How shall we live, in an era of VUCA and BANI?

Published May 1, 2023

We live in a world of acronyms—especially as Anglicans! BAS, BCP, PWRDF, ACoC, CoGS, HofB* … All are ways to refer quickly to something that touches our lives.* Recently I came across two acronyms, new to me, that sum up the world in which we live today—VUCA and BANI. I find them helpful in thinking about how our faith and our life as a church are being challenged.

VUCA, coined in the business world about thirty years ago, stands for “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.” It’s used to describe situations in which change is unpredictable and that require our flexibility, collaboration and responsiveness. BANI—“brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible”—is a term created by Jamais Cascio, American anthropologist, author and futurist. In a BANI world, systems break down unexpectedly; anxiety rises as solutions are not clear; causes are not predictably linked to effects; and ways forward do not fit known patterns.

Surely our experiences of the past few years echo both these terms. The pandemic introduced us to a world that was and remains volatile: the virus sends waves of variants crashing through our best plans, and nothing is certain. Even now as we seem to be entering an endemic phase of COVID-19 there are complex factors we do not yet understand about the long-term physical effects of the virus and its continuing impact on our social and economic lives. As I write this in mid-March, I’m reminded of the brittleness of our systems: the failure of another bank is sending ripples of anxiety through our economy, still reeling from the pandemic and not responding as previously understood. Interest rate increases are not affecting employment in a predictable way. Past ways of responding are not working. No amount of information is offering clear ways forward. Mistrust of leaders, who cannot provide quick solutions, grows.

Although as Canadians we have lived for many decades in relative stability and have enjoyed government support in crises, such as the pandemic and natural disasters, we feel the anxiety rising nationally and internationally. We experience the economic effects of the uncertainty and volatility. We live under the shadow of the pandemic.

How then shall we live? That is the core question for people of faith. How do we see our unpredictable world in the light of its loving Creator, and shape our lives and relationships in response?

From seeing centuries of Christian response to historical waves of chaos and anxiety, we know the core attitudes and practices that offer a foundation. We know the resilience born of daily prayer, confession, Scripture study and Eucharist.

We know the power of meeting anxiety with mutual love and care, certain of God’s love for us. We are called to recognize the presence of Christ here and now in the midst of chaos. We know that in the face of what is incomprehensible we need the power of faith that is sure this is God’s world—even though there is much in it we cannot see and do not understand.

VUCA and BANI may describe the world we live in and experience. Our faith, expressed through the baptismal covenant, describes how we can not only live in that world but create communities of resilience, compassion and hope.

*These terms, of course, stand for: Book of Alternative Services; Book of Common Prayer; the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund; the Anglican Church of Canada; Council of General Synod; and the House of Bishops.


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