Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Reflections on the Sustainability Summit
(November 8-10, 2013)
The gathering was all about sustainability! Not only was that true of the name of the conference, but I could feel it emanating from the participants as I entered the meeting room. I could sense a positive energy running very deeply in the 33 college students who had come together from 7 different institutions for the weekend.
It was fitting that the Sunday morning session I led was taking place in the Barn at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center. The sturdy oak beams of the Barn ––erected 111 years ago –– wonderful represent the enduring quality of sustainability. I often reflect on the timeframe portrayed by the beams knowing that the trees from which the beams came began to grow long before Europeans settled the landscape that is now Merry Lea.
The beams bear the marks of the axes that carved out their shape from the once living trees. These hand-hewn beams have a 111-year history of supporting the Barn throughout its many phases of use –– from cows and hay to people and hardy meals. At the same time the beams remind us of the verdant forest that once dominated the landscape. The degradation to the land caused by humans is in full evidence even as restoration activities are part of the Merry Lea mission. The Barn symbolizes the tension between human activity and the resilience of the Earth systems.
My dialogue with the students gathered in the Barn centered on how our faith commitments should be congruent with our sustainability goals – and vice versa. I believe that we each have a belief system that influences our actions – and if we haven’t thought about that intersection, it is time that we do. My personal Christian faith commitment is deeply rooted in the Christ who is Creator, Sustainer and Reconciler (Colossians 1:15-21). This threefold action set inspires me to be a creative companion with Christ in caring for all of creation.
A central theme in my presentation was the concept of regeneration –– an even higher calling than the pursuit of sustainability. This is the act of bringing life back to a system, not just keeping if from further degradation. It is a holistic term as it calls to mind actions ranging from the ecological to the spiritual. The practice of regeneration will build the common good for all parts of the Earth’s systems. Jesus named this concept many times in his earthly ministry. One of my favorites is in the Sermon on the Mount as he names birds, flowers and grass as models of regeneration and health (Matthew 6:25-34). How richly our beliefs can undergird our commitment to care for creation!
I appealed to the listeners –– and now the readers –– to examine our beliefs, values and philosophical frameworks (regardless of faith tradition) to see what the intersection is with the call to care for the Earth. I believe that naming and owning these foundational principles will inspire and motivate us when the going is hard. The synergy that emerges from this gives me a realistic and powerful hope. It is this hope that will aid me in holistically contributing to the regeneration of systems we have harmed.
It is this hope that I could see in the faces of the students and advisors as I photographed the group at the end of the conference with a restored wetland at Merry Lea as the backdrop. Just as the wind was blowing hair in multiple directions, the energy from the gathered group was moving individuals to many hopeful actions as they departed for home.
by Luke Gascho