Christa R. Klein
My parents, reared in the Great Depression, endowed me with a preference for frugality and moderation. But in recent years, the obsessive and useless underside of their values surfaced. As my siblings and I cleared out their home of 50 years, we discovered too many jelly glasses, reams of secondhand wrapping paper, containers of used rubber bands and twisties, and cartons of scrap wood and metal -- more than could be used in their lifetime. An abundance of little useful things had become a burden, and good intentions were overwhelmed.
All the good in the current sustainability movement amazes me. Sustainability is surely a justice issue -- living within limits, recognizing the interaction of economy, society and the environment, and seeking the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities among all. The articles in this issue of In Trust tell of our theological schools' creativity and commitment, willingness to take risks, and desire to serve as beacons to the churches and local communities. In the hopeful words of Tom Kimmerer, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, campuses can serve as "laboratories that invent the future." Or will our good intentions be overwhelmed?
Many projects in theological schools have the virtue of attracting a new generation of students and younger donors and of achieving higher levels of social responsibility. I'm also hopeful that today's "greening of America" will be less about having it all our own way and less utopian than the 1970s ecology movement. Yet, I also fear that after taking some new steps, our pride may trip us up.
Today's efforts toward sustainable development -- fiscal, ecological, and social -- require more theological ballast and more common sense. I detect some glaring gaps in the current sustainability conversation. What of the inevitable unintended consequences? Surely time will reveal the weaknesses in new technologies, as it did with many 20th-century marvels -- asbestos and lung cancer, chic flat roof designs and leaks, and newly engineered fertilizers and insecticides and polluted water.
I hope that when the downsides of various technologies surface, theological schools are beacons of truth-telling and reform. I hope the missions and graduates of theological schools prove themselves worthy of the allocation of precious resources to make buildings green and operations more economical. The merits of our schools lie in their faithful witness and effectiveness. The measure of "greenness" may be necessary, but surely it is not sufficient.
And what about the family and children? Sustainability is in the first instance about children. All too easily the argument for sustainability can morph into the case for sustaining stylishly lean and myopically private levels of comfort. Some even argue that bearing children is ecologically irresponsible. Yet, it is children who will sustain the future of families, neighborhoods, congregations, church bodies, and society.
Europe, Japan, and China are already experiencing the economic and social costs of low birth rates, often pursued in the name of some form of sustainability. In Canada and the United States, we need to be reminded that families are much more than units of style, recycling, organic menus, and low energy usage. They are the matrix of our communal life. Their size, health, wisdom, productivity, and faithfulness will shape the future of everything we know and what is beyond our imagining.
So what kind of sustainability are we, as Christians and leaders in theological seminaries, called to teach and pursue? Will our schools truly be seminal labs for the future, or will they be models of trendy self-preservation? Beyond the good of sustainability, there is the holy, a holiness emanating from the love we know in the Triune God, a love calling us to generous self-sacrifice for the good of others from generation to generation.