By Paul C. Pribbenow
This issue of the Augsburg Now offers many inspiring stories of ways in which our community is learning about and practicing what it means to live sustainable lives in the city. I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about why the Augsburg community has made such great progress in living out its commitment to urban sustainability, and I’ve found myself exploring the meaning of the original motto for Augsburg Theological Seminary and College, the bold claim found in John 1: 14: “And the Word became flesh.” I’m struck by how this scriptural promise is both a statement of generosity and of sustainability. Augsburg College practices generosity most authentically when it lives as the Word made flesh—sustainable, present, rooted, of service, and faithful.
My teacher, Martin Marty, taught me that colleges are indigenous communities—that is, they are native to a particular place, a particular environment, a particular set of values, and practices that define the institution—and that means something for the way they live their lives.
What does it mean to think about Augsburg College as an indigenous community? What does it mean that the Word has become flesh and lived among us here?
I lift up for our attention three simple aspects of Augsburg’s identity—ways in which the Word becomes flesh here and the values we seek to sustain:
• The central focus of our identity is that wherever Augsburg College is found—here in this neighborhood, in the city, in Rochester, or around the world—our most authentic work is learning and teaching. And the wonder of learning is that it involves acts of generosity and sustainability in its every detail—from teachers who teach what they love; to students who seek to learn out of curiosity and passion; to texts that bear the wisdom of the ages for our reflection; to conversations that help us pay attention to the Word, to each other, and to the world; to practices and commitments that help sustain our environment.
• A second aspect of our identity is the way in which this city, a particular place—much different now than in 1869—is still a place that demands our attention and respect and concern. Democracy still is practiced in this place with our neighbors. Education still happens in this place with learners and teachers all around us. Engagement and service still are at the center of our lives with each other in this place. Sustaining this urban place, this urban environment, is an act of generosity—for our diverse neighbors, for our diverse selves, for the whole of creation, now and into the future.
• The final aspect of our identity is our firm grounding in the Christian faith—a confident faith that frees us to learn, to live, to practice hospitality with all of our neighbors, to be a force for good in the world, to affirm our calling as people of faith and a college of the church, to be God’s people in this place, and to know that grace and truth abound where the Word becomes flesh. I celebrate the generosity that is Augsburg’s faithful work in the world—the Word made flesh here, each and every day.
I celebrate the sustainability of our indigenous character, our indigenous work, and our indigenous place. And I recall the concluding words of John 1:14 that remind us that the Word made flesh is “full of grace and truth.” Oh, how the world needs a Word of grace and truth. And here it is!