catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 5 :: 2006.03.10 — 2006.03.24


Cleanliness and cruelty

The first principle of conscious consumption that I learned was thrift. It wasn’t that anyone told me explicitly that “the cheapest choice is always the best choice,” but somehow I internalized the idea that Suave shampoo was sufficient for all of my hair care needs; anything more would constitute vanity or excess or both. Perhaps it was, after all, only Suave’s message of “affordable beauty” that I was taking to heart.

However, in the past couple of years, I’ve been attempting to re-learn the definition of “affordable” with respect to personal care products, primarily inspired by one of my housemates. Long before we met one another, Brianne was shaping her lifestyle according to her convictions about animal ethics. She decided not to eat meat. She created space in her home for orphaned animals and promoted spaying and neutering. She began moving toward the use of cruelty-free personal care and cleaning products that don’t involve animal testing in their production. Today, she attends seminary with a particular interest in animal ethics.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told her how much I appreciate the fact that our friendship has opened my eyes to a whole new area of faith practice, but I do. Without ever giving me an “animal ethics sermon,” she has helped me learn by example about caring for animals with my consumer choices. My husband and I have switched to TRESemm? hair care products, which are widely available, not tested on animals and not much more expensive than what we were using. We check labels on lotions and deodorant and other products for an indication of ethical production. And we also try to be conscious of other values as well?the way in which biodegradable cleaning products and laundry detergents are safer for our well, for example, and for all of the animals, insects, bacteria, plants and soil particles with whom we can enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Thankfully, we have a new store in our town that specializes in earth-friendly products, though I have to be conscious not to allow my principles to morph into an overwhelming urge to buy one of everything.

Such consciousness of creation can easily turn into consumerism with a slightly different twist and I’m on guard against that. My decisions should not motivated by guilt or a new label-checking legalism or a desire to pat myself on the back for being so “ethical”, but by the desire to love God by loving what God loves, from my own body to the creatures whom we name and care for. Though my acts are still incomplete, I am grateful to be getting a glimpse of what it will be like to shower in the Kingdom: lathering up with a big chunk of locally handcrafted soap, letting the water run over me with an awareness of the resource as a gift, shaving with an infinitely re-usable razor made from recycled yogurt cups.

As I think about conscious personal care, I’m constantly struck by how small some of these acts are. If even a razor can be a symbol of creation care, the problem of making my whole lifestyle reflect my values will take an eternity. It’s already taken me several years just to research, find and afford the few things that we’re already doing. However, in many ways, this is still a journey I’m just beginning. I haven’t researched statistics on vivisection. I can’t readily rattle off Bible passages that support a cruelty-free lifestyle. I don’t eat a lot of meat?something we’ve done for years out of respect for those around the world for whom meat is a luxury?but I haven’t made the decision to go vegetarian or vegan.

However, I’m learning that to even begin discovering the extent of God’s love for creation, the community of Christ’s followers needs to work together to drastically re-think its conscious and unconscious attitude toward systemic treatment of animals. We need to start thinking about cost as it relates to communal resources outside of our own pockets and the ways in which our carelessness causes sorrow to resonate throughout creation and the heart of God. This conversation is one that begins with those to whom God has given relevant passions, prophetic awareness and teaching gifts, but it is relevant to all of us who live, eat, shower and shave upon this earth.

I do not expect that I will discover how to live a perfectly kind life, but I hope that God will see fit to grace my efforts with life-giving effects beyond what I can control and know. I look forward to the time when we’ll all be given the clarity to understand how to live in right relationship with all people, creatures and gifts of earth. But even sooner, I look forward to participating in the communal conversation about how we can be better caretakers every day of all earth’s resources and creatures.

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