“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
—Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 139.
Two weeks ago, I sent my friend her favourite fruit shakes via a delivery service and requested that the delivery person hang the package on her door as my friend was serving a quarantine order due her exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Hours later, I received a very polite and carefully worded message that asked, “I’m genuinely curious—how does this [i.e. ordering food and having it delivered] square with your zero waste and zero plastic lifestyle?”
Since 2017, I’ve been using an Instagram account, @tabaogirl, to journal my daily zero and low waste efforts, as well as my challenges and successes with being more environmentally responsible and caring for God’s creation. Like-minded friends, old and new, have been drawn together by our common love and care for this one earth we have.
When I first read the message from my friend, my immediate reaction was, “Ouch, I didn’t realise that my actions were being so closely watched.” The second thought that crossed my mind was, “I do quite a lot daily to care for the environment compared to most others. Shouldn’t I get cut some slack? Doesn’t my consistency over the past three years show sincerity and commitment?”
After moving past the hurt, I realised that this could be a valuable opportunity for a conversation that I wished more people would have. I responded, “There is this myth that caring for the environment means we cannot care for people, or we will leave people worse off or deprive ourselves of a decent quality of life. I’ve noticed that what puts people off is a militant and extreme environmentalism, that’s a zero sum game.
True care for the environment or people is not like this at all. At the heart of our human experience, in every circumstance, we have complex and shifting priorities or responsibilities. So, moment to moment, I do my best to discern what I can do that would be most in service. How do I love someone in a way that would honour God? How do I live in a way that best demonstrates discipleship?
I could have made those fruit shakes myself, or bought them in reusables from the store and personally delivered it to my friend’s place, but that would have involved me travelling a long way, which would enlarge my carbon footprint and consume energy. In the event she became a new confirmed COVID-19 case, I might have inadvertently become part of a new cluster of cases due to my zealousness to show care, instead of respecting what was prudent in the current context.
All things considered, delivering food from a local F&B outlet (an industry that needs support during this current circuit breaker) to my friend, and which is less than 10 minutes from her place, would be more energy-efficient, kind and thoughtful. It would also prevent non-essential physical contact. I don’t think I can ever be completely zero waste and zero impact, but living well is to constantly strive to be more responsible and take more care.”
Let’s not be too quick to judge a person or a situation, but take a step back to discern what can truly be for the greater good.
At a deeper level, this parallels our relationship with God and lifelong discipleship. God is not a discipline master who demands our absolute perfection, allowing no missteps. Instead, He sees the wholeness of who we are even in our brokenness; He’s always reminding us whom He’s made us to be, and holds compassion for where we are currently at.
In that space between who He’s envisioned us to be and the work in progress we are, He is a loving Father who is with us every step of the way, delights in our victories and comforts us during our struggles. He only asks for our desire to seek Him out daily, and may we grow in loving Him and all of His creation more steadfastly each day.
Shihui was one of the contributors to God’s Gardeners: Creation Care Stories from Singapore and Malaysia, which was reviewed in the April 2020 issue of Methodist Message.
Khee Shihui shares about Bring Your Own (BYO) and low waste practices on her Instagram account, @tabaogirl, to show that it’s possible to make the appreciation of God’s creation part of our daily lives. Nature reminds her very much of God’s creativity and sense of humour.