Conspiracy of Freedom – Oxford

Guest post by Mark Powley I never planned to get passionate about simple lifestyle. I’ve basically stumbled into the role of lifestyle-guru (I’m not really a guru at all, of course, just a bumbling amateur who just won’t let the issue drop). But after five years of co-running The Breathe Network I find myself launching a conspiracy to transform our way of living. Breathe is a Christian network for simpler living, and the Conspiracy of Freedom is our collaborative effort (with Tearfund, Stewardship and A Rocha) to kickstart a nationwide discussion about lifestyle based around regional events and small group videos. The Oxford event takes place at St Aldate’s Parish Centre on 10th June at 7:30pm. No booking is required, admission is free. Behind the Conspiracy of Freedom is a question: how does genuine lifestyle change take place? A quick glance around the environmental / ethical world all too often reveals something like the following:

  • Stark warnings from experts
  • Detailed rules
  • A passionate group upbraiding the mainstream public
  • Costly lifestyle ‘statements’ only some can afford

You may have already noticed the parallels with the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. The Pharisaic party of Judaism appears to have been terrified by the prospect of another return to exile. They also detested their Roman overlords and dreamed of ‘saving the land’ by bringing God’s blessing through their sheer obedience to the Law. But not everyone could afford the Pharisee’s particular lifestyle, and the more the Palestinian public got on with grinding out a living in compromised circumstances, the more radical the Pharisees became.

What strikes me as truly revolutionary, and a great contrast to the Pharisees, is the attitude of Jesus. He didn’t endorse any compromise in God’s standards when it came to what really mattered. But he had little time for ‘expert teachers’, exclusive rules, or a holier than thou attitude (greener than thou?).

For Jesus, lifestyle change flowed from an experience of grace – the father’s welcome, a taste of the kingdom. After that it rippled out differently in different lives. There was a sense of humble realism about the ethical ambitions of some of his followers. And yet there was also an unquenchable hope.

More than anything, he expected lifestyle change to happen in community. Mutual acceptance, mutual challenge, mutual support. No one was expected to sell everything they had without the promise that a radical community of sharing would welcome them with open arms.

The Conspiracy of Freedom hopes to follow this approach. We know that our present turbo-consumerism is ecologically damaging and shallow soil for faith. We know that change is needed. But it must be in an environment of grace, and doing it together will be crucial. That is why we’re following the regional events with four videos, to be made available online, that any small group can watch and discuss. Group members can hold each other accountable over time. Breathe’s role will be to help point people to ways they can take things further. Already this has started to bear fruit with our London event, where participants made their own commitments to live more simply, more sustainably and more generously.

If you’re interested in this, join us in Oxford on 10th June for inspiring teaching and discussion of the first video. Or email in@breathenetwork.org to stay in touch with what we’re doing.

Mark Powley is Associate Rector of St George’s Church in Leeds and a founder of Breathe, a Christian network for simpler living. He will be at each of the Conspiracy of Freedom events and later this year will be releasing a book on consumerism. The Conspiracy of Freedom event in Oxford will take place at St Aldate’s Parish Centre on 10th June at 7:30pm. No booking is required, admission is free. For more information visit www.conspiracyoffreedom.org

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