During past weeks of social distancing and lock down, we have had plenty of time, whilst keeping minds and bodies occupied in various creative ways, to reflect on the situation we find ourselves in with the COVID-19 pandemic. This, the ninth issue of "Let Justice Roll", again reflecting the creative erudition and editing of Murray Luft, seeks to address three general questions:
Issue #9 of LJR is designed to help us focus on those questions from theological, spiritual, ethical and socio-economic perspectives by highlighting the opinions, analyses and reflections of people of faith and hope, be they scholars, pastors, community advocates and activists, environmentalists, social commentators or poets. Collectively, the opinions and critiques that follow are designed to put the events and dangers swirling round us in their spiritual, scientific, ecological, social, as well as their personal contexts.
Several reflections in these pages relate to our unfortunate capacity to close our minds to the realities of God's creation and what it demands of us in terms of care and nurture and respect for nature, and that we need to take responsibility for our actions and neglect as opposed to ascribing the problems and prescriptions for their solution to God. They point to the hubris of denying that pollution and its adverse effects are costs of production, and affirm that we all have an investment in protecting out biospheres, watersheds, and natural amenities. Others point to the often unthinking investment in an economic system, especially in this neo-liberal era, that consigns our individual and collective fate to the "invisible hand" and the operation of the market. They also point to: the excesses of wealth accumulation; concentrations of corporate power and influence; the manipulation of financial markets; the growing disparity in income distribution; the non-existent or shrinking social safety nets in many countries; the ravages of poverty; the neglect of public health, preventative health care, mental health and addiction services; and the corrosive effects across the globe of rampant consumerism on both producers and consumers of goods and services. In our reflection, we hear the voices of those who have been and continue to be the prophetic voices of our era, committed to working change in our minds, souls and actions to take on systems that contribute to environmental abuse, social and economic inequality, injustice, and widespread indifference towards the world around us.
Several of the pieces in this number provide valuable testimony to the compassion and cormnitment of a range of people who are giving their all to stem the tide of this dangerous pandemic, seeking ways of preventing a recurrence, and enabling the rest of us to reorder our lives during the pandemic. The pieces reflect a strong commitment to religious and spiritual values and how they inform and inspire those front line people in the invaluable work they do. In reading these pieces, which are largely from a Christian perspective, it is important to recognize that among those on the front lines, there are those who are inspired by other faith traditions, and others motivated by strong humanitarian impulses. Behind the stories of heroism lies the uncomfortable fact, that as countries and societies, we have in so many instances ignored or dropped the ball on the value of robust public health systems and preventative medicine — another example of how "other priorities" have gotten in the way of endeavouring to ensure that contagion does not take root and spread.
The sad reality is there for all of us to see and ponder — the lack of cohesive strategies, the thoroughly inadequate provisioning of material resources to deal with the adverse effects of the pandemic, and not least, the high price in mortality and isolation of the ageing population (particularly those in care homes), as well as other vulnerable populations (like those lacking homes), are paying for public neglect by politicians and their electorates. On the positive side, we are witnessing the recognition that it is our public health officials, and the science supporting them, who have been able to come to the fore and provide us with honest assessments of the nature of the pandemic, the means of containing it, and the uncertainties in tracking and controlling it in the future. In the main in Canada (and in B.C.), they are being listened to by politicians of various stripes as to the dramatic measures that need to be followed to prevent the pandemic's spread and recurrence.
In comment and discussion (in both the media and within and between social justice and action communities), there is enhanced examination of ways and means of contributing to the rehabilitation of nature, an expanded and meaningful social welfare net, realistic and sensitive approaches to economic recovery, as well as future economic policy, food security and greater community selfsufficiency. Some of these possibilities are canvassed in Issue #9 of LJR. In the abstract, this is a daunting prospect. Despite the reference by some politicians to "a return to normality" writers appearing here make it clear that what is ahead will not, and cannot, be a return to a pre-COVID-19 world. They remind us that there are powerful economic forces that will be lobbying for a "business as usual" approach — i.e., to an economy which embodies the values of profit maximization, corporate neglect of ecological and social values, extreme inequality, minimal regulation, low corporate tax structures, and gig employment, phenomena with which we are all too familiar.
In these pages you may discover what theologian Walter Brueggeman calls the prophetic imagination — i.e., the ways in which national, regional and local communities can react to, and combat, those pressures and assist in envisaging a much more just and caring world. As a faith community, we should inform ourselves, make our voices heard in the debates on these matters, and support efforts to prevent us as a society from sinking back into the dysfunctional ways ofthe past. At the same time, we have to realize that our resources are limited. Creating impressive wish lists and shouting messages of hope from St. John's spire and bell tower are not sufficient for effective social, political change to materialize.
(a) Re-evaluating the ways in which we as a community practice our faith, organize our affairs and interact with each other. Are we sufficiently cognisant of the needs (spiritual, physical and mental, and social) of those in this community of St. John the Divine, and making sure they are met with understanding and compassion? Are our policies and actions in running and sustaining our property in tune with reducing our carbon foot print? Are we doing enough to reach out to the vulnerable in our neighbourhood?
(b) Considering what other ways there might be for us as a community to practice what we preach in praise of God's creation and the natural world. Are there, for instance, local projects or environmental stewardship and ecological projects to which we as a community or individuals could contribute, or do so more actively?
(c) Making active, common cause with a range of social justice and action organizations in the community of greater Victoria in order to research, identify, and develop prescriptions to address sensitively and effectively the social problems that afflict our region, and to do this co-operatively with others committed to solutions for these ills. The objective here is to use the combined power of a range of civil society organizations within our community (faith-based or not), representing a significant slice of the local population, to make the voice of social justice and action in this community heard by politicians and other decision makers in ways that make them understand that we are allied, informed, active and serious.
It is this last point that we have purposely emphasized in LJR #9. Greater Victoria Acting Together (GVAT) embodies the vision laid out in the previous paragraph. It is an inspired initiative that from early days has been supported from within, and by, St. John the Divine. The organization is getting ready to take on the task of presenting its projects (specifically on homelessness, mental health and addictions, and the climate crisis) to its broad-based, civil society membership, and to Victoria's political representatives. Meanwhile, it has been active in mobilizing support for vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, pressuring both municipal and provincial govemments to extend support to those populations, and commit to longer term solutions to the problems identified. We have thought it important to give some account of this work to which St. John's, as a faith community, is committed, as a basis of information and discussion of how we may play our part in pressing these issues and solutions to them. In the process, we move from reflection and critique to suggestions for action. Finally, I trust that this issue of LJR #9 will edify, engage and motivate you to Let Justice Roll in Victoria and in the larger post-COVID-19 world.