“This word gives me no hope” an essay on sustainability by the Reverend Evan Clendenin


I have struggled with this. I believe and trust that what I and others have been given in our faith and life together manifests a truth and a life far deeper than can be had by the various versions of ‘sustainability.’ This word gives me no hope.

But I have hope for life on earth, the life I love in many ways, because of God’s promises ‘made known in creation, in the words spoken by the prophets and above all in the word made flesh Jesus [his] Son.” I have hope in the infinite care, fire and energy that is personally present as companion and advocate and agitator to humans and the whole earth.

The word ‘sustainability’ itself admits of so many meanings and uses-but basically, it seems to express the idea that human beings can count, plan and manage our way out of our current state of climate change, species extinction, and natural and political threats to the basic needs of life for humans and other creatures. I don’t think it is that easy.

But it is a word that gets us to the practical tasks of making a life on earth that is durable, healing and just. We face deeper practical and adaptive crises, which we can only answer thru our renewed ways of life as households, organizations and institutions.

We face many decisions. We have choices to make about how much energy, and what sources we may reasonably and justly use. We have choices to make about the food we eat, what it is worth to us, and what it is worth to us to make sure that all people have enough to eat and be satisfied. We have choices to make about what kind of communities we are called to be as the body of Christ.

The theologian Sallie McFague asks us to take very seriously that we know God in Christ as one who has a body, and makes us his body. Our way of life together needs to start with how God has come into the world-as one vulnerable, compassionate, courageous-in order to save it. This way of life needs to address this earth where many people already live on the edge, and many more humans and other creatures will suffer due to changes in the landscape and our habitats.

The grace and hope that I hear in God’s saving work is that this task is not solely up to me, not up to humans, or scientists or the UN Climate assembly or others. It rests in God’s hands. But the earth, with its mixed-creature community I love, is looking with hope and salvation from within the flesh and blood struggle to stay alive. I believe that I, and all Christians, need to begin our work of response to God’s love by shaping our lives more and more in the image of the body given to the world, the bread given to feed and forgive and restore many, indeed the whole fabric of creation.

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