Faith in action
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As I’ve strolled around our local parks in my daily walk with God, I’ve noticed many lovely black and white birds. “Which one of them is a magpie?” I wondered, “Which one a peewee?” and “Which one a butcher bird?” While some of you may resonate with my easy distraction from God, hopefully you will also identify with reconnecting to God’s creation in a deeper way.
Many of us were deeply disturbed by the way society, pre-COVID, was hurtling towards environmental catastrophe as we (including many people of faith) consumed more and more, in a misguided attempt to find happiness and fulfilment in things and experiences. But my marvelling at magpies and peewees has helped me wonder whether COVID 19 could, in fact, be a blessing in disguise – a chance for us all, and perhaps especially for people of faith, to re-imagine what a good life, of loving God, neighbour and creation, looks like.
Here I offer six learnings and corresponding reflection questions which might help us treat God’s creation, and His people within it, with the care they deserve. First, however, a sober reminder that, as ordinary Australians, we have an extraordinarily large carbon footprint – on average 22 tonnes CO2e[i] per person per year[ii] – over three times the global average. Thus, we are significant contributors to releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere – more than God’s amazing ecosystem of forests and oceans can absorb. In doing so, we are unwittingly causing the atmosphere to heat, droughts and fires to become more frequent, the seas to rise, and thousands of species to become extinct. Therefore, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are complicit in the desecration of God’s magnificent creation, and so making life much tougher for our neighbours, whether they be in Australia or beyond.
Many of us are aware of the carbon footprint associated with driving (average of 2 tonnes CO2e per Australian per year), and the electricity needed to run our pools and air-conditioners (1.5 tonnes per Australian per year), but fewer are aware that two of the biggest contributors to our footprints are the new products we purchase (5 tonnes CO2e per person per year), and our air-travel (about 2 tonnes per international flight). Thus, any learnings from COVID that help us be more content with what we have, and where we are, will be a big win for God’s creation and its inhabitants!
During COVID, many of us have spent more time in our local parks marvelling at nature. I learnt, for example, that there are many peewees (otherwise known as a magpie lark) in my neighbourhood. If that love of nature persists after COVID, might we be willing to do more to prevent the loss of many species of birds, insects and plants due to climate change. That may mean being willing to speak up over excessive land-clearing, or advocating that our energy supply move rapidly towards being sourced from renewables that don’t pump carbon into the atmosphere.
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I pledge to continue to appreciate real nature, or go back to watching the world on a screen?
Many of us have become experts at Zoom meetings from our home offices and found that, while not the same as face to face meetings, they’re actually not too bad. Similarly, as we’ve learnt to shop and exercise locally, we’ve found that our neighbourhood is also quite nice!
I wonder whether, after COVID, there will be more scope to continue doing some of our work from home, our recreation in our local community, and our holidays domestically, thus decreasing the need to drive and fly so much. I wonder too, whether as people of faith, having learned to run our church services and bible studies on-line, we will be more discerning as to whether we really need to fly to that next Christian conference, or whether we could, in fact, do it on-line.
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I pledge to continue to do some work, recreation and holidays closer to home, or will I jump back in the car and on the plane to go to that next meeting or exotic holiday?
Under COVID, many of us have found a rekindled enjoyment of the simple things in life: reading, games, music, time with family. Instead of shopping and countless other activities during lockdown, we’ve read a book, dusted off the guitar, or phoned a friend. And as we’ve done so, most of us have felt good doing it. For some, the slower pace has also helped to reconnect with God. If that appreciation of a slower pace and greater connection with God and others continues post COVID, is there hope that we will be freer of the need to consume, travel and cram in as many activities as possible, having discovered that those things don’t actually help us feel more alive.
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I pledge to continue to live life at a calmer pace, in which there’s time for nature, music, family and friends, or go back to frenetically squeezing in as many activities as possible?
Under COVID, we’ve learnt that we can endure considerable suffering, if there is a greater good at hand. Many people seem more willing to give of themselves for others. In our last face-to-face service before our church went on-line, my older friend Dave suggested publicly that as older people, we need to consider NOT using a ventilator if it is needed by a younger person. Thankfully, unlike Italy, such self-sacrifice wasn’t necessary in Australia, but Dave’s remark struck me as a beautiful, modern day embodiment of Christ’s words: “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”[iii]
I wonder if, post COVID, that willingness to self-sacrifice will translate into more people of faith being willing to put themselves ‘on the line’, for example in peaceful civil disobedience actions against fossil fuel corporations which prioritise profit over a safe climate, against land clearings that endanger native species, or against immigration policies that try to keep people fleeing violence and strife away from our lands.
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I pledge to continue to volunteer and look out for those people who are struggling, or go back to prioritising only what I get paid to do?
As we can’t see the virus, we’ve needed to heed the advice of virologists and epidemiologists on how to deal with COVID. And in so doing, we’ve been willing to undergo enormous changes in our lifestyles: staying at home and not going to pubs, clubs and footy matches, because the scientists told us it was important to ‘flatten the curve’.
As people of faith, we have to admit that, throughout history we have not been the quickest to embrace the latest scientific discoveries (from the sun being the centre of the solar system, to our emissions heating the atmosphere). Could COVID be the turning point at which, as people of faith, we finally get over our false “science vs faith” dichotomy, and instead embrace scientific discoveries for what they are – amazing insights into God’s creation? If so, could our newfound appreciation for science, flow into listening to the climatologists, who have been imploring us for decades to dramatically flatten our ‘carbon curve’? [iv]
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I pledge to continue to seek out and value what scientists advise, or go back to gleaning my information from Facebook and Twitter?
The virus doesn’t respect international borders, so in COVID, every country is suffering and, to some extent, we feel for each other. We were all shocked to hear of the terrible choices Italian doctors had to make when allocating ventilators to critically ill patients. And whether or not we liked Boris Johnson’s politics, we’re glad he survived. An important question then, is whether countries like Australia and New Zealand, which are pulling out of the pandemic relatively quickly, start to redirect some of our resources to other countries which are still in the midst of the crisis. Similarly, when a vaccine is finally developed for COVID, will the sense of global fraternity continue, or will the vaccine simply go to the highest bidder?
When these decisions are being made, could people of faith be the moral vanguard, demanding that more vulnerable populations in the majority world receive preferential treatment? I would imagine Christ urging just such care for ‘the least’[v]. If so, could we carry that sense of caring for the ‘least’ even further, to people of faith in the rich world significantly curbing our emissions for the sake of our sisters and brothers in the developing world, who are suffering much more under climate change?
When COVID is over, and restrictions are lifted, will I pledge to deliberately inform myself on the situation in the majority world, or just be content that in Australia we are through the worst of COVID?
As we emerge from COVID, you can be sure of this: the corporate marketing machine, with all its skill, money and guile, will be urging us to go back to ‘normal’ life – shopping, travelling and cramming in as many activities as possible, telling us all the while that those things will make us happy. Our only weapon against this marketing might is a deep and deliberate reflection on the type of life we really want.
I’d urge us to reflect now, before all the restrictions lift and the marketing voices intensify. Our collective answers may determine whether we can help make the world a better place for ourselves and for our neighbours.
[i] CO2e Carbon dioxide equivalent. A single measure to include greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide.
[ii] Simply dividing Australia’s annual emissions as found here by our population. https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/australia-s-greenhouse-emissions-set-new-seven-year-highs-on-gas-boom-20190830-p52mbe.html
[iii] See John 15:13
[v] See Matthew 25:31-40
Mark Delaney studied at the University of Queensland, completing Law and Commerce degrees, before practising law briefly. After coming to faith in 1987, he married Cathy in 1993 and they left for India in 1995. Their two sons, Tom and Oscar were both born in India and have spent much of their lives there. As a family they have lived and worked with the poor in slums in north India for much of the last 24 years, assisting residents to become literate and to access government entitlements. Mark completed a Masters in International Development from RMIT in 2005.
With the climate emergency threatening to wipe out many hard fought developmental gains in India and elsewhere, Mark’s focus has shifted to the climate emergency in the last 5 years. This led to his co-authoring ‘Low Carbon and Loving It’, with his son Tom, published in 2018.
Mark and Cathy are now living in Brisbane as their younger son Oscar gets underway at university, while older son Tom continues to live and work in a north Indian slum, the focus of which has recently been responding to COVID.
Mark’s faith, particularly in Christ’s teachings, continue to be a strong guide in his work.
A version of this article was first published in Sight magazine on 20 May 2020