International Transition Network:
Simplicity and Generosity
The Transition and Just Peacemaking movements offer promising possibilities for dealing with some of the most significant issues we face in the twenty-first century. These grassroots efforts seek to create communities that are healthy and sustainable. Both invite local communities to engage creatively in rethinking our cultural assumptions, in ways that translate into positive social actions. Just Peacemaking originated in the religious world and is rooted in biblical principles, and while the Transition movement is not overtly religious, it resonates with the ethics of many faith traditions.
Methodists and other Wesleyans can look to founder John Wesley for support in their efforts. Just Peacemaking principles are based on the Sermon on the Mount, which Wesley considered the heart of the Christian gospel, writing 13 sermons on that text. His theology is relational, stressing our connections to each other and to God, and the need to hold each other accountable. He insisted that if our hearts are truly changed by God’s grace, we will live differently. Wesley’s own life was a model of charitable actions and plain living that seeks the betterment of all.
John Wesley’s life spanned the eighteenth century (1703-1791), and he witnessed the beginning of the industrial age, which contributed to urban poverty, poor working conditions, unemployment, and disparity of wealth. Almost three centuries later we see those problems on a global scale, due in part to the effects of industrialization and its reliance on fossil fuels. Economic policies that promote unlimited growth depend on consumers being seduced by incessant advertising to buy more, creating in us greed and dissatisfaction. Too often we consume out of a sense of scarcity and fail to recognize the abundance of God’s gifts. Wesley addressed these issues in his own day, and his solutions are as relevant today as they were then.
Methodism was a renewal movement within the Church of England, organized into small groups of societies, classes, and bands. These groups sought to nurture the righteousness that Wesley found lacking in the larger church. Through these small groups, Christians would hold each other accountable for acts of piety and mercy. Wesley referred to this as Christian conferencing, and it reflects the social nature of Methodism, which never loses sight of the ties that bind us to God and each other.
Likewise, the Transition movement addresses issues at the local level, where change can be more practical and visible than on a national or global scale. Transition Towns initiate citizen-led actions that respond to the question: “For all those aspects of life that our community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)?” As were the early Methodists, people are empowered to take responsibility for their own condition, and to take action to seek health and wellbeing for themselves and their community.
Wesley’s movement did not just provide religious support, but he also established health clinics, schools, and a no-interest loan program, demonstrating the holistic approach that is needed today. By example and in his writings, he encouraged care of the poor, in order to fulfill the commandment to love both God and neighbor. In such sermons as “On Riches,” “The Danger of Riches,” and “On the Danger of Increasing Riches,” he preached stringently against the accumulation of wealth, claiming that it robbed God and those in need, while endangering the souls of the wealthy.
These two contemporary movements likewise call for a just distribution of wealth. Both Wesley and Just Peacemakers draw on Matthew 6:19-34, which cautions against laying up treasures and notes the impossibility of serving both God and money (6:24). Our current drive to amass wealth and possessions suggests we can buy our way to happiness, and competition for resources sets up barriers between people. With Wesley, the Just Peacemaking movement encourages an equitable distribution of wealth that creates healthy, egalitarian communities.
With that goal in mind, many people today pursue a simpler way of living that accommodates the needs of all. Stemming from his encounter with Moravians, Wesley urged his followers to dress plainly, eat a simple diet, and share any excess wealth with the poor. As the popular saying goes: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
Ultimately what Wesley and other religious traditions offer is an alternative value system to the industrial consumer-driven model – one that is rooted in relationships with other people, the world around us, and God. “Be in charity with all,” Wesley writes, and “let justice, mercy, and truth govern.” His words and his life can inspire us to follow in the way of simplicity and generosity.
For Further Exploration and Encouragement:
Process Theology and the Transition Movement
Process Theology and Just Peacemaking
Process Theology Economic Justice
Five Reasons Urban Agriculture is So Important (by Rohit Kumar)
Jesus Against Empire (by John Cobb)
Responding to the Stock Market (by Robert Williamson)
A God for Messed Up and Weird People: Process Theology and Anne Lamont
John Cobb and Walter Brueggemann (with essay by John Cobb)
God and the Sendai Earthquake (by John Cobb)
God Loves Everybody: Hymns for the Rest of Us
The Challenge of Hyper-Individualism (by Stephen Hatch)
Beyond Propaganda and Flags (featuring Eugenie Dolberg)
The Photo-Theology of Thomas Jay Oord
Spacious, Gracious Simplicity (by Patricia Adams Farmer)
Replanting Yourself in Beauty (by Patricia Adams Farmer)
What is Fat Soul Philosophy? (by Patricia Adams Farmer)
How Process Theology Gives Faith to My Depression (by Monica A. Coleman)
You might also be interested in some biblical sources following the lectionary. See Process and Faith.