Tag Archives: Lent

Why I am giving up supermarkets

As an irredeemable chocoholic, addicted to the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, the annual ‘what shall I give up for Lent’ is a bit of spiritual discipline that requires more serious thought that simply denying myself a fix of Montezuma’s dark chocolate. And in any case God does not want me to be unhappy. Some say we should ‘take on’ rather than ‘give up’. Well I’ve tried that and took up vegetable and fruit-growing one year and it was an unmitigated disaster of botrytis, blight, greenfly, slug invasion and avian robbery.

So my choice this year was a bit of both. Give up supermarkets and take on independent local shops. By supermarkets I mean the Big Four, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op. It is not so much their size that troubles me, but their business model. Brighton now has a hiSbe – standing for ‘how it should be’ and on the continent there are Social Supermarkets. I fully expect commercially sustainable social enterprises will emerge out of the proliferation of foodbanks as the austerity years and general feeling of being fed being ripped-off by the Big Four, make people look round for alternatives.

I have been giving up supermarkets gradually for a number of years. Tesco infuriated me when they almost doubled the size of their store in my local town of Inverurie and the last straw was their introduction of self-service tills that have psychologically scarred me for life after an embarrassing incident. I tried Morrisons for a time as they stocked some good quality organic good and locally produced lamb and beef, until that is I discovered that ‘locally’ meant sourced from one of the biggest abattoirs in the country at Turriff that takes animals from as far south as Peterborough. I have two small Co-op self- service stores in my village but the Co-op is a fallen angel. Selling three bottles of wine for a tenner, to their tag line of ‘good with food’ is not the sign of an ethical grocer.

That supermarkets are cheap, convenient and offer choice is a widely held but false belief and many are now turning away. Aldi and Lidl are undercutting them on price and close analysis of the majority of goods the Big Four offer come from a handful of industrial scale suppliers. The ‘horsemeat’ scandal of last year debunked the supply chain policy that was found to be not worth the paper it was written on. And the Big Four proved susceptible to the pro-GM agribusinesses’ propaganda that non-GM feed supply is drying up. It did not take me long to check with the Association of Soy Producers of Brazil, the world’s largest producer of GMO-free soy beans, to disprove the pro-GM pressure.

I suppose I am fortunate that my village has, apart from the afore-mentioned Co-op stores, a Costcutter store (different business model), two butchers, a baker and a chemist that now sells a small range of whole foods, the source of my Montezuma organic Easter Egg, as well as some eco-cleaning products. Once a week I go to Inverurie for an hour’s shopping which has become a pleasure.

Starting with The Green Grocer, who supplies a veg-box for collection or delivery, an astonishing range of whole foods and local dairy and butchery products, teas and coffees and organic processed foods, as well as their own cold pressed locally grown virgin rapeseed oil. An award-winning butcher Davidson’s also sells vegetables and fish, though I buy my fish from the ‘fish lady’ who parks her van near my house and is good for a gossip. Moving down the High Street, I call into The Kilted Frog for his cheeses, pastries and a cafe that rocks. And finally there is Mitchell’s Dairy where I can complete the gaps in my shopping list.

Each month a farmers’ market comes to Inverurie and, as I am out and about in Aberdeenshire quite a lot, I am collating a list of delicatessens, food emporiums and country stores selling local food and choice delicacies if I am feeling extravagant. And this is the thing. My expenditure on food and other household essentials is within 10% of what it was with my supermarket weekly shop. Now I know that my pattern of shopping would not meet the needs of a busy family, and I am in an advantageous financial position but often, when I have watched the ‘family’ shop being loaded on to the conveyor belt, I have noted how much of it was processed, packaged goods, end-of-aisle temptations succumbed to and BOGOFs.

So ‘how should it be’? Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination and pre-shopping preparation to support ethically produced food, from sustainable fairly traded sources, that will not end up as waste (30-50% of food for human consumption globally is wasted). If a growing number of successful businesses can make themselves more transparent about every product they sell and accept responsibility for dealing fairly with their suppliers, and there is no one more accountable than the shopkeeper you can engage in conversation with about what they sell, why can this not become a universal model?

Oh and by the way, I am resurrecting my plans for a ‘grow your own’ plot.

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‘Leaving Alexandria’ and ‘Love unknown’

‘Love Unknown’ is the title of Ruth Burrow’s latest book, Archbishop Rowan Williams’ chosen book for Lent.  But it could also describe Richard Holloway’s quest for the presence beyond the absence, laid bare with searing honesty in his autobiography ‘Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt.’  I have just read both books in quick succession and was struck by their experience of depression about the absence of God.  Ruth Burrows found her faith in “The Word became Flesh.”  Richard drifts away from his.  Both confess that at times they have felt a sham.

Faith is not the same as belief. There is a tendency in contemporary language to make the two words synonymous. Belief in its original Anglo-Saxon is about holding dear, to prize, to give allegiance to, to be loyal to. The accessibility of the mystery of God is prior to theological reflection.  Not the other way about.  As Richard Holloway says, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.”  And faith is not some mysterious religious quality which only a few possess. Faith is not something reserved for some holy, perfect, religious person, something given to some, but not given to others.  Ruth Burrows attests strongly to this.

Faith is a willing, but struggling trust in the revealed intentions of God; it is a confidence in what God promises. It can only be calibrated in terms of depth and perseverance. And it is also about humility, since faith may be as small as a mustard seed, hesitant, uneasy, filled with doubts, and yet determined to hold onto God’s promises even though the world and all its wiles will do everything to assail us. All the great saints of the past persevered by faith despite being persecuted and mistreated. But in doing so they were not exercising some Herculean choice, the reward of toil in preference to pleasure. For them faith was not simply belief that there was a God but trust that God rewards those who seek him.

God calls Abram to leave his father’s household in south-eastern Turkey and journey south into Canaan.  The promise God is making to Abram is a promise of blessing.  A blessing to him and through him a blessing to the world. The promise of a blessing is repeated on numerous occasions throughout the book of Genesis.  Eighty-eight times to save you counting.

The tragedy acted out in Holloway’s book is that God seems to be calling the precocious youth from Alexandria, Dunbartonshire with a promise of blessing.  But first he is distracted by the formularies and ritual and monastic rigours of Kelham seminary.  Then the peace he finds at Old Saint Paul’s Edinburgh devoting most of his time answering the knock from Jesus at the door, in other words, the passing vagrant, the insane, the drunk, the lonely and the homeless, eventually disintegrates into compassion fatigue.  And finally, whilst Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, he allows the dogmatic certainty of the institutional church to provoke his waspish mind and he walks away from his priestly vocation.

Ruth Burrows, on the other hand, lives out intensely all the truth disclosed by liturgy, scripture and doctrine against a background of “black depression.”  She matures in her faith, notwithstanding her “failure at prayer, not just now and then, but day after day, year after year!”  Her advice is, “His loving gaze rests on you.  You have no excuse.  Gird your loins and follow the Lord.”

Abrams Falls Trail

Abrams Falls Trail (Photo credit: Frank Kehren)

Both books are a wonderful read but both should be read with an open mind.

As we journey this Lent, God’s call to journey with him is not about having everything about the journey carefully worked out so that we know where God is calling us. Like Abram, it’s about being sufficiently open to God and ready to make space for God to work in us so that he will draw us closer to him.

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Green Lent worship events

A Gathering event to launch the Green Lent resources will take place on Sunday 6 March 2011, 4.00pm at St Mary’s, Carden Place, Aberdeen. The Guest Preacher will be Prof John Eldridge, British sociologist known for his writings on industrial society.

All who attend will be invited to come forward and pick up a stone. We will ask you to pay attention to your stone. See how it is unique and special. See how it is related to all things of the earth. As you journey through this penitential season, we will ask you to keep the stone with you. Carry it in your pocket, place it on your prayer table at home: keep it in mind. Let it become for you the symbol of those important things you discover, or rediscover, about your relationship with all of creation during this Lenten pilgrimage together.

When we re-gather for the Sending Out service at St Ninian’s, Mar Lodge, at 4pm on the 8th of May, please bring your stone with you so it can be returned to the River Dee (its source). It is important to give back what we take from God’s creation.

If you cannot come to either of these events, please find some time to go to a favourite beauty spot for reflection, pick up a pebble, and, after completing the course return there to replace it as a sign of your commitment to live more lightly on this earth.

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Green Lent

The wilderness is indifferent to our existence. It is a hostile place, where insects bite, snakes slither, thorn bushes gouge the flesh and wild animals roam. Here life is fragile and the path ahead leads us to the unexpected and the unknown.

Please join the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney this Lent on a wilderness journey where all we shall possess is a trust that life is good, that it is worth being alive, even when the going will be painful and harsh. We will have a number of encounters, be fed by ravens, but a moment of deep significance will usher in a radically different understanding of God’s creation.

Following a new path, we will emerge from the wilderness realising that we are being called to change the way we live our lives. From hereon, our life will take on a new direction, with a new sense of purpose beginning, as we seek a deeper meaning in all that we do.


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