Living in a slum in India is not everyone’s idea of a life lived to the full. But for more than two decades now, Mark Delaney, his wife Cathy and two sons Tom (21) and Oscar (16) have responded to God’s call to serve those in need by living among the poor. In this context, they have found a life that is rich in its experience of God, and deep in its connection with neighbours and creation. Mark and Tom have just launched a book “Low Carbon and Loving It – adventures in sustainable living from the streets of India to middle class Australia”. In the midst of a book tour, Mark shared with TEAR Australia about how relationships, integrity and valuing creation are, for him, central to restoring a broken society, and a broken climate, to health.
Fundamentally, we have a God-given responsibility to care for each other and for the earth so that it is a good home for everybody, both now and for future generations.
This responsibility to care for people and for the earth, however, is at odds with what mainstream society tells us: “Your value is about your salary, your job, and the things you own. You will be a better person and you will enjoy life more if you have this money, this job and this thing.”
So those value systems clash at a basic level: God says our job is to look after each other, and our only world, for the benefit of all people, now and in the future, but the system says you need to consume and own as much as possible right now. Another way of saying this is the basic dilemma in life is the struggle between selfishness and selflessness. God has made us to be self-less, yet the system tells us to be selfish.
Life that God desires for us however – life lived to the full – is for me, defined not by the things we own, nor the status we have. Instead it is defined by caring, mutual relationships, by the integrity of our actions, and by valuing creation – for the exquisite world God has given us. This, for me, is the core stuff of life. This is life to the full.
I met my friend Kallu when we lived in a slum together in Delhi. When the slum came under threat of demolition by the government, Kallu stood up as one of only four people, in a slum of 7,000 residents, courageous enough to sign a court petition against the demolition. Most people did not sign because they were too fearful of repercussions from the government. After several weeks of fighting court battles, and making significant gains, Kallu was accused by some in his own community of having ulterior motives for his involvement – of being “on the take” from the government to instigate the demolition! Despite this awful injustice, when in the end the slum was demolished, and the residents moved to a ‘relocation’ area, Kallu continued to act for the welfare of his community.
In the relocation area, the government randomly allocated plots of land to families. Hindus were given land next door to Muslims, and people of different castes became neighbours. That created tension. Kallu helped people from all faiths and castes work to relate to each other as human beings. And thereby that community became richer. It became more networked, more related across barriers of gender, caste, religion and hierarchy, and therefore it become stronger. It restored a little more of the Kingdom of God in that place.
In his work during that demolition and relocation, Kallu reminded me of Christ. Somebody who acted selflessly, who was misunderstood and was accused of things that he hadn’t done, and yet who acted across boundaries to restore relationships. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, and the Syrophoenician woman, he treated them respectfully and broke down barriers, thus making their society a richer place. Through all this, Kallu has inspired Cathy and me in our own work among the poor to restore caring mutual relationships.
Life that is lived to the full involves honesty – being honest with each other and ourselves about our thoughts, feelings and motives. The more lovingly honest we can be with each other about what’s going on, including our hopes and fears, the better off we are. This is important for our marriages, our kids, our communities and our churches.
A few years ago I was involved in a political protest against a government Minister who was heard joking (to then Prime Minister Abbott) about climate change, and the viability of entire Pacific island states. I found his actions so abhorrent that I got involved in a peaceful protest which carried a significant prospect of arrest. This involved a lot of soul searching for me, but in the end it became an issue of integrity. I wanted to be honest about what I like, and what I dislike. And this was something that I really, really disliked. So, rather than just complaining to my friends or colleagues, I wanted to be honest with the Minister about what I felt. I was respectful, but honest and was prepared to be arrested for that.
Honesty has also been my motivation for writing the book with Tom. I wanted to be upfront in saying what motivates me in life, what concerns me. We see climate change as the most significant issue of our generation. It will likely bring sea-level rise, displacing millions, lead to the loss of thousands of species, reduce food production and create geopolitical tensions – all by the end of this century. Most of these effects will hit the poor quicker and harder than those of us in affluent societies.
I see this honesty in motivations in Jesus too. He was upfront in saying who he was, what he was called to do. He said: “I am going to the cross”, and people didn’t like that; they asked him not to say it. Jesus was honest in his care for people he met from different ethnic groups, and again people didn’t like that. And he was honest with the leaders like Pilate. Knowing he was going to be nailed to the cross, Jesus still chose honesty.
We see climate change as the most significant issue of our generation. It will likely bring sea-level rise, displacing millions, lead to the loss of thousands of species, reduce food production and create geopolitical tensions – all by the end of this century. Most of these effects will hit the poor quicker and harder than those of us in affluent societies.
I love the ocean. I’m awed by mountains. I delight in trees. In a way, they bring me closer to God. Perhaps that’s because the ocean, mountains and trees – the natural world we haven’t destroyed yet – gives me a window into God’s power and creativity. So when I’m struggling and I’m down, about poverty or climate change, getting into nature is restorative for me. That wave in the ocean is healing.
Of course as people we can be part of creating the world too – an amazing building, a piece of art, a witty joke. That creativity, I believe, comes out of God’s nature within each of us. God has made all of us individually, and we all have things which we can create to make the world a better place.
All this leads to joy. The joy of living a life that is relational, has integrity and values creation. This is real joy. The system around us has corrupted the notion of joy to tell us it’s about possessing stuff. But real joy comes not from buying more stuff, but from relating in a caring, mutual way with people who are seen as inconsequential by the world. It comes from a loving, honest conversation with a friend. It comes from picking up the rubbish from the creek to restore, even if in a small way, God’s creation. Living a life that is caring, honest and values creation – that for me is joy.
I’m incredibly grateful that over my life, many years of which have been with the poor, I’ve known caring relationships, great honesty, and experienced wonderful creation – a good life indeed!
Mark and Tom’s book ‘Low-carbon and Loving It’ is an ordinary person’s easy-to-read guide to climate change. The book lays out the problem of climate change (its causes and consequences), and considers real solutions – providing concrete ways to lead a lower-carbon life.
It’s also the story of the Delaney family. Mark and Cathy have lived much of their working lives in India, living with poor neighbours who struggle to survive day to day. It is this unique perspective which allows Mark and Tom to see afresh the climate crisis and offer unique ways forward.
From their lives, they know a lower-carbon life is possible, and even fulfilling, not only in India, but also
in middle-class Australia. See www.lowcarbonandlovingit.wordpress.com for more.