for our financial security now and provides our legacy for future generations. The basic model of at least 10% of income for sharing, at least 15% for saving, and no more than 75% for spending with 0% debt (except mortgage) over a lifetime will allow enough to create a legacy for the future, such as the [your name] Family Fund through non-profits like the Lutheran Community Foundation.

This means living within (or below) our means. That’s personal responsibility. It also means dealing with the other half of the equation — corporate responsibility. Corporations that prey on people’s gullibility can be challenged. That can be done directly through personal protest (letter writing) and organized boycotts, or indirectly through government regulation. We may not be able to control what corporations and governments do, but we can be responsible for what we do — how much we spend and where.

Coming Soon: the Five Life Standards of Voluntary Simplicity from “Living More with Less” If you’re an over-achiever and want to skip ahead, this link leads to all the blogs, video, text, podcasts, etc. Or you can take it step-by-step and enjoy the ride.

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Spirit of Simplicity:
2. Building Community

Re: SLW! eNews #18

This is a great alternative to reading about the Sequestration and Paul Ryan Budget (and what is going on in NC–reducing UI benefits, not expanding medicaid, voter ID, re-instituting death penalty, etc etc)–ugh! Your messages brought a light breathe to my day…thanks, Gerald.

Sandy Irving, Raleigh, NC

Friday, March 15

Sandy hosted Rita and I in her home on a speaking tour. To see the event, scroll down and click on Year 1.0. Then scroll down to posts #29-30.

See whom I met in your area and what they said.

Simple Livers need support. The faces and comments of others make our chosen lifestyle more realistic, more fun, more possible, more faithful.

Meet other Simple Livers around the country. I had the honor to speak to over 300 groups in over 40 states in 30 months. The following blogs or travel journals are arranged in chronological order. To read about what happened in your area, find your state below. Click on the appropriate year and then use the blog numbers. The city names are in bold.

To view the presentation I used in year two and following, see the updated Simple Living Works!

All of the pictures in this journal are of real people I met on my travels. None are models or stock photos. The text is from notes I took on the spot. They’re intentionally brief, pithy. The style changes over time. To protect my hosts’ privacy, I have abbreviated most last names.

Year 1
Hello! Welcome #1-3
Des Moines-Chicago #4-5
Sioux Falls #5-7
Twin Cities #8-20
California 1 #21-27
North Carolina #28-55

Year 1.5
California 2 #56-72
Colorado #73-82
Kansas City #83-87
Chicago-MI-OH #88-106
St. Louis-Sn IL #107-119
Omaha/Lincoln #120-124

Year 2 
Sioux Falls #125-129 
KS, OK, TX #130-158 
Albuquerque #159-160 

Year 2.5 
NorthWest #161-186

  • ID, WA, OR, UT, WY

NorthEast #187-216

  • IN, OH, PA, MD, NJ, NY, NH, MA, CT

Local #217-219 

Year 3 to present 
Denver Area (+WY) #220-229 
SouthEast #230-272

  • IN, OH, WV, TN, VA, SC, FL, GA, KY

Wisconsin (+MN, SD) #273-286 
Local #287-

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Gates.NurturingTheProphetic.27423An interdisciplinary conference, “Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination,” was called together in March, 2010, by Jamie Gates, Mark Mann, and others at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego. You can get in on many of the presentations because Jamie and Mark have edited a book that includes presentations by Kathleen Norris, Michael Dyson, Bill McKibben, and Emmanual Katongole.

Among the 14 others, Lee Van Ham presented “Unmasking the Gods of the Marketplace.” It responds to one of the questions the conference asked, “Is there such a thing as God’s Economy?” and describes how today’s economy functions like religion, attracting more devotees than any other American or world religion.

Of the book, William Cavanaugh, DePaul University, Chicago, says:

These essays share the conviction that it is not enough to rail against the injustices of the real world; instead, we need to question how real the real world is. To live inside the prophetic imagination is to see that what passes for reality is not the way the world is in God’s eyes. The prophet sets forth a more compelling vision of what is real and invites others to inhabit that world. These essays allow the reader not only to reflect on ancient themes of prophecy, but to locate concretely where prophecy lives today. This is a tremendously hopeful book. 

You can order your copy through Jubilee Economics ($25) or direct from the publishers ($23) Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR.

A recent blog at about this chapter/book.

The Common Good Podcast: Prophetic Imagination, Envisioning a New Economy

One Earth Project: Like Jubilee Economics on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @LeeVanHam


Graphic: Spirit of Simplicity: Quotes & Art
1. Voluntary Simplicity

Hi, Gerald.  I was fishing around on your blog when I discovered something fascinating and greatly consoling as your pastor.  I love that you are occupying wedding fairs. I know when I was a bride-to-be, I would have given anything to have someone deflate my anxiety balloon.

While that might console my social politics, I was much more relieved to discover you’re family doesn’t take you or your vocation seriously all the time. I worry for you about that sometimes.  But it seems your perspective is in good hands.

Blessing, Pr. Amy

Rita’s reply

The children and I have had lots of practice giving Gerald little slaps upside the head and calling him back to “appropriate” American cultural behavior. That does not mean that we are always successful but it does mean that sometimes he looks to us for advice about how his actions will be perceived by others. Elysha and I had already told Gerald that he cannot wear his Wikileaks T-shirt to Elysha’s wedding. His response was, “Oh, darn!” with a wink and a grin.

Gerald’s reply

The Fifth Life Standard of Voluntary Simplicity from “Living More with Less” is “Non-conform Freely.” That’s why I sometimes wear my ugly red socks. To remind myself that it’s OK to be different, to paddle against the current.

Fortunately, when I was a teen, I was big and I was smart, so I didn’t get bullied for being a Christian. I have been able to develop a sense of detachment from popular culture. That may be one benefit of being an introvert – one doesn’t seem to need so much approval from others that comes with conformity, fashionability, trends and fads.

I never leave the house without wearing a message shirt: “If You Want Peace, Work for Justice,” “You Are Here [Earth],” “Free Speech TV,” “Democracy Now!” I wear my “WikiLeaks” shirt to church!

I want people to know what I stand for. I may not be able to engage everyone I meet in conversation, but I may be able to make some small impression. If they’re progressive, they know I’m with them. If they’re fundamentalist, they know I will resist them. And my shirts almost always lead to encouraging conversations.

If we dress like “normal” people, we send the message that everything’s OK, even when we know it’s not.


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ImageAlternatives’ Legacy Publication

Security, ultimately, comes not from what we have, but how we live. During the later part of the 1970s a quiet revolution began to unfold. People from virtually every walk of life began to experiment with alternative life-styles. These explorations have to do with a spirit of self-sufficiency. Prominent among the life-style changes has been how and what we eat. Eating has become a subtle source of many, many other awarenesses, some that even reach down into oil wells and others that connect us with our undernourished neighbors.

Each day most of us sit down three times to eat. Thus we are almost continually reminded of our “selves” and that which “goes into us” to make us what we are as healthy, functioning organisms. But it does not stop there. Many are also being reminded at the table that the source of food – how it is grown, where it comes from, how it gets here, its energy determinate – is now an important stewardship question. We are thinking both “upstream” into our bodies, and ” downstream” into the source of food. In such thinking we are continually reconnected to the Earth’s life support system.

This free book is the result of loving concern about our relationship to all with whom we share this Earth. It is meant to be a practical guide to nutritional and ethical eating. The book is one of many steps towards “lifestyle security.” Our security does not depend upon forces external to us, but upon the internal acceptance of who we are as children of God, acknowledging our interdependence on finite planet Earth. Such an acceptance can enable us to shift our style of living to take into consideration all who inhabit God’s grand creation. The future depends not upon nature (which is more than plentiful for all on earth if we are not greedy) but upon whether we decide, or fail to decide, to act as stewards of our bodies and of the Earth itself. This can begin with what and how we eat.


Graphic from Spirit of Simplicity:
1. Voluntary Simplicity

Dear daughter Elysha,

Wow! In addition to the little lap desk that you’re going to give me (I’m just testing it in advance right now), Rita and I went shopping yesterday and got me a nice used electric razor and a used pair of running shoes at Thrift Stores.

You may ask why used stuff is so wonder-ful. An important part of wonder is surprise. Anybody can buy a new razor for $40 or new running shoes for $60. But what a surprise to find size 13 for $5! Or a nice electric razor marked down from $5 to $2! All it took was a little persistence and the willingness to visit a couple of local non-profit thrifts instead of driving to a big box store.

And I get Medicare. 65 is great!

Hope you’re having as much fun as I am. I’m doing important stuff too.

Please Like my new Facebook page. And follow me at Twitter. Kind of skimpy right now but I’m building them.

Love ya,



More about simpler birthdays.


Pentecost graphic from Worship Alternatives: Art 2

I’ve been told that the number of publications in Simple Living Works! Archives/Resource Bank is overwhelming.

To make it more accessible, I’ve created yet another index, this one by Themes or Seasons. So, our hundreds of resources can now be accessed by “Advent/Christmas,” “Lent/Easter,” “Other Seasons” (such as Pentecost), and “Anytme/Non-seasonal” (such as Rites of Passage).

Just last week Carol Guenther said on SLW! Facebook page, “Just wanted to say your Lenten daily calendars have been a welcomed addition to our practices at St. Mark’s Lutheran church by the Narrows in Tacoma, WA. Challenging, but welcomed!”

Though Lent is well underway, if you’re looking for personal or group resources, scan through Lent/Easter. If you’re planning ahead for Pentecost, visit Other Seasons. Access the new index from Window #6 at SLW! Home.

“TMI! TMI!” Rita’s shouting in my head. Too Much Information. So, I’ll stop now.

 Take a test drive.



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Graphic from Spirit of Simplicity:
6. Alternative Giving

Jesus calls all who would follow him to a joyful life of carefree unconcern for possessions: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” — Matthew 5:42

A prophet I respect, Shane Claiborne, has said that yes, we do need to give, but not necessarily what the beggar is asking for. Sometimes acknowledgment is enough, a smile, a greeting, some sort of recognition.

My spouse Rita has struggled with giving to beggars for fear that the money might be used for drugs. We have taken them to grocery stores and restaurants. Beggars seem to love California’s Central Coast.

So, in a recent epiphany, Rita thought of one way to solve our dilemma – crunch bars! We now carry a large box of healthful bars in our car, along with copies of a list of places to receive free food in our community. We also carry them in our purse or pocket and hand them both out as we walk or drive.

We think this act is enough to be helpful without encouraging addiction or dependency. We always receive a word of gratitude.


Gerald, 3/1/13

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