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Note: This blog was written in early March in a very fast moving situation and some elements may seem out of synch with the evolving situation.

Justine Huxley writes:
“St Ethelburga’s principles include seeking opportunity in crisis, and putting values into action.  Countless times we have told the story of how the Bishopsgate bomb taught us how renewal can emerge from conflict, and how our patron saint, confronted by the horror of the plague, chose selfless action above self-preservation.  

So as coronavirus sweeps across the world, how will we walk our talk?  

Recognising both the potential for suffering the virus is bringing  (whether lost livelihoods, the risk of economic crash and recession, sickness or the loss of vulnerable loved ones) as well as the potential for unecessary panic and hype – as a community, we are beginning a dialogue about how we approach what is unfolding through the lens of our core values. 

Service

Ethelburga gave us a role model of someone who put her own needs aside to serve others.  Whilst heeding medical advice responsibly, we also want to watch ourselves to see where primitive impulses to hoard pasta and toilet paper can be overridden by deeper values that seek fulfilment in service to others.  As we begun this conversation,,a colleague shared with us the Bishop of St Albans’ coronavirus ‘golden rules’ – aspirations to live by our faith, rather than by self-interest. Bishop Alan Smith’s invitation includes thinking about our neighbours, phoning or checking in on the isolated, not demonising any ethnic groups, sharing rather than stockpiling, and living life to the full – choosing trust and openness over fear. (4)  How vital that these voices are heard amid the onslaught of panic-stricken news!  

Relinquishing

One obvious opportunity we are being shown is some of the behaviours we need to transition to a zero carbon economy.  A month ago, humanity was struggling to commit to the rapid change needed to stay under two degrees of global heating.  Now we find out just how quickly our attachment to air travel can be put aside. When the motivation is there, meetings can be conducted online and holidays can be relinquished.  As has been widely reported, China’s greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by a quarter (1). While the hardship and tragedy involved are not a desireable route, staying local and consuming less could be a valuable lesson.

Positive impacts may also emerge for biodiversity.  As China’s government temporarily bans the trade and consumption of wild animals as part of their ongoing efforts against the epidemic, we move closer to seeing an end to the illegal wildlife trading that has brought animal populations like pangolins and civets to the brink of extinction. (2) 

Hidden benefits?

China has also shown us the impact of working patterns on carbon emissions , giving weight to the campaigns for reduced working hours. A global recession may present a real barrier to the political will for ecological goals or it may reconcile us to the fact that decarbonisation is going to be painful whatever way we approach it, and that human populations need controlling – whether we do that willingly or have Earth wisdom do it for us.

If we enter into the challenges consciously, the willingness to for some of the current changes might endure. An entire labour force commuting four times a week instead of five would make a significant dent in both pollution and emissions, and research has shown that reducing working hours actually increases productivity. (3)  Maybe there is a message in there about how transition might not just be bleak sacrifice, but could yield hidden benefits. What else could we discover when we disrupt ingrained assumptions behind our extractive work ethics? What happens when are forced to slow down and prioritise our local neighbourhoods and a simpler way of life?  

Creativity  

If London goes into lock down, we will be thinking as a team about how we can embrace that change.  Can the disruption to ‘business as usual’ help us reprioritise how we live our mission to reflect the needs of the time?   Can we let patterns fall away that may have outlived their relevance? Can we use time away from events and outputs to deepen our strategic thinking or enable a new relationship between contemplation and action?   (And we recognise many do not have the priviledge to approach it this way).

Deep adaptation 

The links between pandemics and climate breakdown have long been known.   Changes to weather patterns and ecologies change the dynamics of infection (6).  There will be more new diseases, and more existing diseases behaving differently. These are part and parcel of the global imbalance we are creating and will be yet another challenge we need to meet with resilience and the full passion of our ingenuity and our deepest values.  

St Ethelburga’s has increasingly oriented all its leadership programmes towards building resilience.  Building strong bonded communities across diverse faiths and cultures, we have become adept at not shying away from worst case scenarios, walking the pathways of collapse in our imaginations as a rigourous inner and outer preparation. What some would label pessimism, for us is about ringing loud the bells that will wake us up, a call to summon the full depths of our courage and spirituality and apply everything we have to this time of ‘great losing and great opening’ (5).  

Commitment

China built a hospital from scratch in 7 days. That is something the powers that be would tell us is ‘unrealistic’. But it was necessary and it was done. This fact has stayed with me. It reminds me too, of another more personal memory. When I was younger, I successfully vaulted an iron gate that I knew was ‘impossible’, because danger was present and need of the moment demanded it. We need to know in our bones what commitment and decisive action can achieve. Because there is much change to make.

Interdependence

As one of my colleagues pointed out in our resilience planning meeting this morning, coronavirus invites us into a new, intimate awareness of our global interconnectedness.  We breathe the same air, touch the same surfaces, connect via a billion invisible tracks across Planet Earth. We are indivisble from each other. As we surf the challenges before us, the real question is can we recognise the deeper opportunity behind it. That this knowing, born from tragedy, that reveals our interbeing might be a dark but ultimately merciful teacher – a doorway into a new relationship with each other and with our Earth. “

Justine Huxley, CEO, St Ethelburga’s Centre 

#OpportunityInCrisis #ValuesIntoAction #DeepAdaptation #RadicalResilience

Opportunity in Crisis – a short film
Values into Action – a short film
Deep adaption at St Ethelburga’s
Radical resilience at St Ethelburga’s

Notes

1. News Republic, Coronavirus lessons for climate change 

2.   BBC, China wildlife trade ban should be permanent 

3. Guardian, Four day week, trial finds lower stress and higher productivity 

4. The Bishop’s coronavirus golden rules

5. Phrase first coined by Vince Knowles, Associate of St Ethelburga’s and strategist for XR Money Rebellion.  

6.  As Kris Murray of EcoAlliance writes,  “A really important message that we advocate is that protecting the environment will help protect ourselves from a range of natural disasters, including disease,”  


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