What is Sustainability?

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to go an hour or so up the road from here to talk with some students at my alma mater, Taylor University.

The primary question that we will tackle will be what is sustainability?  And how do we pursue it?

I’m sure we’ll have some good conversation along the way.  I will argue that our best hope of a sustainable way of life is in the revival of parish life, (a term I’m borrowing from the good folks at the Parish Collective), by which I mean a rich and distinctive local culture that is catalyzed (but not controlled) by the churches in a particular place.

The crux of my argument is that sustainable life is interdependent life, and that the local congregation is the primary community in which we learn interdependence as we mature together into the self-denying, others-preferring way of Jesus.  Reconciliation then flows outward from the local congregation, as we engage our neighbors and seek the flourishing and the common good of our places together with them.

I think the Transition movement, for instance, is on the right track in seeking to nurture robust local economies in preparation for the challenges of peak oil, and there is certainly much that our churches can learn from them, but I’m not sure how sustainable they are in the long run without the ethics of Jesus, rooted in sacrificial love.

I know that emphasizing the local church in this way may not sit well with everyone, but theologically I do think local, contextual embodiments of Christ Jesus are essential to the Mission of God in the world.

So what do you think?  What is sustainability and how do we pursue it?


Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • http://twitter.com/sustainabletrad J Fowler @ ST

    Chris, love it! This is a much needed conversation in the Church. Sustainability as I understand it – deals with the ability to meet current needs without sacrificing future viability. It is like applying ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ to future generations (I read this once). Sustainability involves social, economic and ecological elements that are intertwined. This all ties into Wendell Berry’s idea of ‘health as membership’ – and the ability of local communities (no matter where they are) to enact high levels of self-reliance and community resilience. I believe we are to do as the exiles of Israel did in ancient times returning to a ravaged Jerusalem. We are to ‘rebuild the temple and the city’. I believe that sustainable living and sustainable agriculture can be used as a great means to Christian faithfulness, discipleship, reaching out to the community and bearing witness of GOD’s love. I also believe true sustainability must be enacted communally and is highly relational – it is first and foremost a mode of reconciliation – and not a program. This all can very easily tie into living into GOD’s kingdom and His ‘restoration of all things’.

  • Dan Jr

    Just stumbled upon your stuff. I love the ethos of slow and sustainability in the context of church and Kingdom. You might appreciate a little post i did that seems to share some similar ethics> http://danwhitejr.blogspot.com/2012/09/missional-marinating.html