As Melbourne comes slowly out of lockdown this week, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief across Australia. (Well done, Victoria! It’s been hard but you’re on the way now).
In this time we can tentatively begin to describe as ‘post-lockdown’ (post-COVID is a long way off yet), it will be tempting to simply pick up life and begin the return to ‘normal life’. What will the ‘new normal’ look like? We’ve had months to contemplate what is possible, that we never considered possible before or even thought possible.
The following is an edited excerpt from a conversation between Common Grace CEO Brooke Prentis and Christian ecological ethicist Dr Byron Smith, facilitated by Common Grace’s Creative and Communications Director, Brigitta Ryan. It is titled 2020, the Year of Disruption: COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the Climate Crisis. Listen to the full conversation here.
DR BYRON SMITH: So, one of the things the pandemic has done is reveal that the window of possibility [for climate action] is wider than perhaps we thought. And that, I think, is one of the key lessons. Change is possible. Another world is possible. And, you know, that cuts both ways. Things can actually get worse, faster than we think as well. Things can get better, faster than we dare to dream. The question is, will we allow ourselves to be defined by the stories of the past and the stories that have shaped and governed our lives, stories of capitalism and technologism and individualism and stories in which the profits of the few, are placed ahead of the health of the many and the health of the planet, or how are we going to live out new life-giving stories grounded in ancient wisdom from First Peoples and in the Scriptures but creatively applied to our new context? And that really is the challenge of today.
BRIGITTA RYAN: We’re talking about the resources for change and how we could go about creating change to care more deeply for God’s Earth. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who’s been described as one of the world’s leading marine biologists, said in Time magazine that “we can’t solve the climate crisis without people of colour but we could probably solve it without racists.” That’s really a frank way of putting what you’re saying there Byron, that the interests of a few are really being placed ahead of the interests of many.
DR BYRON SMITH: If I could jump in there, it’s not just the interests of the few being ahead of the interests of the many. It’s the interests of the few and the preferences and whims of the few put ahead of the needs of the many. What the rich have to lose is their opulent riches, unnecessary riches, and their immense, unaccountable power. What the poor have to lose and are currently losing are their lives.
BROOKE PRENTIS: I realise my lived experience of injustice is as an Aboriginal person in these lands now called Australia. We are exhausting ourselves, trying to make the possible possible, but we actually need the rest of the Australian population to come on board to change the systems and the structure, the systemic racism, the systemic injustice in so many of the structures built in these lands now called Australia. And so it’s not just about fixing them. We actually have to ‘dismantle’ these systems. And then we’ve got to build something new.
Richard Rohr talks about the movement from Order to Disorder to Reorder. This year we have seen the sudden movement from ‘order’ to ‘disorder’ with the global pandemic. He wrote recently: Disorder is already upon us by reason of our planet, our history, our politics, our economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the widespread increase in mental and emotional unhealth. Our job is to make “Good Trouble”* – and probably even “Necessary Trouble”* – so that humanity can spiritually and politically mature. It is about falling – but, as always, falling upward.
What does this liminal time in history call us to do and to be? What will the ‘new normal’ look like that will bring health and healing and wholeness to all, and not just a few. What systems and structures need to change? What might ‘good trouble’ and even ‘necessary trouble’ look like?
(*US Senator John Lewis, who died of pancreatic cancer this year, said,
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”)