LIVING LIGHT
Living Light
Welcome! You have found the site of the CreationKeepers team (Christ Church's Eco Church Committee), which shares ideas and experiences about how we can all lighten our environmental footprint. We do this because we see our planet and its resources at a breaking point and believe in the power of personal examples. Most weeks, we will reflect on some aspect of living, working, shopping, consuming, reading, learning, etc. These are all local experiences and can easily be adopted by others in our community. Our authors (Rosie and Monika) look forward to any comments or ideas that you may also have and want to share. Send us your ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Blog #7: White and Shiny!?

February 25, 2021
Rosie Evans & Monika Weber-Fahr
It's one week into Lent, and yes, we have begun experimenting with the Green Anglican’s PlasticFasting calendar. For this week, the calendar suggested mindful actions to avoid plastic use when shopping for food, such as avoiding foam takeaways, refusing straws, avoiding single-use plastic shopping bags or plastic cutlery, all quite easy practices that we have added to our zero-waste menu. Next week, however, things will get more challenging. The calendar’s focus will be on avoiding plastic in the bathroom. For our readers, we wanted to check out what no/low plastic products for dental care are available in shops in Vienna. Here is what we discovered. 
Teeth matter, and not just for our health. Having white and shiny teeth seems to be a cultural signal for intelligence and attractiveness in many societies. While some form of teeth-cleaning has been around for several thousands of years, the Chinese may have been the ones to invent, or at least popularize, the first toothbrush in the 15th century. Today’s toothbrush design goes back to 1780 when William Addis created something made from cattle bone for the handle and swine bristles for the brush portion. Shortly after, plastic entered the equation. Plastic has been used for producing brushes at scale since the 1930s, added to the toothpaste itself, used to pack the paste, and used to produce and pack the floss.
Plastic brushes are a massive problem for planetary health. We can personally attest to this, having participated in river clean ups along the Danube here in Vienna, and along the Potomac in Washington DC. One always finds old plastic brushes and it's no wonder as they seem to biodegrade only after 400 years and are VERY hard to recycle. Worldwide, some records indicate that about 3.5 billion toothbrushes are sold every year. While we are not sure all available numbers add up properly, some reports note that Americans alone throw away about 1 billion toothbrushes annually. There is no debating that plastic toothbrushes find their way into marine debris and the stomachs of fish and marine mammals. Also toothpaste has contributed to the distribution of plastics across the planet, even though in many places the microplastics that they contain have been outlawed. Just the safe disposal or recycling of the approximate 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes that are discarded every year present a massive challenge.

From Greenpeace.org "Defending our OceansTour: Hawaii Trash" 
No/Low-Plastic Tooth Paste. In Vienna, it’s relatively easy to find three types of products: tooth-tabs (denttabs is the go to product, available at DM stores, packaged in paper bags), toothpaste in glass containers (Ben&Anna is a popular product, available in three flavors, both at Denn’s and Reformhaeuser), and toothpaste-powder, also sold in glass containers. If you are willing to go to Amazon, you can find more products, such as Chewy-Tabs. Our testing for taste and texture yielded mixed results. We both like our toothpaste to be foamy and have a strong (usually minty) flavour to leave the mouth feeling refreshed. One of us struggled with the denttabs, having to google how to go about chewing them until the tab makes a smooth paste. For foam enthusiasts, the experience is disappointing. Almost zero foam, and barely a sense of refreshment, as if one had not even brushed. The Ben&Anna paste did a bit better in the foamy department and also in look and feel, but also here the taste did not have the minty kick we were used to. The powder was the last one we tried and we differed on how we liked the taste (there are many options for taste available, though). But, foamy it was! The one thing that was a bit tricky was knowing how much to put on. We are not sure we got it right. But, hopefully with time, one could learn. Our conclusion? Mixed. On further research into the DentaTabs, we discovered that the lack of foam seems to relate to the absence of sulphates, and we felt reassured that one tablet is enough to do the job. Taking into account the little amount of packaging (they come in a paper bag, and if one buys them from a zero-waste shop, you can even put them in your own container), these definitely do seem to be the best option for the environment. The more we used them, we felt they grew on us. It may, perhaps, just take a bit of time to get used to. It is important to note though: All non-plastic options seem to be quite a bit more expensive than the toothpaste in plastic tubes. The tooth-tabs, for example, come in at just under 5 cents per tab, about 2 times or more than brushing with a regular toothpaste such as Colgate purchased at BIPA.

Foto of the paper bag in which DENTtabs are sold.
No/Low-Plastic Toothbrushes. Somewhat shocked by the sheer number of plastic toothbrushes we seem to be sending to the planet’s landfills, we proceeded to try two no/low-plastic brushes. Many stores in Vienna now offer some versions, mostly bamboo or wood.  We tried a charcoal toothbrush and a bamboo toothbrush, both available in Reformhaus Martin. When testing the charcoal toothbrush, we were baffled by what seemed to be an enormous amount of plastic packaging when this was supposed to be an alternative to plastic toothbrushes. The information on the box reassured us that the packaging was made from bioplastic, just like the toothbrush itself, more eco-friendly than regular plastic, but still with a heavy impact on the environment. The brush itself was impressive. It is rather different to the ones we were used to, the bristles are softer. But, it worked well and felt nice and soft on the gums. Important to note: Charcoal brushes are worth looking out for in that they are much better in not harboring the bacteria that one can often find in the brushes we all use. The bamboo toothbrush impressed us too. Just opening the paper package makes you smile, plus there is a beautiful little flower pattern on the handle. With a preference for firmer bristles, this one felt better to both of us. Note: The bristle is made from castor oil (yes, that is possible), and this is an important feature since many eco brushes end up with plastic for the bristle, so it is worth paying attention to. Previous experiences with bamboo toothbrushes suggest that the regular plastic ones do seem to last longer. Once again, we are finding that plastic seems to be the cheaper option. On the other hand, let’s not forget that we are supposed to change our toothbrush every three months or so, something that many of us tend to forget. Maybe it’s a good thing that the eco-friendly bamboo brush brittle deteriorates quickly and reminds us to go ahead and buy a new one?

Foto of one of the bamboo brushes. Here, the bristle is made from castor oil.
In summary: Yes, we do have options here in Vienna. We can switch from plastic toothbrushes and plastic-packed toothpaste to non-plastic versions. Billa or Hofer are not great, though. It mostly involves a trip to a Denn, a Reformmarkt, or similar store. The products require some getting used to and they are more expensive. Plus, they leave us with questions. How much more environmentally-friendly is a glass container from a plastic one? Will the DentaTabs protect my teeth well enough? Does the need to replace the bamboo toothbrush more frequently outweigh its more sustainable material? Sometimes we find these questions confusing and online resources often reflect different views and opinions. In the end, we must do our best with the information we have. And we do find the amount of plastic waste caused by dental hygiene products overwhelming. We want to investigate the matter of toothbrushes further. And we can’t deny that the DentaTabs use significantly less packaging than regular toothpaste. All in, flexibility and compromise may be important on the path forward. Stay tuned and share with us your own experiences and choices!

Blog #6: The Creation Keepers’ Guide to Lent

February 18, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
So Lent has arrived! It’s meant to be a time to (re)focus on what it means to be and live as Christians, to be just in the biblical sense, meaning to be in the right relationship with God, with ourselves and with our neighbours. The traditional Lenten practices are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbours). Among fellow Christians, though, I have seen many different paths walked in adopting these practices, in particular as far as fasting is concerned, ranging from food practices (absolute or partial fasting such as giving up meat, sweets, alcohol, and so on), to fasting from negative habits (giving up gossip, excuses, or, my personal favorite, giving up nagging) and to many more life-choice type things. Yes, fasting has arrived in the mainstream.
Is there a Creation Keepers’ Guide to Lent? The good news is that all three Lenten practices -- prayer, fasting, and almsgiving -- can point us to and allow us to partake in practices of stewardship for God’s creation. All three play a role across the four Lent Choices that we have reviewed here for you.
 
1. A Learning a Week: God’s Creation, Praying, and Reviewing Your Choices. This year’s Christ Church Vienna Lent Course: Caring for Creation offers fact-based information on topics such as the environment and climate change, combined with the opportunity to consider jointly with other members of the community what prompts us as Christians to pay attention to what is actually happening to our planet today. We will also discuss what, with God’s guidance and strength, we can do as individuals and as a community to care for creation. The five sessions are based on the York Course Caring for Creation and combined with other resources for knowledge, inspiration, and prayer. The in-person group will meet on Wednesday mornings at 10:15 am (from Ash Wednesday). The Zoom group will meet Thursday evenings at 7pm (starting on Thursday, 18 February).
Do you want to complement the Christ Church course with something more? The Diocese in Europe recommends For Such A Time as This. It is a set of 6 studies exploring environmental justice from Anglican perspectives around the world. Check out the PDF format here. Each study provides a reflection from a global partner, biblical extracts for reflection, questions for discussion, prayers, and a simple action or commitment.
2. An Action a Day: Plastic Fasting. Here is a fun idea - do one thing each day that helps you take a step towards reducing your use of plastic. This day-by-day guide can help. Originally developed by the Church of England's Environment team, as part of a 2018 “Plastic Free Lent Challenge,” it offers a practical tip each day of lent to reduce your use of plastic. These tips cover different areas of life such as “in the kitchen,” “in the bathroom,” “when traveling,” “in the home,” and so on. Thee is a great Facebook Group, “Plastic-less living” associated with the original lent challenge, worthwhile subscribing to even beyond lent.  I have printed out the day-by-day guide and put it on my fridge at home. We’ll see what we can do each day.
 
This is how the "Plastic Fasting" calendar of the Green Anglicans looks. Check it out online.
3. A Moment a Day: Walking in the Wilderness. Looking for more spiritual resources, both for your Lenten prayer practices, and to reflect on God’s mandate for us to take care of his creation? In researching for something that would both reflect our current situation and be inspiring for the environmentally-minded, I came across Beth Richardson’s Walking in the Wilderness. It’s a day-by-day guide through this year’s Lent, offering a poem or quote, a piece of scripture, and a “word to carry in your heart today.” Why do I recommend it? For full disclosure, originally I was attracted just by the booklet’s title, Wilderness. I quickly learned that wilderness has many spiritual meanings and does not necessarily describe what my somewhat jungle-book shaped mind had envisioned. Indeed, the author takes the concept of wilderness way beyond what nature has to offer. The reflections and prayers offer insights and sources of strength for anyone seeking to bring about change in one’s own life or that of others, which really is the journey ahead for anyone seeking to address the environmental challenges of today. And I imagine we can, in addition to reading the daily dedications contained in the book, enrich the experience by taking a proper “walk in the wilderness,” whether it’s in the Vienna Prater or anywhere else close to where we live. Other day-to-day resources that I checked and can recommend for Lent include the Anglican Church’s #LiveLent app (also you can sign up via email).

A view of the front page of Beth Richardson's day-by-day guide to this year's Lent, Walking in the Wilderness.
4. A Commitment for all 40 Days: Car Fasting and inviting others to Car-Fast. The idea of reducing or cutting out one’s use of one’s car (or others’ cars) has been around for sometime, for various reasons, perhaps starting with the 1970s oil-crisis driven car-free Sundays in many countries. Much later, in 2013, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of CapeTown, one of the 2015 founders of the Bishops for Climate Justice Initiative, invited his congregation to join him for a Carbon Fast for Lent that included reducing the amount of petrol used for cars. Here in Austria, car fasting or Auto Fasten has also been around for some time, organized by the ecumenical environment initiative of Austrian churches. Autofasten.at offers some practical resources (though regrettably only in German), including a CO2 calculator to work out the emissions associated with your car rides. There is also a cute Autofasten Kalendar to record one’s achievements. Of course, many Christ Church members may not even own a car. But hey, AutoFasten.at explains also to the non-car-owners what we can all do to promote Auto Fasten more broadly. This could include inviting others (who have a car) to join us in walking, cycling, or taking public transport, including for getting to church, fixing an Auto Fasten sign on our bicycle, actively supporting the bicycle lobby in Vienna, discussing at our workplace activities that would not involve cars, reducing the use of services that rely on the use of car (e.g., ordering online), and supporting local initiatives that aim to reduce the use of cars. Of course, this year, and in particular on colder days, we must be mindful that the COVID-19 risks may cause some of us to use a car instead of public transport to minimize infection risks, in particular where we cannot choose the time of day and degree of crowding on the buses or trains. It’s worthwhile checking out Wiener Linien’s information and guidelines on reducing infection risks on buses, trains, and trams.

A screenshot of Autofasten.at, where one can find (German) guidance and resources for promoting reductions in car use. 
Inspired to adopt an environmental theme for your lent practices this year? Whatever you end up doing within your relationship with God, with yourself, and with your neighbours, may it well lead you to doing justice to God’s creation! Let us know what you think and do!

A "word cloud" of all the words we used in the first five Blogs of this series.

Blog #5: Dominion means ... ... ... care?!

February 11, 2021
Rosie Evans
Is taking care of creation really a priority for Christians? As important as love, justice and peace? Something that we, faith-based people, need to pay attention to, engage with and take action on? And if so, to whom can we look for inspiration?

 

 Picture: A view of the greenanglicans.org site, quoting Genesis (1:31)

Last September, during Creationtide here at Christ Church Vienna, I attended Dr. Clare Amos’s Bible study “And God saw that it was good: The Bible and Creation,” and it left me both inspired and full of questions. Dr. Amos, Director of Lay Discipleship for the Anglican European Diocese, has written about and taught on the topic of creation. Before taking a deeper look into the New Testament perspective on the subject of creation, Dr. Amos looks at the description in Genesis of our dominion over creation: “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth.” At that point, the wheels in my head started turning, and I began to wonder: What does it mean for us to have dominion over creation?
“God gave us Dominion. Dominion means stewardship, it means care,” says Revd Canon Sally Bingham, and she is not mincing words.  She is an Episcopal priest in California, president of the Interfaith Power and Light Campaign, whose goal is to “help people of faith recognise and fulfill their responsibility for the stewardship of creation.” Revd Bingham has a beautiful 4-minute video online explaining the spiritual dimensions that should guide Christians to invest time and energy in matters of environment: “Taking care of creation is a matter of faith. It is as important as love, justice, and peace,” she says in the video. And she reminds us that “we need to do a better job, God put you here to be a Caretaker!”
Inspired by both Dr Amos and Rev Canon Sally Bignham, I began to search for more people of faith who had spoken on the topic of creation and climate change, and I was reminded of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu, who is also well known as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist, speaks clearly about climate change and the impact that the ever more frequent heat waves, storms, droughts and floods have on the poor. "We fought apartheid.  Now Climate Change is our global enemy" he says. In the 2020 International Peace Lecture, Archbishop Tutu challenges us: "Words are not enough. We must work the work." His introduction, accompanied by images that brought tears to my eyes, confirms the need for action and explains the meaning of “climate justice”, a term that describes how different people are affected differently by climate change, in terms of geographies, incomes and generations. The more I looked, the more faith leaders I found caring and calling for action and change, both within the Christian churches and beyond.
But what about formal guidance? Institutionally, most faith groups have come to follow their leaders. There are multiple declarations out there, ranging from the famous Laudato Si’ Encyclia of 2015, through to the many individual and joint declarations by churches and faith groups in the context of Climate Change conventions and other contexts. In the Anglican Church, we have the Five Marks of Mission, the fifth tasking us to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustaina and renew the life of the earth”. This was added in 1990 to the other four marks. In fact, the Anglican Church has an entire program around environmental protection and climate change, as do many associated groups - we will explore them in one of our next blogs. 
So no shortage in guidance and challenges. But what about faith? From where can we draw inspiration and connect through prayer and communion? Prayer is a very important aspect of my faith, and something that I believe is important when it comes to issues such as climate change and climate injustice. I invite you to pray. To pray for those who campaign against these challenges, who change the ways we live. To pray that the Lord may guide and inspire them and us in working towards a positive change. Looking for further inspiration?  You can find it in the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi, with the Church of England Creation Care prayer, the Church of England prayer for World Environment Day, or also Prayer, poetry and other worship resources from the Interfaith Power and Light Campaign.
Want to learn more? Caring for Creation is the new Lent Course we are running at Christ Church in Vienna. There will be 2 groups, one in the church centre starting on Wednesday 17th February at 10.15am, and one on Zoom starting on Thursday 18th February at 7pm. There are five sessions in which we will learn more about topics such as the environment and climate change, and together consider what prompts us as Christians to pay attention to what is actually happening to our planet today. We will discuss how, with God’s guidance and strength, we can consider what to do as individuals and as a community, to care for creation. We will use the structure of the York Course Caring for Creation to search for facts on what it means to be living in a climate crisis, what it takes to open our eyes, and to discern pathways for action. And we will add other resources as we go along, for knowledge, inspiration and prayer. 
Join us! Let’s figure out together what God put us here for, giving us dominion!