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'L' is for Lifestyle

Christian living that doesn't cost the earth

Ruth Valerio

ISBN: 9781844743438
192 pages, Paperback
Published: 21/11/2008


‘But you’ve only just written it!’ said a friend of mine when I told her I was revising my book. I have to confess to a certain degree of surprise myself when IVP approached me about revising it: to me, ‘revised editions’ happen to the likes of John Stott and Ron Sider when their bestsellers have been going for 20-odd years, not to a book that was only published four years ago! But, we live in a fast-changing world and a lot can happen in four years. Perhaps the starkest change is that, when this book was published in February 2004, there were no fairtrade products in British supermarkets. That made me realise that it was, indeed, time to revise the book!As I look back over these four years, I see that changes have taken place in three particular areas. The first of these is global. One of the most notable features of our world is the phenomenal economic growth experienced by China, as also by India and Brazil. Together, their growing energy demands will account for around 42% of the total projected increase in world energy demand. The environmental consequences of this economic growth, along with an abysmal human rights record, have not gone unnoticed. Of the world’s 30 most polluted cities 20 are in China, now the second largest energy consumer in the world. In a book on personal lifestyle changes, these facts must not be overlooked and we must take every available opportunity to push for global responses.

Another notable global feature is the way that perceptions of climate change have altered. When first writing ‘E is for Energy’, I felt the need to write a brief description of what climate change is; now that’s not necessary! Alongside the ‘war on terror’, economic issues and the Beckhams, human induced (‘anthropogenic’) climate change is a highly profiled issue in the media. The debates around its veracity are largely decided and finished: the current debated is how to deal with the changes that will inevitably happen, and how we can reduce our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to stop it accelerating out of control. Climate change has become the issue facing us today, to the extent that I could almost re-name this book, C is for Climate Change, because the majority of what I examine in this book impacts on, and is impacted by, climate change.

It astounds me how incredibly slowly we are, as individuals and as nations, responding to this issue, compared to the swift response that was taken after 9/11, both financially and politically. Our grandchildren will certainly ask us some hard-hitting and incredulous questions as to why on earth we continued living as we did when we knew what we knew. I hope I don’t give the impression in this book that all we need to do is shop a bit more ethically and then we have ‘done our bit’. The reality is that those of us living in the more economically developed countries must be prepared to limit our lifestyles, and radically. With Europe and America between them being responsible for more than 90% of the emissions that are already in the atmosphere, we are surely the ones who have to make the sacrifices.

The second area where change has occurred is in the church’s response to the need to care for God’s world, particularly in the UK, although things are gradually changing in America too. It is no surprise that, as society as a whole has been waking up to the state of our world, so the Church has been too, and we have been wrestling with how to respond as Christians. All the major denominations in the UK have brought out statements on creation care, and looking after God’s world is no longer seen as a slightly weird thing, but asan important part of Christian living today. Our understanding and verbal assent are however still largely divorced from our action. My prayer is that this book will continue to play its part in bringing the two together.

The third area where I see change is in myself. In the Introduction to the first edition I wrote, ‘this book comes from my own journey through these issues’. Well, that journey hasn’t stopped! I have kept trying, step by step, to find new ways of living that do as little damage as possible to God’s world and its inhabitants, humans of course included.

To discuss all those different steps would be somewhat boring and self-obsessive, but what excites me most (and what seems to interest others most too) is my attempts at growing and rearing some of my own food. Like many people, I now have an allotment, which I share with friends and from which we derive an inordinate amount of pleasure (and certainly out of all proportion to what we manage to produce!) Like a growing number of people, I keep chickens in the back garden to provide eggs. With some friends again, I now rear pigs, hence producing my own fresh pork, sausages, bacon and ham. The pigs are kept in a field belonging to a residential centre for adults with learning difficulties and the people at the centre help us look after the pigs (and, of course, eat the finished product!). The whole experience has been great for adults and children alike, and it has become such a wonderful part of our lives that my husband, Greg,jokes about me writing a book entitled, P is for Pigs! It has been exciting doing all this, thanks partly to fantastic friends who have become as equally committed as me to these things, while still living in a terraced house on our council estate.

So the journey towards sustainable living never ends. Even now, while writing this, Greg and I are in discussion about selling our car and buying an electric G-whizz car, and I am currently experimenting with washing our clothes with Indian nuts (no joke! Check out So far they seem to be working). I hope that this book encourages you to keep going on the journey, and to discover that it is demanding, fun and best done with other people.

Many of us are deeply concerned with the problems of injustice and poverty that are so prevalent in our world. We recognize that our lives are interlinked with those of other people around the world. We already give to various charities, but want to do more with our lifestyles to make those links beneficial rather than detrimental. The scale of the issues often seems overwhelming, however, leading to a sense of hopelessness. We do not know where to start. This book aims to break down the issues into manageable, bite-sized chunks, and to give very practical pointers to possible responses.

You may be new to these issues, but keen to learn more about what is happening and take some first steps. You maybe doing lots already and need some fresh ideas. You may be a student wanting to know what lifestyle options you can adopt when you graduate. You may want to know how to juggle the demands of a young family and mortgage repayments and still be a Christian actively concerned with wider global issues. Perhaps you are well established in life, with children at university and a good income (and a matching credit-card bill!) coming in every month, and yet you still want to know how to use the things God has blessed you with to bless others. You might now be retired, or maybe you have been made redundant, and you want to discover how to use your time to make a difference. Perhaps you are just exhausted with the pressures of consumerism and you want to explore the possibilities of a simpler lifestyle.

There are many things we can do to make a difference, and this book gives suggestions for minor changes as well as major challenges. Whatever your situation, you will find things to encourage and inspire you. Conversely, your particular situation may also mean that there are aspects of this book that you cannot take on. The aim is definitely not to make you feel guilty! Try taking a step-by-step approach,doing one or two things first, rather than taking on all the action points at once. When they become a part of your normal life, then do some more. This is a book to come back to again and again, dipping into different chapters as you wish. As mentioned above, it will be obvious as you read on that this book comes from my own journey. I have become increasingly aware of the problems that our world is facing, and concerned that, as a follower of Jesus, I have to play my part in doing something about them. The book therefore arises from my own circumstances – that is, normal life! I don’t live up a mountain in total self-sufficiency; I live on a council estate with two young children, a mortgage, and the stress of supermarket shopping. Lots of this book I am living already, and I hope I am an encouraging example of the fact that it can be done. There are parts of this book, though, where the suggested action is still an aspiration for me. For those of you who know me well, I ask you to be kind to me! Because it comes from my own journey, this book contains a lot of my personal opinions and stories. There will no doubt be things that you disagree with or other ways of achieving the same ends. I hope that you will find your own way through the pointers that this book provides.

Each chapter ends, where appropriate, with action points and additional references. Please check out the website,, which accompanies this book where you will find suggestions for further reading, organisations to contact for further information, and the full bibliography. ...