More than Mere Survival … Sustainability

I’ve begun the first week of my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) with Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University.  This summer I presented a problem to the presbytery leader learning community in Connecticut … the problem, I proposed, is that church as we know it is not sustainable.  I blogged about it earlier.  One of my colleagues sent me a link the next week for this course, “The Age of Sustainable Development.”  And I was intrigued.

This course is by all counts massive.  Tens or hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world are involved in the 14 week learning experience.  We are invited to “google hangout” for Q&A with the professor.  We participate in discussion threads, we read, we ask questions and we’re quizzed on our participation and learning.  We are students, professionals, and everything in between.  We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic and atheist.  But, just signing up for the course, we acknowledge the “big picture” issues with “business as usual.”  That is, maintaining our current patterns of environmental, economic and social inclusivity, is unsustainable.  Our topics include poverty and the wealth divide, health care and life expectancy, hunger and food production, climate change and bio-diversity, education and human rights.  Massive, right?

I’m interested in this because I wonder if the the field of sustainable development is both an answer as well as a call for the Church.  Church growth has been our focus for years … but our focus on recruiting members or converting souls is not working at turning around our numeric decline.  In fact, I believe, our current model of “church” is unsustainable in the long term.  I blogged about that a few weeks ago.  The three major themes of sustainability may help us.  Profit. People. Planet.  Or as my banker friend put it: economics, environment and equity.  These are the three bottom lines for sustainability.

In my course, we talk about them as economics, environment and social inclusion … that is equality, education, human rights, etc.  We’ve heard that declining churches are often focused on budgets, buildings and bodies (in the pews).  And that thriving churches are concerned with changing lives, changing communities, and having not only a witness to the community, but an impact on it.  Sustainability.

Likewise, many of the traditional social justice issues the PCUSA has engaged are issues of global sustainability.  Hunger, Peacemaking, Education, Human Rights … these are all on the “social inclusion” leg of sustainability.  We are also beginning the conversation regarding planetary issues (fossil fuel usage and factory farming).  We are called to act and impact.  We are called to think about faithfulness and stewardship (of money, energy, and planet) in a global context.  Sustainability.

I will blog here each week as I complete my coursework and reading.  I will write specifically about how my learning sheds light on issues that the Church, specifically the PCUSA, can learn from and/or respond to.

#susdev topics:

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