On a day when the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have invited us to pause, pray and remember 100,000 people ‘known to God and cherished by God’ it’s a time also to reflect and lament. It is a solemn day. The number of recorded deaths here in Britain of those who died of COVID-19 puts us top of the league in terms of deaths per head of population.
A time will come to examine the many failings that have contributed to such a huge loss of life, to needless suffering and exposing our frontline services to overwhelming pressure to the point of exhaustion and near collapse. The austerity measures, lack of preparation and failure to act decisively and collaboratively and handing out of contracts without due diligence to companies with no experience, wasted not only millions of pounds but also ailed to deliver what was required and cost the lives of so many people. Collaboration not cronyism, appropriate scrutiny and accountability was called for but arrogance and floundering prevailed. Boasting achievements and heralding so called successes, no doubt intended to lift the spirit, have rung hollow, as promises have not materialised, targets have not been met and extravagant claims have been seen for what they are, false. Comparisons with other nations have backfired badly. Other nations have watched on with both admiration for what has been achieved as well as bewilderment by our failure to act in a whole host of ways that has led to us being described as ‘plague island’ in some parts of the world.
Reflecting on the events of the last twelve months, we have things to be thankful for: the example of men and women of every race and creed, colour, gender and background within the NHS, for others on the front line who have given of themselves sacrificially, many of them with their own lives, to this war. We are thankful too for the international scientific community that has worked across borders and boundaries and given the world hope with the arrival of vaccines, many of which will have to be developed further to combat the differing mutations and variants.
Yes, there are things to be thankful for and we have seen some of the very best in peoples’ responses to the crisis, however this is not a day for anything other than lament. A day when we don’t label the virus as belonging to any one particular country, with sinister undertones, but when we pray for the world, for all of its citizens. A day when we don’t boast about the prospects of being the frontrunners on vaccines and the first to get over the finishing line. A day instead to commit to helping every citizen of the world to get over the finishing line. A day when we realise that we are our brothers keeper and that whatsoever we do to the least has implications for all of us.
There is a litany of woes which the world faces, not just those thrown up by Covid,
perhaps the greatest being global warming. This crisis is not imminent; it is here! It holds even greater dangers to the world than this present pandemic. A recent report on global warming suggests that 2/3 of the world is abundantly aware of the reality of its threat to civilisation.
When people talk about getting back to normal, I wonder what kind of delusional cloud they live under?! We are entering a new world era. The impact of a global pandemic and the economic fallout and consequent recession will inevitably lead to poverty and suffering on a global scale. Ensuing trade conflicts, fighting over resources, the fracturing of western democracy and the emergence of new superpowers and autocratic, dictatorial regimes carries all the ingredients of war. Whilst billions will suffer in the new world, Oxfam reports this week that the worlds 2000 richest billionaires have more wealth than the 46 billion people who make up 60% of the worlds population. That the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa put together. Oxfam’s ‘Time To Care’
Report published in advance of this weekend’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, reveals how billionaires are lining their pockets at the expense of billions of ordinary men and women in broken economies. It was quite astounding to read that it would require the richest 1% in the world to pay just 0.5% extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years to equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly care and childcare, education and health globally.
It might be a pipedream but somehow the iniquity relating to the gap between wealth and poverty has to be addressed. I was heartened this morning to read about President Biden’s signing executive orders seeking to address the issue of equity in the States, fulfilling a campaign promise to increase racial equity in the US. I was heartened to read more about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership and her Governments commitment to improve the “wellbeing” of its citizens rather than focusing on productivity and GDP growth. Perhaps an inspirational and prophetic policy that provides a model for the world to make economic health cohere with health for all life. Interestingly, New Zealand has one of the best coronavirus outcomes of any democracy in the world. These are signs of hope. They counter the seeds of destruction and offer an alternative
I’ve just been part of a lunchtime conversation, a great online initiative, The Common Good Canteen. It’s a monthly Zoom conversation from Common Change UK. Today my friend Matt Wilson and fellow host Laura Gilchrist were in conversation with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who founded Rutba House in the USA. Rutba House of hospitality draws formerly homeless people together to live in community. Sharing life and resources is lived out within the community and it was engaging and inspiring to hear Jonathan share about the journey he’s been on and what he has learned about money and possessions. I’ve come across him before in the context of new monasticism and he is one of the leaders of the Red Letter Christian movement which encourages the engagement of faith in public life.
It was a very stimulating conversation. We heard examples of how hospitality, sharing and caring is so often expressed freely, generously and compassionately among and by the poor. The embracing of the upside down values of the Kingdom of God a sign of nonconformist hope and transformation for a world in crisis.
Problems and challenges are becoming opportunities and ways of living better, pointing to a different way of living that brings benediction not malediction to the world, land and peoples.
The session further expanded, challenged and encouraged me to think about that foundational question at the heart of our Northumbria Community, a question it’s good for us all to consider on this day of pausing and praying, ‘How Then Shall We Live?’