Tom (21) was born and raised in North India, where his parents, inspired by their Christian faith, have sought to live in and serve urban poor communities. He is currently living in Lucknow, working for an Indian not-for-profit teaching children Hindi literacy. He and his dad, Mark, recently wrote a book - Low Carbon and Loving It – about climate change and their experiences in India and Australia.
How does your faith help you in times of struggle, change, and new beginnings?
My faith helps me in grappling with struggles, including how to respond to climate change, by assuring me that God is in control, and that, at the end of the day, things will be ok. This is very important in an issue like climate change, where sometimes things feel hopeless.
How does your faith describe the relationship between all living things, the Earth, and the Divine?
Genesis describes a God who lovingly created the cosmos, marvelled in it, and commanded humanity to steward it. In Romans 8, Paul pictures the whole creation, which has been ‘subject to frustration’, groaning for redemption and salvation. It seems God cares for all of creation (though I’m still working out what that means for mosquitoes!)
What does your faith tradition teach about material consumption and simplicity?
Jesus warns powerfully about the dangers of wealth, espousing and practising a lifestyle of simplicity. He teaches that wealth and consumption does not lead to eternal life, but rather to destruction. This undermines the lie of advertising: “you will be happy if you just have this”. Instead, Jesus tells us that ‘life to the full’ consists not in an abundance of material possessions, but rather in being free of the grip they hold.
On the other hand, Jesus does care deeply about the poor having enough to meet their basic needs, as demonstrated both by his teaching (‘give to those who ask of you’) and actions (feeding the multitudes). God wants us all to have enough but having too much can alienate us from the poor and distract us from our relationship with God. Personally, we have found living simply vital to be able to empathise and relate with our poor neighbours, and also enriching for our spiritual journeys.
How does your community approach examining and changing our lifestyles?
My community consists primarily of my family. We challenge and encourage each other to change and are with each other on the journey. For instance, when I experimented with veganism for several months, my mum & dad graciously catered to this in their cooking. Living without a car, in both India and Australia, is a family decision.
What role does your community play in providing you with a guide to life?
Having a community of like-minded people is vital in encouraging and guiding us towards a better life. As an individual alone, it is very difficult to sustain counter-cultural values and actions.
Which sacred text most inspires you to act for change?
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” - Matthew 6:31-34
Consumerism is built on selfish desire for more and more, which is itself rooted in a fear of not having enough. When Jesus enjoins us to not worry about the basic necessities of food, drink and clothing, how much more are we not to worry about keeping up with the Jones’ gadgets, cars and clothes?
What have you done to improve the sustainability of your diet, transportation, and/or energy use?
I have been a vegetarian for 10 years. I’ve also experimented with veganism but have since settled on a non-legalistic attempt to keep my dairy consumption low. My family has never owned a car, and I celebrate the fact that, at 21, I don’t know how to drive and nor do I want to learn. We keep energy use low by living in a small house, with relatively few gadgets. However, the least sustainable part of my lifestyle remains flying between Australia and India every year or two.
How would you describe the experience of making these lifestyle changes?
Some changes are challenging: living without an air-conditioner in North Indian summers, for instance. Other aspects of attempting to live sustainably are a joy: riding a bicycle, patching my clothes. My faith helps me make meaning from the difficulties and joys of trying to tread lightly on the earth.