WHISKING up an egg, I headed into the bathroom to wash my hair as my family looked on in amusement. I was experimenting using egg for shampoo in an effort to find a more ethical alternative to conventional haircare products: beauty with a conscience and without the plastic.
My journey to live lightly and care for God’s creation is one that I’ve been on all my adult life. It started after reading Whose Earth? by Chris Seaton (Crossway Books) at university, which detailed the biblical case for caring for the world — including that most famous of verses John 3.16, which does not single out human beings, but refers to the whole world: the cosmos. I started to see caring for the planet, as well as for people, as an integral part of my worship of the one who had created it all.
Since then, there have been many twists and turns in the path I have taken; more experiments than I can name, and much laughter among my family as I have walked, deliberately, often falteringly, towards a lifestyle in which I am trying to honour all that God has made.
Does that mean I always get it right, or that there is nothing else I can learn, or do? Definitely not. But I believe that doing something is always better than doing nothing, which is why the motto that I have adopted over the years is: “Many little steps in the right direction”.
WHEN considering what everyday Christian environmentalism has meant for me, it is clear that over the years we have explored and made decisions about all sorts of things — some big, some small, some that were for a season, and others that led to changes that became a normal part of our lives. (Yes, I do still sometimes wash my hair with an egg.)
One of our early most important watershed moments included getting a weekly organic veg box from a local producer, and learning that vegetables came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, covered in earth, and dictated by the seasons. Rather than mindlessly doing a food shop, we started to feel a connection to the wider environment.
Then, for many years, we were part of a pig co-operative, which I started with friends from church — eating our own meat and making our own bacon and sausages — and, as a result, thinking more about animal welfare and what animals are fed.
We stopped being involved in this only when we had reduced our meat consumption so much that, moving towards a plant-based diet (which creates less carbon and methane emissions), it no longer made sense to be involved.
In the energy department, we moved to a provider of 100-per-cent-renewable energy early on, and later were able to install solar panels.
We wanted to ensure that our money was looked after ethically as well; so we switched our bank account and savings to providers who were not investing in fossil fuels and other extractive industries, and my pension is in an ethical fund.
More recently, I got an electric car, which I love. While, of course, it is complicated, in general it is thought to be better to switch to electric rather than keep a petrol/diesel car running, and now there is a good market in second hand EVs. I couldn’t afford to buy my car outright; so I got it on a monthly lease, which makes it doable.
Over the past few years we’ve also reduced the plastic we buy as a household, using Lent as a focus for this, which is where my Plastic Less Living Facebook group came from; a way to invite others to join on this journey.
LEARNING and trying things out within the context of a family has been fun, but also challenging: working out how to live ethically on a low income, and wanting to bring up two girls in a planet-friendly way that doesn’t make them feel weird and stand out from their friends.
Negotiating adverts, fast fashion, Christmas, and social-media pressure is an ongoing challenge, and something to be worked out together rather than imposed. But seeking to live in a way that cares for God’s creation has led us to establish some important principles for the way we do life:
• Get informed. We cannot make a difference to something we don’t know is a problem or don’t understand. Many issues are complex, and it takes time to find out the relevant information and become knowledgeable.
We can learn much online and from others. I have written extensively for adults and children on what I have learnt along the way, including L is for Lifestyle: Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth, and Planet Protectors! 52 ways to look after God’s world, for families and children.
Ethical organisations such as Ethical Consumer can also provide us with the relevant facts to assist us in our decision making. All this can help to develop an “ethical instinct”, allowing us — without always knowing the ins and outs of everything — to discern the kinds of things to look out for, and get a sense for when something bears the hallmarks of being genuinely environmentally friendly.
• Journey with others. I always seek to do things in with other people, in community, learning and making mistakes together rather than go down the path of self-sufficiency, which can lead to isolation and discouragement.
You are far more likely to keep going if you’re in it together with others. This was one of the reasons our pig co-operative worked so well, and this attitude has been applied to all sorts of other things: from having an allotment with friends, to the Plastic Less Living group.
Focusing on what one can do rather than what is not possible is really important, too. We all live and operate in different circumstances, and we mustn’t beat ourselves up for the things that we can’t do in our particular situation. We live in a fallen world where we cannot achieve perfection, and feeling guilty disempowers us and makes us less effective.
At the same time, we should not be constrained by what we think we can’t do. Finding solutions that prioritise people and planet is often about being creative and thinking outside the box. I live in a terraced house on a council estate; finding ways to grow my own veg and keep pigs definitely required some imagination.
There is almost always something more we can do, even if small and seemingly insignificant.
• Hold the micro and the macro together. Most of the time there will be incremental changes that we can make in our daily lives, and those things all add up. But every once in a while there are bigger decisions to be made, where we have the opportunity to make a real impact with one important choice — whether that’s a new piece of technology, this year’s summer holiday, or buying a new car or home.
If we take time to think carefully, and weigh up the different factors in these more significant moments, we can make as much difference with one choice as many other small ones put together.
Likewise, as well as the individual decisions we make, it is vitally important that we are calling on our governments, businesses and global institutions to be taking the actions that will bring about the large-scale, systemic change.
The two are connected: our individual decisions not only make a small difference in themselves, but also send messages to governments and businesses that, as citizens and consumers, this is how we want them to behave, too.
We can make that message stronger by telling them what we want, and letting them know when we change. For example, if you change your bank, contact your old bank and tell them why you are leaving them.
• Consider the cost. The assumption is that greener options are available only to those on a certain income, because these choices and products are more expensive than their mainstream counterparts. What I have found is that, while individual ethical products often do cost more (because we are paying the real and fair cost for them), when we begin to reframe our whole lives in this way, living more sustainably costs less overall.
One of the natural behaviour changes is that you buy less in general (reducing our consumption being the most important thing we can do), and eating a less processed, more plant-based diet is not expensive.
With some things, the upfront expense is more, but you spend less thereafter. This applies to all sorts of things, from reusable sanitary products and nappies, to Fairphones and clothes.
Sustainable products are made to last, and so don’t need replacing all the time, which means that not only can you enjoy nicer-quality things, but you can also save a fortune in the long run. This is backed by research that suggests that the Minimum Income Standard, which is the income needed to have an acceptable standard of living in the UK, is reduced when people have a more ecological lifestyle.
THESE are just some of the changes that have emerged, as my lifestyle has adapted to try to live in a way that least damages others, and the wider natural world and that might even help. Instead of being a chore and a bind, the journey of living more lightly has been a joy and a delight.
Of course, I am a child of the consumer age, and I’ve no doubt that that has an impact on me more than I care to admit. Putting God before material wealth is a lifelong battle.
Yet, I hope that the earth and its inhabitants — people, ecosystems, and other creatures — have benefited from these efforts. Alongside that, I have benefited, too, as I have increasingly stepped into the life to which God calls his followers: to care for his precious creation.
This article was first published by the CHURCH TIMES, and is reproduced here with permission.
Many many thanks, Ruth, for this post. I need to be encouraged to build a greener lifestyle. It’s been difficult lately. We’ve moved to a new location, not far from our previous home. I’ve thrown away, or given away, probably more than half a ton of “stuff.” Now we’re having our roof replaced, which is generating a huge amount of debris. I haven’t been composting since before our move. We will be looking at solar panels once our new roof is finished, and I hope to start a vegetable garden come spring. As an American, I’m deeply dismayed by ongoing assaults on our democracy–not just January 6, but all the voter restriction laws popping up in Republican-governed states, and the paralysis of the Senate when it comes to voting rights and climate legislation. And I’m deeply dismayed by Christian leaders who continue to support the “Big Lies” about the 2020 election and the climate crisis. I find it difficult to pray or to hope.
Hi Doug, thanks so much for leaving a message and I’m glad this article was helpful. It’s great to hear what you’ve been doing and I’d say don’t lose heart… keep going, doing what you can do. I would really recommend you find others you can join with who feel the same way you do. Have you (for example) looked at Tearfund USA and A Rocha USA? Being linked in with others can give us that support and encouragement that we all need.
Every blessing to you,
Thanks, Ruth. Here in the States, I’m connected with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Sunrise hub in Hartford, CT, and Bill McKibben’s new initiative called Third Act, as well as with my local clergy group. These groups are where I find support and encouragement. But it’s still an uphill climb that some days feels beyond my capabilities.
That’s great to hear you’re connected with these different groups. I do hear though the struggle that you’re experiencing.
I’m currently putting together a new initiative called the Oikos Network, which will provide facilitated peer-group learning, support and encouragement for individuals who are engaging churches in these areas. Is this something you might be interested in?
Great. I’ll pass your email address onto the coordinator and she’ll be in touch.
You didn’t tell us how effective is washing your hair with beaten egg?
Great article Ruth. Thank you for your continuing passion which encourages me to keep on trying to live as simply as I can.
Hi Jill, good point, I didn’t! It actually works well and is something I do from time-to-time.
I’ve written more about it here, if you’re interested: https://ruthvalerio.net/green-living-2/plastic-free-hair-care/
All the very best and keep going with what you’re doing!
I read your blog with a breaking heart; I am unsure how you could think you are protecting God’s creation, when you are an end-consumer of the hugely exploitative egg industry .
Hens were designed by God to lay an egg approximately every 4 weeks….and to incubate this precious creation, until it hatches into a chick; Sadly, humans have been able to capture hens, and farm them, selectively breeding them in favour of increased egg production per bird. Factory-farmed hens are now laying around one egg PER DAY in cramped, entirely unnatural conditions; Beaks are clipped, to reduce the amount of damage that distressed birds are able to inflict on one another in their awful living conditions. A lifetime of exploitation by humans exhausts the reproductive, and general health of the birds, resulting in the creatures become “spent”, and of no financial use to the egg industry, long before they reach the end of what should have been their natural lifespan.
I’m sure you’ll realise that eggs are also removed from their mothers for incubation, hatching, and rearing for chicken meat; But were you aware that once hatched, at less than one day old, the chicks are tipped, by the hundreds, onto conveyer belts to be processed? It is only female chicks that are commercially viable – whether it be to become the new “layers” for the egg industry, or to be reared for around 8 weeks, before being sent to slaughter for meat; All the male chicks are hand-selected from the conveyor belt, discarded as “waste”, and destroyed; A common destruction method uses a macerator, or grinder, which grinds the still-living chicks to death.
Ruth, you, and other non-vegan Christians, really should question what’s stopping you from becoming vegan.
Now, I am FAR from ready for God’s Heavenly realms, myself….But I am work in progress….and vegan. I KNOW that God’s heart breaks for much of what humans have made of the World he gave us, but I do not want o have to own to any more damage to His Kingdom on Earth, than absolutely necessary.
Exploitation of animals, in ALL its forms, whether for entertainment, food, clothing….shampoo……is not necessary. Please become vegan.
Hi Amanda, thanks so much for your comment – I hear you very much and have sympathy for your view.
The egg industry is awful, which is why I kept my own chickens for many years and support the organic industry.
I would say we are all learning and taking steps at different times. I know that where I am now is not where I was years ago, and I have no doubt that I will keep learning and keep making different changes.
Thank you for your compassion,
Hi Dr Ruth Valerio, I was listening to your prayer for the day this morning 4th March about the Bible story about the widow who gives her last coin to the church. I always remember at my junior school during a discussion in the 60’s I mentioned that the Beatles were generous in their charitable giving and a fellow 10 year old girl quoted this Bible story to a huge cheer. It made me feel very small and strangely ashamed. This girl was a rather smart, attractive girl.
Recently though I think to weaponise a Bible story like this surely is wrong and I still think to give even though someone is wealthy is better than not giving at all.
Thanks so much for your comment, Moira. I’m not so sure that I used that passage in a weaponising way. My aim was to encourage generosity and I agree that we all need to give, whether we are wealthy or not.
All the very best,
Oh Ruth! The organic, free range labelling was something that I bought into (literally!) around 6 years ago, before I became vegan . But I realise now that these labels were just “consumer pacifiers” designed to make me feel better about my purchase; An ex-chicken farmer told me that there was little difference between eggs from his “free-range” and other chickens; The chickens still spent most of their lives in a shed (where the food was), but the shed had to have some openings providing access to the land outside; He said the openings were very small, and that it would have to be a very determined/lucky chicken to find the openings amidst the density of chickens in the shed; He said that very few birds ever made it outside .
And organic? Well, that is just what the birds are fed….Nothing about their overall quality of life, and the right I believe they have, to raise their young, and live out their lives untroubled by involvement with humans.
Didn’t God create humans to CARE for all his creation?
I could never go back to my pre-vegan life, because I feel that would be in direct disobedience of Jesus’ teaching on compassion.
I truly struggle with non-veganism within my own family, but within my Christian family?!!! I despair .
Why are humans SO RESISTANT to the science around the essential change that is required of us ALL if we, and other creatures, are to continue to live on this planet?
Thanks Amanda. Have you come across the work of David Clough and his Creature Kind initiative? Do check it out, I think you’d really like it.
All the very best
Thanks Ruth, I’ll definitely have a look! x
An excellent article to republish Ruth. You are clearly moving in the right direction and long may your journey continue. As a Christian myself, I do find myself totally in line with your comments and actions. On the subject of chicken, egg and animal welfare, perhaps I could add another thought of my own. I consider myself an avid animal lover, but preferably in the wild than captured. This is probably very controversial but I often ponder on this thought. Is it right to remove a dog from it’s parents and siblings from a moral perspective. This article completely captures all my thoughts on that matter. https://theconversation.com/pets-is-it-ethical-to-keep-them-115647 But justification of animal ownership from a sustainability point of view, is handled nicely by the vegan community who give some excellent advice on this. However, I find myself looking at the economic debate as something that is rarely discussed. A whole industry has been created around my original ethical thinking, which one does wonder what the environmental benefit would have been, if we didn’t decide to harness animals for the many reasons mentioned int that article. I do wonder if Noah had an insight of today, would he have thought through his actions given the exponential growth of human and animal population. IMHO, there’s no doubt he would still obey God, but what if….? One thing is certain though, it’s not only Christians who live on the planet and we need everyone on board, if we’re serious about Sustainability.
Hello Robert. Your link to the Conversation article, on the moral argument around pet “owning”, is very welcome…and will definitely challenge some folk, but I couldn’t have said it better myself!
The whole idea of “owning” another being is just WRONG.
White people used to capture and enslave black people; We now recognise how morally wrong this was; I pray for similar enlightenment regards the need to end our exploitation of all Earthlings.
Sorry, for hijacking your blog, Ruth. I will leave it to others to continue on the theme you introduced! Oh! And thank you for the thoughtful, and Earth-loving actions, you’ve made so far .
Blessings to all x
Thanks Amanda, I’m glad it’s stimulated some discussion x
I’ll definitely look him up, Ruth. Thanks! x