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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Troubled by stewardship

It's time to redefine our understanding, to refocus our actions

There’s a troubling in my soul. I grew up in Minnesota farm country, in a solid Lutheran congregation that served its community well. We knew what we believed. It mattered, and that served us well too.

Globe & staff What mattered was good stewardship. This meant personal care and responsibility, and the account we owed God for what had been entrusted to us. Yes, stewardship was also the pitch to step up the annual pledge and give the pastor, maybe even the organist and janitor, a bit of a raise. But it was so much more. Stewardship was three syllables distilled as the way of life we fussed over and cherished.

But now I wonder.

I wonder what kind of world dangles from it.

What I see troubles and perplexes.

I see stewardship whereby human beings are rendered trustees of Earth’s resources and empowered to use them for their benefit. In practice, stewardship is management and control, and nature is the collection of objects we give shape and purpose as we fashion a world of our own making. Stewardship is Earth-keeping, to our end and for our good. Nature is, to exaggerate only slightly, infinite resources, information, a treasure chest, zoo, stage and dump.

The record of stewardship as this kind of Earth-keeping is now exposed as a very bad one. Accelerated and extreme climate change is only the latest portent in the sky that joins others to send the same message: the era trailing in the wake of the Industrial Revolution—and that means the era of modern stewardship—has destabilized the whole community of life.


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