Melbourne—Gaining the World, Yet Losing its Soul?

I once saw a man run across the road and was hit by a car. He landed heavily on the bitumen, and when I reached him I saw that he was injured and blood was pouring from his arm. When someone is bleeding you apply emergency first aid. The underlying issue may require greater medical expertise, but you don’t let the person bleed out because it’s too hard.

Melbourne is once again the world’s most liveable city. Melbournians like to boast about our “most liveable city” status, especially because we rank above Sydney, but also Adelaide and Perth, who also made it into the top ten. But what makes the “most liveable city” and are we assessing our greatness by the best criteria?melbourne2

This annual study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, measures the quality of life in global cities by looking at healthcare, culture, environment, infrastructure and education. I suspect that the award is ignored by most of the world cities, including those truly great cities like London and New York, but like the people of Punxsutawney in the movie Groundhog Day, every year we Aussies cheer the surprising announcement of Melbourne’s spot at the top of the world.

But what about qualities like justice, kindness, and generosity? Not so much in the structures of Government, the police force, and the judiciary. We have a low crime rates, a good legal system, and a relatively good welfare system. But what about the qualities of justice, generosity, and kindness in the hearts of the general population?

I am thankful for the city where I live and am raising my family. There is much to enjoy and experience: our parks, schools, food, sport, and general standard of living are truly exceptional. One might argue that the culture is as diverse and interesting as our weather (that’s a positive, incase you’re wondering!).

While Melbournians were celebrating this accolade and lighting up twitter with pictures of our city, on the other side of the world, nations like Germany and Sweden were opening their doors to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq. Of course, Germany and Sweden are countries and not cities, and yet the reality is that the majority of refugees will be housed in cities, as they are in Australian cities.

Australia’s commitment in 2015 is 6,000 refugees spread throughout the entire country, compared with Germany’s 800,000 and Sweden’s 100,000. Lest we argue that Germany’s population is 3 ½ times the size of Australia, Sweden’s is less than half ours, and these two countries together only share an area equivalent to that of NSW!

When the Bible describes cities of worth, the scope extends beyond prosperity, and includes vital qualities such as peace, righteousness, and refuge. Which raises the question of whether there is a fatal flaw in our ethos.

We are proud about our prosperity. But are we generous with it? We are super keen for the world to admire our splendour, and even for the world to experience Melbourne should they come and visit. But what about sharing and sacrificing for the good of those who face extraordinary suffering across our globe?  We alone cannot end global poverty and persecution. But if nations less prosperous than us can welcome people in their thousands, why can’t we?

I am reminded of these words of Jesus, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). Sure, we may offer an occasional donation to ease the conscience, but ideas such as lowering our living standards for the sake of others seems absurd to us. Of course, Jesus didn’t just talk about sacrifice, he lived it. He willingly laid aside a glory that we cannot even imagine in order that the poor in spirit might be healed and restored.

What do we want the defining marks of Melbourne to be?

Do we wish to be a city known for greed or for generosity? Could we not give from our superabundance to those who have lost everything? Could we not ask the Federal Government to welcome more refugees? Does it not say something about our own hearts that the Federal Government thinks it too politically toxic to increase our Refugee intake dramatically?

We know the issues of displaced peoples are complex and solutions are difficult. Sacrifice isn’t easy:

“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?” (Ecclesiastes 5:11-12)

Behaviour modification isn’t enough. ‘Try harder’ will only motivate a few and for a short period. Neither can sacrificial generosity be enforced. It must come from a heart that has been wooed by a better way. 

We might think it is an impossible task to shift the entire mindset of a populace. But it is possible. Centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, the city of Nineveh was the most celebrated city on earth. Other than a few references in history books, Nineveh has crumbled into antiquity, although in its place now stands the remains of Mosul, one of the cities where so many people have died or have fled seeking asylum. In the 8th Century Nineveh was the envy of the world; it was also prosperous and proud. During that period a prophet by the name of Jonah was sent to the city by God. He didn’t want to go, because he knew how undeserving the Ninevites were. Eventually Jonah went, and when he spoke God’s words, the citizens listened, believed, repented, and mourned. They changed their ways. 

Too much of the world is bleeding, and it is anti-human for us to stand by and not do more to help. The world’s most liveable city has opportunity to open its doors to some of the world’s most vulnerable. Yes, this is largely a Federal Government policy decision, but the people can speak up and demand that we can exercise the freedom to welcome people. Again issues are complex and solutions not straightforward, but there is a basic principle in being human: If you can help, do so. Otherwise we are not so different from Nero who plucked his harp and sang while Rome burned. We are living in a perennial happy hour while millions of people flee their homes. 


photo of Melbourne taken from