Jun 7 2011

Lessons in Ethics and Gardening

Soon into my first year in theology school, I realized that the kind of learning cultivated at Candler goes beyond the surface. Not every class provides a life-changing learning experience, but something is bound to catch each student at his or her core, to be transformative.

For me, it happened this spring. In Introduction to Christian Ethics, we were each tasked with pursuing a moral question that held some weight for us personally. We weren’t just learning about ethics, we were doing ethics. I chose to write about food and agriculture-related justice issues as they relate to both the environment and poverty.

Part I: Describing the Problem

Environment: I began with the premise that our earth faces an ecological crisis. Climate change/environmental degradation are real, measurable, and furthermore, human-induced. Which leads to the second premise… the choices you and I make about the food we eat each day can have a profound impact on the rest of the biosphere. The interconnected issues of agriculture, environment, and food provide an opportunity for our response: to promote justice for the environment.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now, choosing not to eat meat because of the sustainability issues surrounding the industry’s practices. This decision has posed a problem for me, on occasion, in the form of cognitive dissonance. I am aware of the privilege of being able to ask “what will I eat?” rather than “will I eat?” each day, and so my choosy eating habits feel a bit elitist. Which leads to the part about…

Poverty: Persons of lower socio-economic statuses don’t get to choose the option of organic produce. Eating healthy and “green” is a class-based privilege in America. Making the choice to eat food that is produced in a way that is environmentally sustainable sounds good, but if it is only an option for an exclusive population, is it really a just choice?

So, I found at this intersection of ethical issues a dual-responsibility: to promote justice for the environment and justice for people by providing accessible nutritious food that is produced in ways that care for the environment. Unfortunately, these two forms of justice can seem mutually exclusive. Making healthy produce accessible often involves mass-agribusiness methods of production (which aren’t good for the environment).

Part II: Asking the Question

We reach a difficult point when choices that cultivate different aspects of the good life come into conflict with one another. It is at this intersection that I thought, read, wrote, and studied all semester: What is our Christian response to be in the tension produced by these competing goods – accessibility of healthy food for all and agricultural/environmental sustainability?

Part III: Constructing a Response

By the end of a lot of research, reading, and thinking, I returned to my personal engagement with this moral question with a renewed commitment to eating food produced in ethical ways. Personally contributing to the consumer demand for ethically produced food still seems like a constructive personal response, even if it is not one that everyone can afford to make.

In the process of thinking through the question, I also sought a way to transform my communal experience of food. Rather than just exercising my personal privilege to make decisions about what I eat, I knew I could work to extend that right to all people.

In my local congregation, I am part of the “Green Team” that is leading a theological response to the issue of land care and food justice. This May, we planted an organic community garden. We have been tending the earth and plan to share our harvest with a local food-pantry. The goal is to extend access to healthy, sustainably-produced food to those in our urban community.

The garden is a literal and theological common ground for the participating community members as we reconnect to the source of our food and the Source of all life. There is hope for a system that allows for environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural practices, and it can begin with Christian communities and individuals committed to justice for land and people.

The learning that started in class continues to disrupt my everyday life. (Indeed, I am in the garden almost every day.) My first year at Candler is marked by learning that has cost much time and commitment, learning that continues to form my ministry, learning that transforms.

-Meredith Shaw

Meredith is 2nd year M.Div student from Lexington, KY. She ministers to youth at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta and is an Assistant for Missional Congregations at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Jul 29 2010

“Till it and Tend it”: Judiasm and Sustainable Food

Artwork by Rev. Dr. Gina Rose Halpern

There are wonderful conversations happening at Candler and other Christian places about food, land, and sustainable practices by humans as we care for our earth. Here’s a great article by Ari Hart, a Jewish seminarian, part of a series on Jewish calls for justice and responsibility in the way we support food, farming, and care for creation.

Jun 18 2010

Candler and the Care of Creation

More and more religious people and congregations are returning to the importance of caring for God’s creation as part of responsible living. Did you know there are over 1000 references in the Bible to the Creation, but only 490 references to heaven?! Candler as a theology school, training and forming religious scholars, ministers, and leaders, has taken many steps to live more responsibly and in better harmony with the earth over which humanity has been given stewardship (Genesis 1:26).

From l., Candler Creation Keepers President Jason Myers, Emory Sustainability's Ciannat Howett, and Anthropology professor Dr. Peggy Barlett

Theology Garden

Created in April 2010 next to the second floor entrance of the Candler School of Theology, Emory’s eighth educational garden is a product of the collaborative efforts of the Candler Creation Keepers and the Office of Sustainability Initiates. The 100%  organic garden contains several herbs, such as basil, sage, oregano, thyme and rosemary, as well as a large variety of foods, including blackberries, blueberries, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, beets, peas, squashes, eggplants, and several types of leaf vegetables.

Candler Creation Keepers

On of the newest student groups at Candler is the Candler Creation Keepers. The group has raised funds for and oversaw the construction and planting of the Theology Garden. The group tends the garden – picking weeds, fertilizing, and harvesting the herbs and veggies – while educating fellow students on food and the theological importance of creation stewardship. The Creation Keepers also helped with several Earth Week activities in April of this year, including promoting composting among Theology students, faculty, and staff.

Our LEED Building

Candler’s main building, shared with Emory’s Center for Ethics, is a state of the art, five-story environmentally friendly classroom and office space.  Like all new buildings that Emory builds, Candler’s building reached LEED certification (at the Silver level). Emory’s 17 buildings on campus with LEED designation save energy and water, feature improved air quality, are sited appropriately – such as in areas with public transportation, and are constructed using a percentage of recycled, local or rapidly renewable building materials.

Make a Pledge Today! Emory has developed a Personal Sustainability Pledge, addressing personal behaviors related to energy, sustainable food, water conservation, green space, commuting, recycling, and other sustainability issues when at Emory and at home. The pledge is very sophisticated, calculating exactly what the carbon impact of your current sustainable practices is – how many cars are you keeping off the road, how many acres of forest and gallons of gasoline you are conserving – and what impact your pledged actions will have in the future. Take the pledge right now!

Jun 11 2010

Emory & the Environment

In case you hadn’t heard, Emory has a well-established program in green building — currently having one of the largest inventories by square footage of LEED-certified green buildings among campuses in America.  We have 13 LEED Silver or Gold buildings—including the Theology/Ethics Building—and counting.

Here are some of Emory’s Green Highlights—check back next week for more on the Greening of Emory, including Candler’s initiatives and what you can do at home, at school, and in your places of worship!

Emory Awards and Highlights

Bike Emory. Emory, Fuji Bikes, and Bicycle South bike shop have teamed up to provide all of Emory access to discounted bikes, on-campus bike repairs, free bike-share program, and more.

Food. Buy Local-Emory does! Emory has set a goal of providing 75 percent local or sustainably grown food in the hospitals and cafeterias by 2015. Organic Market Boxes are USDA certified fruits and veggies coming in three sizes—order yours online and pick up on campus the next week! Additionally, the Educational Gardens around campus—including the Theology Garden, shown here on the Sustainability Map—aim to provide fresh food and herbs to the community and get people reconnected to dirt, and water, and sunshine, and real food!

Recycling and Composting. Emory sent off it’s 3900 graduates this year with its first Zero Waste Commencement celebration. Emory diverted over 1900 pounds plastic bottles, aluminum cans, food waste, and compostable plates and service to recycling or composting bins. Speaking for the compostable and recyclable materials, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gave the keynote address, said, “I’ll be back…as healthy garden soil and recycled goods” (not really). More and more of Candler’s events are Zero Waste, and we even have our own compost bin!

Emory Academics. At last count, Emory was teaching 129 courses with a sustainability-related curriculum in disciplines across the campus, such as medicine, law, ethics, theology, anthropology, spanish, philosophy, journalism, and English. 34 of 43 Emory departments had at least one course related to sustainability–that’s 79%! Emory College already has majors and minors in Environmental Science and will soon have  a Sustainability minor.

Make a Pledge Today! Emory has developed a Personal Sustainability Pledge, addressing personal behaviors related to energy, sustainable food, water conservation, green space, commuting, recycling, and other sustainability issues when at Emory and at home. The pledge is very sophisticated, calculating exactly what the carbon impact of your current sustainable practices is – how many cars are you keeping off the road, how many acres of forest and gallons of gasoline you are conserving – and what impact your pledged actions will have in the future. Take the pledge right now!

Check back next week for more about what Candler is doing to be sustainable, plus even more ways for you to get involved. Care of the Creation is all of our God-given responsibility (Genesis 2:15) – so let’s get to it!

Nov 13 2009

Candler Creation Keepers


There’s a new student group at Candler, and they aim to play in the dirt and engage their fellow students in dialogue about God, gardens, and good stewardship. The Candler Creation Keepers, consisting of Master of Divinity and Master of Theological Studies students, had their kick-off meeting last week at Candler.

veggiesAll of the first-year Master of Divinity students are taking Dr. Brent Strawn‘s Introduction to the Old Testament course. One of the texts for the class is Ellen Davis’s Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, a text with strong roots (pun intended!) in care of the Creation.

Dr. Strawn’s course plus a critical mass of students interested in theology and care of creation has led the Creation Keepers to pursue the building of a garden bed outside of the Theology Building. In conjunction with the Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives, the proposed garden would be used for education, empowerment, and for vegetables for the theology school.

Hear from some of the Creation Keepers members, how they got interested and what connections they find between gardening, caring for creation, and Christian beliefs and practices!

Share with us how you see the relationship you see between your faith and your living impact in this created world.