(This review first appeared in Reform, the magazine of the United Reformed Church)
Just Living: Faith and community
in an age of consumerism
Hodder & Stoughton
In every generation, and in different settings, Christians have to work out anew what it means to be followers of Jesus. Now, for the early 21st century, Ruth Valerio, of the Christian conservation charity A Rocha, explores how to live well in our globalised, consumerist world.
The first part outlines our shared situation: globalisation, in which nation states are now only one of the important players alongside major business corporations; consumerism, which dictates our choices whilst distancing us from producers and products; and the Church, which has a rich tradition of simple living, but with a tendency to understand this only in individual terms.
The book’s second part, written with painful honesty concerning our personal shortcomings, commends a theology that rejects extremes, either of self-denial or hedonism. Instead, each of us is asked to consider our own particular tendency – for example to retreat from the world or to immerse ourselves in the world – and consider how to shift in the other direction towards a happy medium.
The concluding section offers a host of suggestions for practical action in areas of life such as global and ecological concerns, money, material goods and ethical consumption, local community activity and intentional use of time, including the space to stop for prayer and silence. Throughout, the author shares her own experiences and dilemmas: “Why am I queuing up to buy skinny jeans I want but don’t need?” She also states, with passion, that what draws her to Jesus and drives her life choices is the Bible’s earthy, nature-affirming, relationship-based revelation concerning God, creation and ourselves.
For a church book group or for individuals ready to wrestle with hard questions and complex issues, this clearly written book could be a great resource. A section with appropriate questions for discussion would have been helpful and might appear in future. What Ruth Valerio most hopes for, however, is that her book encourages not only thinking and discussion but the move to positive, practical Christian action.
Trevor Jamison is Environmental Chaplain for Eco-Congregation Scotland