Day one – Faithful Consumption
When people ask me why I take the time to find the supermarket that sells free range pork, or pay for a carbon offset on my airfare, or preference one clothing label over another, the answer is simple: because in the biblical tradition people, the planet, and animals matter.
The Bible opens with the creation of the universe as the temple of God. Our world is no mere ball of mud spinning in a dark and empty space devoid of meaning or purpose, governed by nothing other than the relentlessly indifferent logic of impersonal forces. It is the handiwork of a God who is a wellspring of love, joy, creativity, and goodness and who inhabits every moment and every space with longing, hope, and love.
The whole of creation is thereby invested with value. In western thinking the world’s value is usually determined by the utility it offers humankind. In biblical thinking its value is determined by its relation to God. Everything was made by God, through God, and for God (Colossians 1). To the eye of faith, the sun, moon and stars; oceans; glaciers; mountains and valleys; and every living creature sing of the Creator’s power and wisdom (Psalm 8, 19) and humankind is created to signal God’s character, to be the visible expression of grace, compassion, generosity, kindness, and all that is good (Genesis 1:26-28).
Everything created is the object of God’s fierce, passionate, unrelenting love. Jesus calls us to remember that the birds of the air are the beneficiaries of God’s great love (Matthew 6) and that if this is true of birds, it is true for us too! The book of Jonah closes with the observation that it was God’s concern for the people and the cattle of Ninevah that motivated God to seek the salvation of the city. The psalmist reminds us that the Creator has ordered the universe, so that every creature has its place and the various elements of creation are arranged so that life is sustained (Psalm 104).
This understanding transforms the way I engage with the earth, its creatures, and my fellow human beings. God intends us to consume food, water, oxygen, and all that is necessary for sustaining our lives. God created a planet filled with a beauty that satiates my senses and leaves me longing to soak in more places, more experiences, more moments of joy, awe, and wonder. God created an earth with incredible ecosystems that deliver the food, water, and other material elements of life that sustain the existence of every living creature. It is good to delight in these things.
This however must be done in recognition that God’s deep and abiding love extends to all living things and that God’s intention is that all living creatures enjoy life. How then can I be indifferent to the ways my consumption is degrading the earth’s environmental systems and driving a great mass extinction of species? How can I tolerate the exploitation of workers who produce the goods I buy? How can I close my heart to the suffering of animals on factory farms? How can I be so caught up in having more that I am unavailable to people in need?
I cannot. This is why and how I take my faith with me when I shop.
Scott Higgins is an ordained Baptist minister, consultant and blogger who has spent three decades in pastoring, social justice advocacy and community education.
Day two – Confessions of a plastic free enthusiast.
“WHAT IS THIS NEW PACKET OF GLAD WRAP DOING HERE? WE HAVEN’T USED GLAD WRAP IN OVER A YEAR!”
“YOU GOT PLASTIC BAGS… AGAIN?? WHY DIDN’T YOU TAKE THE GREENBAGS TO WOOLIES?!”
“WHAT! WHY DID YOU BUY GARBAGE BAGS?! NAKED BIN, I REPEAT, NNAAKKEEDD BBIINN!”
Welcome to share-house living with a plastic free enthusiast.
I’ve done Plastic Free July for three years now, and it has blown my mind and changed my life. Ever since then, every piece of single use plastic I use (or see being used) cuts me to my core. And, credit where credit is due – my housemates are generally quite conscious about their environmental impact… and gracious with me as I work out how to advocate in this space!
Although I’ve gathered quite a reputation for my anti-plastic efforts, I’m still rubbish at it (pardon the pun). My heart is there but sometimes my laziness take hold… or I can’t come up with a creative solution in the moment… or I simply don’t realise there’s plastic hiding away within the packaging of a cardboard box.
But I’ve now reached a point in my plastic-free journey where I’ve learnt to forgive myself (and others!) for these little slips. So, how did I get here?
After finishing my very first Plastic Free July, I took baby steps. One example is eliminating plastic shopping bags. I haven’t used single use plastic bags for years, and while I’d love to brag about having the memory of an elephant, sometimes I forget my reusable bags which results in me leaving the supermarket with zucchinis stuffed in my pockets, apples stacked on my arms, and pasta sauce wedged under my chin. Or, worse still, suspiciously stuffing my backpack with the items I’ve just bought when clothes shopping!
With the baby steps mastered I learned to be more intentional with my shopping choices. Now I take jars to bulk food shops to collect pasta, rice, or lentils, or to refill my shampoo bottle. I put spinach leaves in paper mushroom bags rather than plastic, and I take my own reusable plastic containers to get takeaway from the Thai restaurant down the road… who know me and my odd requests all too well!
I’ve also found my voice at work, here at Baptist World Aid, sharing what I’ve learned to initiate change. I appreciate the patience of my colleagues when they sit through presentation after presentation about plastic in staff meetings… and the forbearance when I lead them in yet another silly recycling game.
But it isn’t silly at all. And I’ve been delighted to see my colleagues take up the challenge and consider how to better their own recycling and waste reduction habits – not only in the workplace, but in their personal lives as well!
These are more than just ideals though… ultimately, we’re called by God to love the earth. We have access to a Bible where, in the very first few chapters, our great responsibility to steward our resources well is outlined. Furthermore, among this whole host of other things, God also encourages us to love our neighbours… and what better way to love our global village than to limit the impact of our pollution?
I have found that moving towards living a plastic free life hasn’t restricted me, but rather challenged and grown my creativity tenfold. It hasn’t dampened the fun I have on weekends, fun has been enhanced as I move towards activities that love the earth as well as those around me. My bank account hasn’t run dry, it has grown thanks to the investments I’ve made towards a more sustainable lifestyle, freeing me up to give more away… and when I’m honouring God in the most holistic sense that I can – in every action that I take – my faithful consumption brings me closer to Him.
Natalie Duchesne is a committed plastic free enthusiast and Baptist World Aid’s former National Partnerships Coordinator.
Day three – Faithful Consumption
It’s not good for business to talk about how unethical supply chains can negatively impact our world. The line that we are sold by advertisers in our Instagram feeds is that fashion is about fun and beauty. Fashion is a sweet and frivolous escape. And that’s not entirely untrue, a beautiful garment can absolutely be that… but it’s not the whole story.
I’ve seen audit findings that tell of workers who are toiling for 12-hour days, 7-days a week, and every day of the month. I’ve seen reports of severe pollution due to contaminated waste being released into waterways without treatment. I’ve heard and read countless stories about the way that our love of buying more and more fashion leads to the environment, and the people who rely on it for their wellbeing, being devalued and destroyed.
Even still, I don’t think that buying clothes should be entirely avoided, or that loving fashion is something of which to be ashamed. There are items in my wardrobe that I adore – there are dresses which are pieces of art and my late Grandma’s jumper which carries her memory. There are items that bring me joy because they’re part of my own small efforts to reshape this world – skirts and blouses from Op Shops, and bags that have been made by more ethical companies, or that use innovative new materials which reduce waste.
No. I don’t think it’s necessary to boycott fashion altogether, but I do hope that we can be part of helping it to re-discover its true value.
Instead of following fast fashion’s imperative to buy cheap and buy often, I have chosen to slow down my consumption, appreciate what I have, identify what I need, and really value the pieces I choose to buy. In turn, this has led to me actively valuing the people who make my clothes and the environmental resources that go into their production.
But what does this look like day-to-day?
I enjoy browsing and buying freely at op shops. The prices are lower, and my money goes to Op Shop charities rather than big companies. That way I can avoid worrying that buying a lowly rated brand will enable exploitative practices, and I am diverting clothing from landfill by giving a garment new life. Win, win, win!
Choosing ethical brands
I use the 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide and preference brands with an A or B grade. I also use the preliminary environmental research published in the 2018 Ethical Fashion Report, detailing the top 10 environmental performers – that way I can be sure that my purchases are impacting less negatively on the planet too!
Buying higher quality clothes
I look for garments that are made better and that will last longer. Sometimes high-quality means paying more, but not always. And, if you’re still a bit worried about spending more on your clothes, think about how much it annually costs you to buy low-quality clothes which don’t last, or items that you’re only going to wear once. Instead of buying lots of clothes for cheap, save up to buy fewer items for a little bit more
Meredith Rynan is passionate about creating systems which are ethical and effective. She used her skills as a lawyer across all departments at Baptist World Aid, providing advice on supply chains, governance and policy.
Day four – How you can choose an ethical Christmas
For me, the season of Christmas only truly arrives when I see the red hue of Christmas bush as it begins to bloom throughout Sydney. But long before I see Christmas blossoming in nature, I see the season heralded in by a different transformation altogether… one that takes place inside our local shopping centres.
You might notice it start with the sudden arrival of Christmas decorations in a department store, or perhaps you’ll be tipped-off by a subtle transition in the airwaves to carols and Christmas songs. Before you know it, Christmas trees are filling stores as fast as free car spaces disappear, and your stress levels can far surpass the star atop even the tallest Christmas tree.
Truthfully? I do love this season for all that it can be. But I also know that crafting a meaningful Christmas takes intention. It’s important that we focus on and remember the gift of Jesus to transform our world, and, as we do, we should also remember that our actions impact this planet – and the people who inhabit it – especially at this time of year when consumption reaches a peak!
Here’s how I try to make my Christmas decisions more thoughtful and, where possible, more ethical.
Like with most things in life, it’s best to start with a plan – and the same applies for crafting an ethical Christmas. Set aside some time, either this evening or over the coming weekend, and write up a list of what you might need to consider for your family’s Christmas. Preparing gifts, decorations, and meals are standard Christmas-time to-do list items. Forming a list will not only help reduce the stress of the season, but also help you focus on the most meaningful choices for you and your family this Christmas.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Once you’ve thought through gifts, decorations, meals, and more for your Christmas, review your list with an ethical lens to see where you might be able to make more thoughtful or ethical choices. Reducing what you buy new, reusing things that can have a second life, and recycling what cannot – these are all important and impactful actions. Can you DIY your decorations or focus them to one room of the house? Can you visit a local market for your food and gift giving? Or maybe even reuse some of last year’s wrapping paper?
Choosing ethical at Christmas
When you’re looking to source ethical alternatives this Christmas, certifications offer consumers a simple “tick of approval” that you can trust. It’s important, however, to use certifications that are robust and reliable.
If you’re looking to ensure that the workers who made the products you’re gifting have protections for fair working conditions and pay, then be sure to look for certifications that can be relied upon such as Fairtrade. Fairtrade covers a range of product categories, from clothing, to sports balls, to food – this year I have my eye on some delicious options, made with Fairtrade ingredients, from Eat Me Chutneys.
If you’re looking to ensure the environment is protected in the production of the product you’re gifting, look to certifications like the Global Organic Cotton Standard (GOTS). GOTS is the leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, which considers both environmental and social criteria, through the entire textile supply chain. Nat Duchesne would be happy to hear that you can even reduce your plastic use, whilst also choosing GOTS certified cotton by nabbing some reusable food wraps from Honeybee Wraps.
These and other certifications are considered in our grading for the Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Guide, which is a helpful addition to your ethical approach this Christmas.
Libby Sanders is Baptist World Aid’s former Corporate Advocacy Lead and headed up the team responsible for creating our Ethical Fashion Guide and Ethical Fashion Report.
Day five – What our children need more than a consumerist Christmas…
Have you noticed that people can go a bit crazy about Christmas when they have kids… please tell me I’m not the only parent who has experienced this?! Tinsel-time fuels some deep, primal urge to prove that we are good, fun-loving, generous parents, propelling us to the shops to purchase parcels and packaging.
The fact that parenting is the most important job we’ve ever done (and the one we’re least qualified for) creates fertile conditions for insecurity that leave us open to the sway of the most highly paid of all psychologists – advertisers.
Our consumerist society only works if we are all kept in a state of discontent, with a flourishing fear of scarcity. As Christians though, we know a God of abundance, and Jesus counselled us to live with contentment. As Christian parents then, we are at odds with our society in this, and it’s particularly apparent at Christmas.
Understanding the effects of our consumer culture on us and on our children is the first step to pushing back. Here are some ways to raise kids who care more than they consume this Christmas:
Studies consistently report that people who are materialistic tend to be less satisfied with life and less happy. Rather, they are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and narcissistic. This, like Jesus’s “woe to the rich” passage in Luke 6:24-26, can evoke righteous judgment in us toward those nasty rich people, until we face the fact that we are the rich. Test yourself on the website Giving What We Can to see exactly where you sit in the world. It’s confronting, but recognising this can also lead to contentment, because it challenges the idea that we still need more.
Christians are called to contentment – which is attainable – rather than to the obsession with chasing ever-changing happiness goals.
Happiness is a by-product of things like good relationships and meaningful work. One way proven to increase happiness is being grateful. Discuss with your family the difference between needs and wants; happiness and contentment. Encourage each other to pray daily beginning with thanksgiving, or to think of three things they’re grateful for before bed each night.
It’s not how much you have that makes you happy, it’s how much you appreciate what you have.
Create a culture of compassion
Harvard University’s study The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults are Sending About Values, surveyed 10,000 young people and found only 20% ranked caring for others above achievement or happiness. They found that simply talking about compassion is not enough. While 96% of parents said they want to raise ethical, caring children, 80% of the youths surveyed reported that their parents, “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.”
When teaching children, I’ve often spent time helping them learn about other children around the world whose lives are very different. Children have a strong sense of justice and a fundamental compassion that we can develop with education or exposure.
Explain what you believe to your children, what causes you care about and why. Talk about and pray for contemporary issues and ask your children for their opinions. If they get upset, help them find a way to respond. Responding will make them feel they can partner with God to make a difference, rather than becoming overwhelmed or numb. Talk about what organisations you give to and why you’ve chosen them.
Teach your children about generosity with The Single Thing Children’s Lessons or let your kids choose their Christmas gifts from The Little Book of Big Hearted Gifts. In our family Christmas is so much more relaxing without trips to the shopping centre and with the knowledge that we’ve mad someone else’s life a little more abundant!
Encourage your children to give from their pocket money – they can choose a project to give to throughout the year. They may choose to do extra work to increase this amount or ask their extended family to give their gifts to children who need them more.
Susy Lee is a former Advocacy Coordinator for Baptist World Aid Australia, but her eclectic career has consistently included encouraging people to make the world a more just and peaceful place in the way described by Jesus.